In the fall of 1977, a small group led by Bob Leach of the Sidney Gaffers and Keith Cameron of the Maritime Museum of BC got together at the museum to plan the building of a replica of John Mears’ ship, the Northwest America, for the Captain Cook bicentenary. The provincial economy was struggling at the time and a request for a provincial grant had been turned down. It became apparent that sufficient corporate funding would not be available in time to get the ship under construction for 1978. There was, however, momentum in the little group which now included Bev Highton, President-elect of the Victoria Real Estate Board (VREB), and former owner of the schooner Lorna Doon. At the eleventh hour Bev and the VREB agreed to sponsor a Classic BoatFestival®. In July 1978 the Board hired Jim Russell to coordinate and promote the festival. Port Townsend had started their festival the previous year and the Victoria group got in touch with them seeking their guidance, which was freely given. A close relationship developed that continues to this day.
The Labour Day weekend arrived and 32 boats collected in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Frank Fredette, sealer, boat builder, naval architect and Thermopylae club member was judge and Honorary Commodore. Pulling boat races were a hit with young and old, sea shanties were sung, Jim Saul played his saw and everybody had a great time. One award was given — Best Sail — at a seafood dinner at the White Eagles Hall in James Bay. After much dancing the participants were loaded on to double-decker buses and returned to their boats in the Inner Harbour in front of the Empress hotel.
Now, 40 years later, the festival which started as a one-time “happening”, has become an annual event with as many as 130-boats participating from all over the world. 2009 marked the final year of sponsorship of the festival by the REALTORS® of Greater Victoria (through the Victoria Real Estate Board) and Black Press. It became evident, however, that many of the owners of the classic power and sailing craft, some of which date back to the dawn of the twentieth century and travel considerable distances to attend the annual celebration, were adamant that the show would go on, bigger and better than ever.
The boats start arriving on Thursday, August 30th, and the festival officially begins on Friday, September 1st with the arrival of the Honorary Commodore. A number of the vessels will be open to the public over the weekend and a full list of activities can be found under the Schedule of Events section of this website. Under the umbrella of The Maritime Museum of British Columbia, the Victoria Classic Boat Festival continues, showcasing the labor of love by dedicated classic boat enthusiasts, attracting new generations and preserving our marine heritage.
When all is said and done, there would be no show without the participation of the boat owners who scrub, sand, polish, varnish, paint and yes pay to keep these beauties in such good shape for everyone to enjoy. Our hats are off to them as well as as to our presenting sponsor, Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard, our hosts, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, our volunteers and the organization, supporters and advertisers.