Boats Building in Kenora

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Boats Building in Kenora

This site tells the story of Boat Building in Kenora. The story of boats that have traveled lake of the woods is told at

Boat Builders

George Brunsel, son of Angus and Elizabeth Brunsel was born in St Clement (Selkirk) Manitoba on Feb 17 1873. He came to Rat Portage in 1879. He operated the first boat building company in Rat Portage with his brother Neil Brunsell, located on the lakefront between Main and Matherson street. Between 1899 and 1904 the company build many boats including the Daystar, the Wanderer and the Helen S. The business ended with a fire in October 1904. In 1906 it was purchased by a syndicate from Winnipeg including Robert J. Parrott's father. The company went bankrupt during World War 1 When R.J. Parrott returned from overseas he opened Parrott Boat Company which continued to serve the public until 1929.

Anderson Boat Works owned by Gus Anderson bought the business in 1929 and later Agar Stone bought the company for Stone Boat Company in 1934.

The Stone Boat Company founded by J. W. Stone in 1896 was originally on the Lake at the foot of Fort St. In 1907 the business was relocated to the west side of the dock between Main St and Water Street. This building remained thetre until the 1970s. Marrs Marine had a boat sales and repair business until they sold to Nelson's Leisureland. Kendall's Wharf was next tio the Stone Boat Company building at the foot of Wharf Street. The chief boat builder of Stone Boat was R.J. Short.

Lakeland operated a boat sales and repair shop in the 21 st century.


Thomas Robert Cossey was born May 10 1848 in Filby, Norfolk, Englandand was engaged in boat building with W. Lake in Toledo Ohio. He arrived in Kenora in 1905 and died in 1908. His son Herbert Thomas Cossey, born in Ormesby St. Margaret, Norfolk, England and had been engaged in with his father in yacht and boat building in England before coming to Canada. In Canada, Herbert Thomas Cossey first went to Prince Albert where he build the 120 foot stern wheeler "Alberta " for the Hudson Bay Company. In Kenora he built many boats for cruising Lake of the woods including, the Erin, Calypso, Hostalingia, Raven, Ramona, Nahmeaka, Condon and the Ariel. He left Kenora in 1926 to Gravenhurst District where he carried on his trade until his retirement in 1945. Herbert Thomas Cossey died on March 24 1947 at the age of 75 at his home in Gravenhurst.

Son of Herbert Thomas Cossey, Stanley Thomas Cossey born January 4 1909 also designed and built boats in Kenora.

Another son, Claude Albert Cossey, born Feb 1897 in Norfork, England d. 01 Oct 1973 Haney, BC served as engineer on the Grace Anne 11 at least by 1921 and later become her captain. Other Cossey children born in Kenora included Lillian Helen May Cossey born March 31 1906, , Douglas Jack Cossey born July 28 1911 Kenora and Gordon Nelson Cossey born in 1918.

In 1957, son of Stanley Thomas Cossey, Leigh Cossey, captains a launch built in 1912 by his grandfather which had been used as a livery or taxi boat.

SS Keenora

One of the best known boats on the Lake in the early years of Kenora was the S.S. Keenora. Construction commissioned by Graham Horn & Co. of Fort William and Walter Ross of Rat Portage and was built by the Bertram Engine Company of Toronto at a cost of $60,000. The Rainy River Navigation Company, managed by Ross, was formed to oversee the operation of the Keenora, as well as the steamer Agwinde on the lake. The Keenora was to make a tri-weekly (later daily) run to Fort Francis and the Agwinde provided the connection from there to Beaver Mills. Once the components of the ship were built in Toronto, they were to be shipped by railway flatcar to Rat Portage for assembly. The name Keenora was derived by taking the first letters from the towns of Keewatin, Norman and Rat Portage. The name was adopted by town of Rat Portage when the community was renamed Kenora — droping one “e” — in 1905.(SS designates steamship)

On June 3,1897, the disassembled Keenora arrived at Norman from Toronto and the pieces were being assembled at the Cameron and Kennedy wharf. The hull built entirely of steel was 126 feet long, 30 feet beam and was fitted with cabin and furnishings in the same style as the celebrated CPR lake steamers. The Keenora was lighted by electricity. It had two compound (steam) engines and twin screws (propellors). 250 horse-power boiler and two fore and aft compound engines of 225 horse-power combined, which drove two 58-inch screws, 175 revolutions per minute each, giving a speed of 15 miles per hour.

The vessel was successfully launched on August 10, 1897, but not without some initial difficulty. On August 11, the completed Keenora was towed out of Norman for Rat Portage. The Catherine S had been lashed to the side of the Keenora to tow the newly-built vessel across the bay to its home port. At Rat Portage, the steamship was to take on coal in preparation for its trial run on Lake of the Woods. The maiden voyage of the Keenora to Fort Francis took place on August 21. Excursions aboard the Keenora were popular with visitors from accross Canada, Britain and the U.S.

However, the Keenora plied the waters of Lake of the Woods for a short time. In 1901, the Ontario and Rainy River Railway was built and transportation by rail caused declining numbers of excursionists. The vessel was docked for five years until the Canadian Northern Railway took over ownership of the Keenora in 1915.

A consortium of Winnipeg lawyers, formed the Lake Winnipeg Navigation Co., Ltd., purchased the Keenora and had it dismantled for shipment to the city by railway flatcar. When being reassembled in Winnipeg, the vessel was rebuilt in 1917 by Manitoba Bridge and Iron Works. The ship’s hull was extended by 9.1 meters, giving the vessel an overall length of 48 metres. Sixty-five passenger cabins were also built and new machinery installed. A wooden dance floor was installed that went the width of the second deck. The Keenora served as a stationary floating dance hall for a year before, the Lake Winnipeg Navigation Company began advertising trips to St. Andrew’s Locks and Victoria Beach. All sailings originated from the foot of St. John’s Avenue. The trip to the rapids was 50-cents for adults and 25-cents for children, while a return far to Victoria Beach was $1.50 with no mention of a children’s fare. Later in the navigation season, daily evening trips to Keenora Park with a band and dancing were announced at 50-cents apiece. In addition, there were five trips to Keenora Park on Dominion (Canada) Day 1917. Newspaper accounts from the period indicated that the vessel’s deck was often packed with over 400 excursionists.

John C. Hokanson, an experienced lake skipper who was captain of the ship from 1929 to 1952. In 1934 the Keenora was owned by the Selkirk Navigation Company, which was then operating out of Winnipeg, and had its dock at the foot of Redwood Avenue.

Others Yet to be researched

Charles Fraser of Keewatin, and Anton Vick of Rat Portage

Steamboats like the Verbena, Kenlow, Agwinde and countless more.


Dennett, Marg, Boat Building A round Rat Portage, Kenora 1976

SS Keenora, by Bruce Cherney (part 1)