Our Maritime History and the Sturgeon I

Boatbuilding in sointula

Boatbuilding has always been an important part of the Malcolm Island economy. A 1904 notice in the Aika, the community’s Finnish-language newspaper at the time, advertised for sale “neatly built boats, several models,” with prices starting at $35.00. Initially, boatbuilding was done by private individuals on the foreshore fronting the builder’s home property, but by the 1920s there were at least nine commercial boat sheds in operation along Sointula’s waterfront. The sheds themselves were made of local cedar milled into planks and beams, and two iron tracks led out into the water for moving vessels in and out as needed. In addition to new construction, the boatways served the needs of mariners by carrying out major repairs and upgrades to existing vessels.

During its lifetime, Anderson Marine Ways, established in 1918, built approximately six hundred boats, everything from simple skiffs to a 52-foot seiner. As the fishing industry evolved, the preferred vessel changed from a compact wooden boat to something larger and easier to maintain, made of materials such as fibreglass, aluminum and steel. Sointula’s boatbuilding infrastructure and expertise, developed during an earlier era, did not make the transition to fibreglass construction. Tarkanen Marine Ways, established in the 1940s, is now the only active commercial boatways on the island.

The Sturgeon 1 Story

In 1948, seventeen-year-old Albert Tarkanen was in the market for a new boat. Albert had started out fishing with his dad when he was ten and a few years later got his own little boat, the Starfish, but now he was ready for something more suitable for a serious fisherman.

The hull for Albert’s new acquisition would be built at Toivo Aro’s boat shed in Sointula, and the wheelhouse/cabin just down the street at Tarkanen Marine Ways, his own family’s boatbuilding business, started by Albert’s dad Jack in the early 1940s. When the boat was ready, young Albert handed over $1500.00 of his hard-earned money and took possession of the new vessel, a 34-foot double-ended gillnetter named Sturgeon I.

Over the next forty years the Sturgeon I passed through the hands of five different owners, all of them Sointula fishermen. The last of these was Nancy Poulton, who purchased the boat in 1989 and fished it with her partner, Davie Lanqvist, and son Roger until 1998-99. After that, the boat was officially retired, its working life at an end, and took up residence at the Sointula breakwater.

Photo: Inside Toivo Aro’s boat shop, Sointula

For nearly a century, boatbuilding and fishing were the backbone of Malcolm island’s economy.  Click through our visual story to learn about those industries through the lens of one boat, the Sturgeon I.

Birth of a community

In 1901, a small group of Finnish immigrants signed an agreement with the BC government to settle Malcolm Island. Conditions were harsh, but these settlers were committed to creating a new kind of life for themselves and their descendants. From the beginning the ocean was at the centre of how they lived and worked: boats were built for transport and travel, fish provided food and income.

Photo: Setting stakes on land with Teodor Tanner, an unidentified young man, and two children. Carol Puff Collection, photo #31

The business of boat building
As well as the ones they needed for themselves, many of the settlers began producing boats for sale. It was not long before 1st street was lined with small-scale boatyards. The popularity of vessels built on Malcolm Island was new to the point where it was possible to create a full-time business from the trade; the first of these large-scale commercial boatyards was Anderson Marine Ways, established in 1918.

Photo: Boat works with small boats and cows in the yard. Year unknown. Lee Anderson Collection, photo #386.

Fishing is a way of life
Even by the early 1910s, Malcolm Islanders were commercially fishing with sailing skids, oars and gill nets as far up the coast as Rivers Inlet, 125 km away. Groups of skiffs were towed by a company tug or fish packer to the fishing grounds, where they would be left to row to their preferred fishing spot. The fishery lasted until the return trip of the tow boat, usually for weeks at a time. This manual form of gill netting involved letting out the net and allowing the salmon to become entangled by the gills before painstakingly hauling it onto the deck by hand. Within the next two decades a local invention would revolutionize the process

Photo: Part of Sointula Fleet, Provincial Cannery. Norma and Albert Williams Collection, photo #12.

Finnish ingenuity
In 1931, Laurie Jarvis, a Sointula fisherman and boatbuilder, constructed the first powered gillnet drum. The drum, basically a large spool powered by a modified differential from a Model A Ford, allowed the use of longer nets and also provided flexibility on where nets could be set and how quickly they could be hauled in. The power provided by the drum also made it possible to fish during rough weather.

Photo: The drum, rebuilt.

Albert Tarkanen gets a new boat

At the age of 17, Albert Tarkanen commissioned the replacement for his little fishing skiff Starfish.

Albert’s new boat was designed using a ‘half-model’, which are scaled down lengthwise cross-sections of a vessel’s haul. The size of the models depends on the size of the vessel itself and the scale used, although most are about 12” long.

Photo: Example of half-hull

Half-Hull Models

The models are held together with wooden pegs and the diagram for the boat hull is made by disassembling the model, tracing the pieces on to paper and then enlarging the drawings to actual size. The numbered vertical lines on the model indicate the placement of the hull frames; these would be wrapped in scape lumber, and from there the hull ribs are bent inside to form the final shape of the hull.

Photo: Example of half-hull

Ready to join the Sointula fleet

Albert’s gill netter was a double-ended design, which minded the jarring bumps of the ocean when hauling in the net and made fishing much easier in rough water. The hull was constructed at Toivo Aro’s boatshed before being moved to what is now Tarkanen Marine Ways, where its wheelhouse and rigging were installed. When all the work was completed and the new boat pronounced seaworthy, Albert handed over $1,500 ($16,000 in 2021 dollars) of his hard-earned money and the Sturgeon I was ready to go fishing.

Photo: Unidentified man working in Toivo Aro’s boatshed. Wilma Laughlin Collection, photo #369.

Getting ready for the season

The commercial fishery touched every part of the community. The fuel dock and the Co-op Store would be bustling with customers as fishermen, local and visiting, stocked their vessels for the opening. Boatyards were busy with upgrades and maintenance, as well as any last-minute repairs. The fish-processing plants began hiring locals to ensure they had an adequate workforce to handle the expected, and hoped for, influx deliveries.

Photo: Gillnet fleet (some from Sointula) tied up at Duncanley in Rivers Inlet, 1950s. Aileen Wooldridge Collection, photo #439.

Hurry up and wait

Once the season actually started, you would be hard pressed to find a single fishing boat remaining at the docks, and the only people seen working around town were ‘landlubbers’.

Photo: First Street as a dirt road, view up the hill toward the FO Hal, 1951. Robert and Ingrid Belveal Collection, photo #496.

Heading out to sea

When the season began, the gill netter fleet would depart for destinations all along the coast, such as Rivers Inlet, Prince Rupert or Johnstone Strait. A gillnet opening – the length of time you are allowed to fish, as set by the federal government’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans – depended on the species of salmon being fished, the geographical area of the opening and the anticipated strength of the run (the number of fish expected to be returning to their spawning grounds).

A typical opening might last anywhere from eight hours to a week or more. Sometimes certain restrictions were put in place, such as only being able to fish during daylight hours, or vice versa.

Photo: The Sturgeon I heading out to sea

Moving on

Albert Tarkanen would fish with the Sturgeon I for about seven years. In 1954 he sold the boat to fellow Sointula fisherman Albert Erickson. This practice of vessels changing hands was traditional and common in the Sointula fishing community. During the years of its working life a boat might support multiple families and make an important impact on the local economy. The children of fishing families were taken out to sea when they were young and taught the skills needed to fish; this passing on of knowledge was essential to the growth and sustainability of the industry.

Photo: Albert Tarkanen fished the Sturgeon 1 for seven years before selling it to fellow Sointula fisherman Arthur Erickson in 1954

Performance improvement

When Albert Erickson took ownership of the Sturgeon I, he replaced the original 42hp Grey Marine engine with a 120-hp Chrysler Crown engine, an upgrade that increased its power threefold. After almost 25 years of fishing with the Sturgeon I, from 1954 until 1978, Erickson sold it to fellow Sointula fisherman Mark Blid, and another family opened a new chapter in the boat’s story.

Photo: Engine upgrade to a Chrysler 120-horsepower Crown engine

The tradition continues

The Sturgeon I’s new owner fished the vessel from 1978 to 1989. “For the first years it wasn’t too profitable, “ Mark Blid said in an interview, “and the interest rates of over 20 percent didn’t help. Logging in the winter helped. By the mid 80’s things picked up; by the late 80’s it peaked, helped by huge sockeye prices of over $4.00 per lb. Thought the good times would never end. Look at it now.”

Photo: The Sturgeon I; Mark Blid in cabin (date unknown)

A new kind of fishing

In addition to gill netting, Mark also trolled with the Sturgeon I as another source of income, the first of the boat’s owners to do so.

Photo: The Sturgeon I from 1978 to 1989

End of a working life

Two generations of Lanqvists were the final Sointula family to own the Sturgeon I. Nancy Poulton bought the boat in 1990 and fished it with her partner, Dave Lanqvist. “Rivers and Smith inlets were having record runs,” recalls Rodney, the oldest son of Nancy and Dave. “The price of sockeye was very high. Mom and Dad fished her until 1994. When Dad had his stroke in Prince Rupert that year, Mom took over and fished the boat with my Brother, Roger, until 1996”. When asked about his own experience with the Sturgeon I, Rodney had this to say: “The few times I ran the old girl I didn’t have any problems catching fish. It was a ‘fishy’ boat and could stand to fish in poor weather”.

Photo: Sturgeon I at the harbour towards the end of its fishing days.

A new purpose

In 1999, the Lanqvist family retired the Sturgeon I and docked it at the Sointula breakwater. Twelve years later, in 2011, the boat was brought to the attention of the Sointula Museum and Historical Society. With its deep connections to both boatbuilding and fishing, the two industries that drove Sointula’s economy for over one hundred years, the Sturgeon I was seen as an ideal candidate for preservation. As well as volunteering his time, expertise and equipment, Sointula resident and veteran boatbuilder Andy Anderson took the lead on the project to restore the vessel to its original condition, and by 2014 the Sturgeon I was ready for a return to public life.

Photo: Andy Anderson standing on the restored Sturgeon I.

Forever home

With the support of many Sointula residents and organizations, plus funding from ICET (Island Coastal Economic Trust), a pavilion was constructed at the Sointula Harbour to showcase the Sturgeon I and display information about its history. In 2019, the boat was moved onto the site, its permanent new home, a reminder and symbol of how Sointula became what it is today.

Photo: Forever home of Restored Sturgeon I at the Sointula Harbour.

Thank You
The Sointula Museum gives thanks to all those who helped make the Sturgeon I Project happen.

Restoration volunteers
Andy Anderson, Vern Sampson, Jack Tanner, Hans Madsen, Rich Shaw, Mike Nagy, John Everson, Wayne Loiselle, David Giannotti, Eric Claussen, Shane Field, Bob Bidwell, Delwin Nelson, Sue Ness, Loretta Rhitamo, Anderson Marine Ways.

Donations to the restoration
John Salo, Ken McGregor, Robert, Belveal, Greg Williams, Randy Williams, Wayne Corbett, Dez Beal, Hans Madsen, Vern Aro, Sointula Transfer Station

Paint crew at final site
Jull Miles, Pat Flagel, Jen Lash, Linda Sjoberg, Tarkanen Marine Ways (donated paint and supplies), Ted Ashe (donated paint), Mike Roberge (donated paint)

Thank You

Sturgeon I Pavilion Funders & Volunteers
Malcolm Island Lions Club, Regional District of Mt. Waddington, Island Coastal Economic Trust, Tarkanen Marine Ways, Sointula Museum, Tyler Brett, Andy Anderson, Heather Lansdowne, Lance Karsten & Karsten Construction

Malcolm Islanders that supported the project via:
Net rug & wood raffle ticket sales, donations, community meetings, work parties

Project by Michael Tynjala
Thank you to the Sointula Museum for choosing me to create this presentation and for providing extensive source material and invaluable historical resources to draw upon. Mark Blid for his photos and for sharing memories of his time with the Sturgeon I. Rodney Lanqvist for sharing his memories of his family’s time with the Sturgeon I. Andy Anderson for providing a half model to include, as well as all the history and information needed to discuss it.

restoration of the STurgeon I

Preserving history: An idea takes hold

In 2010 the Sturgeon I came to the attention of Shane Field, then a resident of Sointula. Field was concerned that changes in the traditional economic base of the community—no more commercial boatbuilding coupled with reduced opportunities for fishing— would lead to a loss of awareness of how important a role these activities had played in Sointula’s history. Someone suggested to him that the Sturgeon I, with its deep connections to both boatbuilding and fishing, and its impeccable local roots, would be a good candidate for preservation. The following year, Field and Sue Ness, then Chair of the Sointula Museum committee, purchased the boat for the value of the outstanding moorage fees, and its new life as historical artefact began.

Right from the beginning, Ness was very clear about the museum’s goal: “The Sointula Museum is committed to the restoration of the Sturgeon I because it represents so well the two industries that defined our community.” But restoration was only half of the job ahead, because once that work was completed, a new home would have to be found for the boat, a permanent location accessible by the public. As it turned out, the museum’s commitment to the Sturgeon I project set in motion a process that would involve the entire community of Sointula for almost ten years.

The project begins

As well as sustaining all the expected wear and tear that comes with being a working boat, the Sturgeon I had also undergone various modifications over the years, and returning it to its original state required not only a skilled craftsman but someone with knowledge of local boatbuilding traditions. Enter Andy Anderson, a lifelong Sointula resident who ran his own marine repair-and-maintenance business, Anderson Ways, for many years, and whose grandfather had established the community’s first shipyard in 1918. Definitely the man for the job.

The restoration project began in the spring of 2012. In addition to donating his own shop space, equipment and labour, Anderson also volunteered to supervise the process, which started at the bottom: the boat went first to Tarkanen Marine Ways to have its hull cleaned, all work done free of charge.

By the way, if the name ‘Tarkanen’ sounds familiar, that’s no coincidence; Albert, the eager young fisherman who originally commissioned the building of the Sturgeon I, took over the boat business from his father, and it’s still in the family. And despite being in his eighties, Albert was still able to contribute to the restoration of his old boat. After the hull cleaning, the Sturgeon I was moved down the street to Anderson’s boat shed. Anderson Ways was no longer in operation, but the building still stood —and still stands in 2020, but with different owners—on 1st Street, just across from the Coop hardware store.

Photo: Andy Anderson standing on the restored Sturgeon I.

A new home from the Sturgeon I

In 2014, the restoration was complete, and the focus of the project changed: time to get the Sturgeon I settled in a permanent home. In a small community, finding a suitable site on land to display a 34-foot boat to its best advantage presents a challenge. The location must be accessible to the public for viewing, but at the same time not present any dangers to that public. Enter the Malcolm Island Lions Club Harbour Authority, the federal government’s designated managers of the Sointula harbour. Would the Sointula Museum (now officially the Sointula Museum and Historical Society) be interested in a nice spot at the harbour, a busy location frequented by locals and visitors alike? Yes, indeed it would. An agreement was drawn up, covering everything from site preparation to future maintenance, bringing the Sturgeon I one step closer to reaching its final resting place.

It’s never difficult, in a story like this, to pick out the stars of the show: the Sointula Museum, which started the ball rolling by acquiring an ideal candidate for preservation; Andy Anderson, for his expertise and guidance; The Malcolm Island Lions Club for its contribution of not only the site, but construction labour and materials; Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) for funding that provided a substantial portion of the financing needed. But behind the front-page appearances were many other key players: people who donated storage space when it was needed, who fundraised for months (years!) to make sure there would be enough money, who prepared the interpretive signage; in short, who did whatever was asked of them to make this project a success.

Thanks to COVID-19, the official launch party for the Sturgeon I Pavilion had to be postponed, but in the meantime, the community of Sointula is inviting its neighbours to make a trip to the harbour and see this fine tribute to the two industries that shaped and defined one little village. It is a memorial not just to past achievements but also an expression of the current generation’s commitment to preserve the spirit of a time that is gone and will never come again.

Fishing with a gillnet

You be may be wondering how exactly does gillnetting work? Let the Sturgeon I show you!

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