Manitoulin Secondary students tour Henley Boats to see trades in action

Dave Ham of Henley Boats in Manitowaning hosted a tour of MSS tech students recently. In photo, the students learn about the finished product seen above. This vessel is destined for Los Angeles. photo by Alicia McCutcheon

MANITOWANING—In one of a number of trips for Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) technology students, technology teacher Stephen Robinson’s class headed for Manitowaning recently and a trip to Henley Boats to visit Manitoulin’s largest industrial manufacturing facility. The trips are designed to get the students thinking about future careers in the trades.

The students were put into two groups with the morning further split into two: a tour of Henley Boats from owner Dave Ham and a talk on entrepreneurship from LAMBAC staff at the Assiginack municipal office.

The students were greeted with a shop in the full throes of boat building and were surprised to learn that one large vessel, nearing its finishing stages, was destined for Hawaii, another, not so near completion, for Florida.

Mr. Ham told the students that if they were able to meet all of the demands required of them, they would be producing at least 1,500 boats a year; last year they manufactured 35 vessels, both recreational and commercial. “There seems to be an enormous demand for aluminum boats,” he added.

One of the students asked why the metal was kinked, with Mr. Ham explaining that the design is proven to push the water out and back instead of up, dispersing the water more efficiently.

Staff numbers fluctuate at Henley Boats, depending on demand, but over the winter months the facility employed 18 people in various trades, including drafting, fabrication, welding, fitting, mechanics, electrical and more.

Mr. Ham explained to the class that heavy aluminum boats are seeing the greatest growth in the marine industry with his boats being sold across North America. “I just wish I could sell a few more on Manitoulin,” he joked.

Technology teacher Irving Noble explained to Mr. Ham that drafting is no longer part of the tech school curriculum, with some of the students checking out one of Henley’s drafting tables on the tour. Currently, all of the pieces that make the boats, ranging in size up to 60 ft., are cut by hand, but Mr. Ham is looking into one day getting cutting tables. “But then we need people to run them, and that’s where you guys come in,” he told the class.

“If one of these kids asked you for a job, what would you require of them?” Mr. Noble asked Mr. Ham.

“I’d probably hand them a broom, but if your overall ambition is to become a fitter or a welder, we’d set them up with CWB (Canadian Welding Bureau) for some education and then, if all goes well, with a trainer,” the proprietor explained. “The last time a trainer was here, we put 10 people through the course.’

“It depends on where your strengths are,” Mr. Ham continued. “You generally have to start at the bottom and work your way up.”

“I’ve been doing that for three years!” one student quipped to much laughter.

Mr. Ham admonished the students to always be ambitious. “I don’t want ‘youdoits’,” he said. “I want people to see what needs to be done and take it upon themselves to do it.”

Following a tour of two finished products outside the facility, one destined for Los Angeles, the other for Wisconsin, the students also toured Henley Boats’ next door neighbour TerraStar Building Products and proprietor Rob Maguire, learning firsthand how steel roofs and siding are formed.