Meikle’s Model Sailboat
Organization: Heritage Lower Saint Lawrence
Coordinates: www.heritagelsl.ca / info [at] heritagelsl.ca
Address: 160A rue Principale, Métis-sur-Mer, QC G0J 1W0
Region: Lower Saint Lawrence
Contact: Jennie Hurwood, jhurwood(a)heritagelsl.ca
Description: Child's handcrafted sailboat made by the master boatbuilder Leonard Meikle of Métis, Quebec.
Year made: circa 1930
Made by: Leonard Meikle
Materials/Medium: Cedar wood
Colours: Grey, red, white and yellow
Provenance: Métis-sur-Mer, Quebec
Size: 1.39 m x 35.5 cm x 1 m
Photos: Rachel Garber. Courtesy Heritage Lower Saint Lawrence
Meikle’s Model Sailboat
It is fascinating that even a child’s toy can tell a multi-layered story of English-speaking life in Quebec. This handmade wooden model sailboat - accurate down to the jib and forestay, with a figurehead at the prow- was crafted in Métis on the Lower Saint Lawrence around 1930. It was painted brightly in grey, red, white and yellow and is over a metre long and high. It even includes a life boat for a child’s dramatic rescue scenarios.
Playing with toy boats, often encouraged and coached by grandparents who could take the time to impart their experience, was important for instilling in girls and boys growing up on the banks of the St-Lawrence a knowledge of the wind and the water currents crucial for survival on the river. Although most children had toy boats that inspired their learning about the River, this particular sailboat was created by a master boatbuilder for the child of well-to-do vacationers. The sailboat thus reflects the economic and cultural importance of summer visitors who came to this English-speaking community to spend the warm summer months sailing and relaxing on the windswept waters of the St. Lawrence.
The village of Little Metis developed as an English-speaking and Gaelic-speaking enclave within an otherwise French-speaking region of Quebec when Scottish businessman John MacNider (1760-1829) purchased the Seigneury of Metis in 1807. By 1818 he was settling Scottish immigrants on his land, giving them lodging, food, clothing and farm implements for their first two years. Self-sufficient at the end of that period, they then paid 12 shillings and 5 pence rent for a farm of 140 to 200 acres. With “true Scottish grit and old world gratitude,” many of the settlers refused all aid after the first year. By the 1820s, MacNider was enthusiastically exploiting the rich forest resources, selling the timber and providing year-round employment for the settlers.
In addition to farming on the shores of the Saint Lawrence, the early settlers in Metis relied on the river and the forest for their livelihood. Putting fish on the dinner table meant building the boats to catch them. The Meikle family, arriving from Scotland in 1829, became well known for their craftsmanship in boat building and carpentry. Samuel Meikle, of the first generation born in Métis, and his son Leonard worked together to leave a legacy of boats, some still afloat, and houses, some still standing. Two toy boats also remain; one of which, made by Leonard Meikle, was selected as one of the significant objects representing the English-speaking community of Quebec. Leonard Meikle died in 1985.
The Meikles' provided sailing boats for the summer residents, fishing boats for the permanent residents and punts or small, flat-bottomed boats for exploring shallow waters. They used local cedar to design fast and light sailboats styled more like working maritime boats than pleasure crafts. These were perfect for the Saint Lawrence.
The village of Little Metis was inaccessible by road or rail until after 1875. The first hotels were built in Métis in 1875 and by 1900, summer tourism was booming with the well-to-do of Quebec City, Montreal, and later Toronto, coming to holiday on the lower shore of the St. Lawrence River. Attractive for its fresh air and for being the only English-speaking settlement on this particularly beautiful stretch of coastline, the village of Métis developed quickly as a resort. Local residents soon built hotels, houses, and boats to accommodate the vacationers.
This beautifully crafted toy was made for the Forbes children, children of summer residents and descendants of one of the Metis seigneurial families. The summer residents and the local people were different in their histories and life experiences, but they were interdependent, bonded together by their love for this place and the River. Through this toy sailboat the Meikle heritage speaks of the tradition, craft, and the heart of Metis life.
In 2001, the boat was donated to Heritage Lower Saint Lawrence by Jessie and Christine Forbes so it would stay in Métis-sur-Mer. The sailboat can be seen at the Heritage Lower Saint Lawrence Cultural Resource Centre, Métis-sur-mer, which is about 400 kilometers from Quebec City on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River.
Note: The Seigneury of Metis, which was split into Grand-Métis and Little Metis, was sold eventually to the Ferguson family, who held it until the seigneurial system of New France was ended in 1854. The Domain was sold to Lord Mount Stephen, who called it Estevan Lodge. He in turn left the domain to his niece, Mrs. Elsie Reford, the pioneer horticulturalist and avid fisherwoman who created Les Jardins de Métis. Her fishing book is another of the 100 objects reflecting English-speaking culture and identity in Quebec.
Information supplied by Heritage Lower Saint Lawrence.
John MacNider, www.wikipedia.org
Tricia Toso, Wooden Boats: Remnants of a Bygone Era, 2007.
Tricia Toso, Maritime History Floats on Local Waters, Heritage Lower St. Lawrence newsletter summer 2008.
Osprey, A Meikle Daysailer, Heritage Lower St. Lawrence newsletter June 2006.
Oral History testaments and information from local residents contained in the records of Heritage Lower Saint Lawrence.
To Learn More
Alice Sharples Baldwin, Metis Wee Scotland of the Gaspe, 1960.
Lower St. Lawrence Heritage Trail, www.gaspesie.quebecheritageweb.com
Ken Annett, “Historical Gaspé of Yesterday – The Seigniory of Metis 1675-1854,” SPEC July 10, 1980. www.angelfire.com
Jacqueline Hyman is a writer and lives in the Eastern Townships. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Eaton Corner Museum in Cookshire-Eaton, Quebec.