Cape Island Boats
he most repeated story regarding
the first Cape Island boat is that of the Atkinson family of Cape Sable Island
boatbuilders. In 1905 Ephraim Atkinson, a house and sometime boatbuilder in
Clark's Harbour, was approached by a client from Saint John, New Brunswick,
to build a power boat. He did so, fitting the engine the customer supplied
into a boat for which the customer possibly designed or provided the plans.
Atkinson saw the opportunities in the new vessel design for the local fishery
and went on to build a second similar powered boat. This became the first Cape
Island boat, say Atkinson's supporters. One can imagine the local fishermen
adding their comments about the new craft as Atkinson gave it shape and form
in his Clark's Harbour boat shop. Descendants of Ephraim Atkinson are still
building Cape Island boats on the island, though not of wood but of
A second version of the first Cape Islander story is that a busy boatbuilder,
William A. Kenney of Clark's Harbour, built a gasoline-powered fishing boat
before Atkinson. Details of the second version are remarkably similar to the
Atkinson tale. Samuel Bowker from Nantick, Massachusetts, arrived at The Hawk
in 1902, found Kenney and commissioned him to build a 46-foot steam-powered
pleasure yacht in Clark's Harbour. A year later Kenney built and launched
Fantus Parnell, said to be the first gasoline-powered boat in Shelburne County.
It was similar in shape to the popular motor boats then used by pleasure-boat
owners, often former sailing yachtsmen eager to try out the new power.
It is difficult to confirm exact dates, but sometime within the first decade
of the twentieth century, other boatbuilders in Nova Scotia were also creating
and launching their own powered fishing boats. The term "Cape Island Boat" did
not come into general use until after World War II. In the literature before
World War I and for years following, fishing boats with engines are referred
to as "motor boats", "power fishing boats" or similar generic terms, and no local
appellation is added. This continued a long provincial tradition in the fishery.
Builders and users of small craft, whether rowing, sailing or powered, named them
variously: skiffs, dories, flats or similar generic terms without considerations
of style, provenance, power, design or locale.