Henley Boats Manufacturing featured in Go North promotional video

Henley Boats’ Dave Ham poses with one of the models under construction in his shop, a firefighting/passenger vessel bound for BC.

MANITOWANING – Henley Boats Manufacturing based in Manitowaning, the oldest heavy aluminum boat manufacturer in Ontario is being featured in the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) Go North promotional videos.

“Everything went pretty good,” stated Dave Ham, owner of the business of the filming by Good Gauley Productions last week. “We are hoping this will be good for the company and for the Island as well.”  

“Drew Gauley of Good Gauley Productions explained in detail what they wanted to do, and I made a presentation on the history of the company in front of the camera,” said Mr. Ham.

Al MacNevin, mayor of the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands (NEMI) and a Manitoulin  representative on the FONOM board told The Expositor, “when we had discussions looking at businesses to profile on the Island and Northern Ontario, the main message we wanted to present is that the North is a very good place to create a business with, for instance lower production costs and being able to live and work in the same community.”

Henley Boats, which is over 40 years old, is the oldest heavy aluminum  and hand-built aluminum boat manufacturer in the province of Ontario. “To our knowledge we are the only company building heavy aluminum boats with lapstrake sides anywhere,” the company brochure explains. 

“I bought the business about 20 years ago (from Collin Gourley, of Picton, Ontario). He relocated it to Manitowaning. The former proprietor passed on his knowledge on to Mr. Ham, said Mr. Ham. “I was selling Honda and outboard engines, but I needed a good boat supplier.”

Mr. Ham was contacted by the former Henley owner, who brought a couple of boats with him up to Manitowaning. “He told me he was not well and wanted to sell the business, and would even come up and help us get started. He said he would offer it to me first and asked me to fly to Picton on a Saturday to have a look. I bought all the machinery and equipment.”

“When we first started we would build one or two boats a year,” Mr. Ham told The Expositor. “We should do around 50 this year,” with the smallest being 18 feet and the biggest 50 feet long, and all sizes in between. “If we were doing all  smaller boats we could probably do 60-70 boats a year, but we do a lot of custom builds.” The business has 17 employees.

“We have shipped boats pretty well all over the world,” said Mr. Ham. “We haven’t shipped many into Europe but will continue to when we get requests. Yes, every day we receive inquiries from various countries throughout the world.” He noted a Fort Myers (Florida) economic group is interested in  developing a boat building business there  and he is looking at this seriously. “The market down there is phenomenal.” 

“It has been a great little hobby,” stated Mr. Ham. “I consider it being a hobby. I really enjoy what I’m doing. I’m 77 now and I can’t fly all the time,” the pilot laughed.

“It is really good to see a business manufacturing in that local area a business that is running that well,” said Mr.Gauley, of Good Gauley Productions. “They have a problem that every business wants, keeping up with demand,” he said, noting the business is looking at possible expansion in the future.

“It is certainly a good news story for Dave (Ham), his sons and the real boss of the business, Dave’s wife Joyce,” said Mr. Gauley. “Dave talked about the company’s history and the boats his company produces that last forever. He was showing me one boat that is going to Prince Rupert. It’s a firefighting vessel.”

“I would say we shot about an hours worth of video film with the interviews and shots of the business, and filming of the Manitoulin Island area as well,” said Mr. Gauley.

Mac Bain of FONOM told The Expositor “the idea of the Go North campaign is that even in the pandemic Northern Ontario is a very healthy place to do business. These videos showcase Northern Ontario businesses and demonstrate that businesses can open and be successful anywhere in our seven districts of the Northern Ontario area.”

Mr. Bain said that FedNor provided the majority of the funding for the promotional video campaign, but the project was extended by the FONOM board to include an additional two videos, the one for Manitoulin Island and one for Nipissing. “So basically we increased our budget for this promotion.” 

“The bottom line is there are a lot of great reasons for businesses to expand or open in the North,” said Mr. Bain. “The promotional videos have been very well received, we  have receive a lot of great reviews from the videos ones that have been shown so far, from people and business owners all over Ontario and other areas.”  

“It was Al (MacNevin) who had brought Henley Boats forward as a good business to video and promote on the Island,” continued Mr. Bain. “Each of the seven districts has a representative on the board, and each would bring forward businesses that they feel would be good to highlight. Al made the suggestion as to who would be good for Manitoulin Island and had talked to members of the MMA (Manitoulin Municipal Association) to make sure it would be good to represent the district.”

“Drew (Gauley) is quite creative and it takes him about two to three weeks to complete each episode, and before the final edition is out it is reviewed by the executive of FONOM,” said Mr. Bain. “Drew has a lot of talent and has done a fantastic job, and the board has been quite happy with the project.”  

“The whole idea of profiling businesses in Northern Ontario is that this part of the province is a great area to open up and do business in,” said Mr. MacNevin. “Any time we have the chance to promote a Manitoulin Island business is a good thing.”