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Carving floats Harvey George's boat

Harvey George’s detailed wooden fishing boat models — like his recent Agnes Rose — are all done from memory. - Andrew Leong
Harvey George’s detailed wooden fishing boat models — like his recent Agnes Rose — are all done from memory.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

Give Harvey George a block of cedar and a year, and you'll end up with something spectacular.

Something like the Agnes Rose.

The impressive fishing-boat model — more than four feet in length — sits proudly in the centre of George's immaculate Duncan workshop, the finely-detailed product of a multifaceted life.

It tells the story of a young boy who grew up watching his uncle carve, who spent hours watching the fishing boats sail in and out of Sooke. Who went on to work on those fishing boats, and eventually retire as a logger at MacMillan Bloedel.

"It's been in my blood, all my life," says George, 72.

Now a dozen of his handcrafted boats are on display at the Cowichan Valley Maritime Centre, and more are featured at the Juan de Fuca Salmon Restoration Society's new interpretive centre in Sooke.

That's where Agnes Rose is bound.

"I just donate them," George says from his workshop. "I used to have them in here but no one could see them, so I donated them so that everybody could."

And people like what they see, says the maritime centre's Suzan Lagrove.

"People really enjoy them, especially anyone who has been involved in the fishing industry — they bring back a lot of memories for them," she says.

They're even more impressed when they learn George whittles the masterpieces out of single blocks of wood, measuring nothing and relying instead of his eyes and his years admiring boats.

"When you tell people that, they're totally amazed," says Lagrove. "And it's all done from memory. They aren't to scale but from what he recollects as a young man out of the water fishing."

"There are no scales, no prints," George confirms. "It's all from my mind and guessing with my eyesight."

And he loves to hear the reactions.

"They can't get over the details on them," he says proudly. "And there's word of mouth. People say, 'You have to go and see the boats.'"

That's something George continues to do, too.

"I go to Cowichan Bay to visit them," he says. "This is my hobby, and my life."

You can view the dozen boats on display at the Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and at the museum on the pier between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m., during the summer months.

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