This Day in History: Boeing gets into boat business at Vancouver plant

This Day in History: Boeing gets into boat business at Vancouver plant

The Coal Harbour plant built seaplanes, regular planes and boats

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On June 30, 1929, Boeing Aircraft offered “a revolution in recreation” to Vancouverites — a 20-foot boat that could seat 10 people.

“You’ve always wanted a boat — and now you afford one,” read the ad. “The Gypsy Cruisers are priced so low that hundreds of Vancouver families can have them.”

The price was $700, which gave would-be mariners the chance for “a home afloat for less than the price of the smallest car.”

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But a question remains: Why was Boeing, a Seattle aircraft manufacturer, selling boats in Vancouver?

The answer is that two months earlier, it had taken over the Hoffar-Beeching Shipyards at 1927 West Georgia, on the shore of Coal Harbour.

According to a Province story on April 26, 1929, Hoffar-Beeching had been making commercial ships and yachts for 21 years, producing local luxury yachts like the Fifer and the Deerleap.

After being taken over by Boeing Aircraft of Canada, the Hoffar-Beeching plant was to double in size to 60,000 sq. ft. and build “flying boats” (seaplanes) alongside its usual marine craft.

William Boeing knew a lot about flying boats. He’d been making them since 1916 in Seattle, and on March 3, 1919, had been in a Boeing seaplane that made the first international airmail delivery from Vancouver to Seattle with pilot Eddie Hubbard.

Boeing and Hubbard took off from Coal Harbour to Lake Union in Seattle with 60 letters in a Boeing C-700. They made the 150-mile trip in two-and-a-half hours.

Seaplanes were a big deal in 1919, when flight was still in its infancy. Vancouver opened its first seaplane base at Jericho Beach in June, 1920. The Sea Island (land) airport didn’t open until July 22, 1931.

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Both Henry Hoffar and C.G. Beeching remained with Boeing Canada to run the Canadian company. Hoffar had built the first seaplane in Canada in 1914, and, The Province reported, “actually flew in it.”

Still, he knew that building a big airport on land was only a matter of time.

“It is anticipated that manufacturing activities will be expanded later to include the production of land machines and other types demanded by the Canadian market,” said The Province on April 26, 1929.

“If Vancouver establishes a permanent airport, Mr. Hoffar indicated, future plans will probably call for establishment of a factory near the civic field.”

That’s just what happened, although it didn’t open until 1939. Until then, the Coal Harbour plant made float planes, land planes, and boats. Both plants were extremely busy during the Second World War, but closed at the end of it.

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Ad for the Boeing Gypsy Cruiser speedboat, in the June 30, 1929 Vancouver Province. sun

But back to the Boeing boats of 1929.

“Carefully built by trained craftsmen, the stock cruisers offered by the Boeing Aircraft of Canada are revelations of roomy compactness,”said a story in The Vancouver Sun on Aug. 24, 1929.

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“Their advanced design and sturdy construction makes them the most sought-after boats on the Pacific Coast.”

The company made a variety of “cruiser” boats, including “intermediate” boats of 23, 35, 40 and 48 feet. But the best-seller was the Gypsy.

“This little 20-foot craft is undoubtedly the most popular craft ever constructed in B.C.,” said The Sun.

“Dozens have been built and sold and are giving perfect satisfaction in over 11 cities, both in B.C. and Alberta. The Gypsy sleeps two or three persons in roomy man-size berths, and with either the 20 (horsepower) Evinrude or the 25 h.p. in board Van Bierck (engine), speeds over 15 m.p.h. are obtainable.”

William Boeing must have been impressed with his new boat-building plant, because he had his own yacht, the Taconite, built there.

The 125-foot yacht cost $421,000 to build and was launched on June 11, 1930. It had five large staterooms (bedrooms), a formal dining room with a table for 10, and a salon (living room) that was bigger than many condos.

It had teak paneling, teak wainscotting, built-in teak cupboards, built-in teak bookshelves, teak coffered ceilings and teak flooring, all made from logs Boeing imported from Burma and milled in Vancouver.

Boeing used it to cruise the west coast for decades, flying in visitors by flying boat. It was for sale for $2.5 million US a few years ago, and according to marinetraffic.com is now in the Gulf of California.

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July 15, 1930. W.E. Boeing’s yacht M.V. “Taconite”. Stuart Thomson/City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99-2216. PNG
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The Taconite in 2015 before it was sold and left B.C. The 125-foot yacht constructed with teak and commissioned by William E. Boeing, the founder of Boeing Aircraft. It was launched in 1930 and served the family for 47 years. Photo by Mark Yuen /Vancouver Sun
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Boeing Aircraft Co. of Canada speedboat in Coal Harbour. Stuart Thomson Vancouver Archives AM1535-: CVA 99-2313 sun
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First International Mail Flight Vancouver to Seattle. William Boeing and Eddie Hubbard of Seattle leaving Vancouver, March 3, 1919. Stuart Thomson Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Trans P44 sun

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