Leonard Matthews Sr. and Jr.

Two gen­er­a­tions of model boat build­ing: Part II

The Southern Gazette - - Editorial - Al­lan Stoodley Al­lan Stoodley is a long-time res­i­dent of Grand Bank. He can be reached at am­stood­ley@hot­mail.com and he wel­comes com­ments on this or any other ar­ti­cle he has writ­ten.

Times were hard back then and Len Matthews, like many other New­found­lan­ders of his day, had no choice but to be­gin earn­ing a liv­ing at a very young age.

In 1913, at the age of only 11, he left his home at Grand Bank to go trap-fish­ing on the other side of the Burin Penin­sula.

Two years later he gave up trap-fish­ing and was promptly hired as a deck­hand on a lo­cal ves­sel car­ry­ing freight around the New­found­land coasts. In 1916, he se­cured a berth on a bank­ing schooner and four years later, while on a fish­ing trip to St. Pierre Bank, Len and fel­low Grand Banker Charles Thomas be­came sep­a­rated from their mother ship while fish­ing in a dory.

The two dory-mates, who had been fish­ing some dis­tance from their schooner the “Florence E.” dur­ing most of the day, couldn’t make head­way row­ing back to her be­cause of a strong tide run­ning and a heavy wind that had come up sud­denly. Soon dark­ness sur­rounded them and they de­cided the best thing to do was head for home. They did just that and af­ter row­ing and sail­ing for three days and three nights, they fi­nally ar­rived safely back at Grand Bank.

In 1922, Len Matthews gave up bank-fish­ing to pur­sue the much more fi­nan­cially re­ward­ing sea-go­ing ca­reer of “rum-run­ning.” The ba­sic pay of $75 per month was ex­cep­tion­ally good, plus each crewmem­ber was al­lowed to sell some of their own booze to our pro­hi­bi­tion-stricken neigh­bours to the south, which re­sulted in many New­found­land sea­men earn­ing ex­tra money in years when dol­lars were hard to come by.

Two years of this was enough, so he went for an­other ca­reer change and de­cided to stay closer to home when he be­gan in­shore do­ry­fish­ing out of Grand Bank. For many years af­ter he di­vided his time be­tween fish­ing and farm­ing in the spring, sum­mer and fall and leav­ing home dur­ing the win­ter months to work at Ar­gen­tia, St. John’s, Syd­ney or any other cen­tre where jobs were avail­able.

Over the years he de­vel­oped the skills of boat-caulk­ing and car­pen­try. In 1964 while re­pair­ing a roof on a Grand Bank home, Len Matthews slipped and fell. He broke his right leg, suf­fered a frac­tured col­lar-bone, hip and pelvis, and was in cast for 10 months. He was forced into an early re­tire­ment at age 62 and needed the help of a walk­ing stick to get around for the rest of his life.

Some years ear­lier he had turned his tal­ented hands to build­ing model dories and schooners as a hobby. Af­ter his cast was re­moved he be­came more se­ri­ous about putting the fin­ish­ing touches on some of th­ese ves­sels and soon his skill at pro­duc­ing qual­ity model boats be­gan to be rec­og­nized. He was then called upon to build a six-foot long dory for the premier of the day, J.R.”Joey” Small­wood, and an­other dory for then prime min­is­ter Pierre El­liott Trudeau in honour of his visit to the Burin Penin­sula. It wasn’t long be­fore the Grand Bank builder’s dories and schooners were find­ing their way all around the world.

Len Matthews and his wife, Mar­jorie, were the par­ents of 15 chil­dren, eight of whom are now de­ceased. Most of their sons fol­lowed in their fa­ther’s foot­steps and be­came car­pen­ters. How­ever, the only one who de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in car­ry­ing on the craft of build­ing model boats was his name­sake, Leonard Jr.

Len Jr., him­self now age 75, spent a lot of time in his younger years in the work­shop with his fa­ther. He was with him to give a hand when the dory was be­ing built for Joey Small­wood. He also earned a liv­ing at car­pen­try and co­in­ci­dently, like his fa­ther, he was un­for­tu­nate enough to also fall off the roof of a house he was work­ing on. It was in 1986 and the fall re­sulted in a bro­ken back at the young age of 44.

The se­ri­ous and painful in­jury also forced him into an early re­tire­ment but de­spite the ob­sta­cles, he keeps him­self busy turn­ing out model dories, schooners and drag­gers like his fa­ther did be­fore him.

I re­cently vis­ited Len at his base­ment work­shop to have a chat and to view some of the beau­ti­ful mod­els he has on dis­play. He told me he has sold more than 200 dories in re­cent years, as well as five model drag­gers and five repli­cas of the L.A.Dun­ton, the last schooner to sail out of Grand Bank. He built and sold twenty-five 24-inch dories last win­ter and is now work­ing on a model of the stern trawler, Grand Prince.

Over the decades the de­mand for model schooners has been steady, with Len telling me has built and sold more than 150.

Like fa­ther, like son.


Mod­els of dories and a drag­ger on dis­play at Len Matthews’ work­shop in Grand Bank. Pho­tos of his fa­ther, Leonard Matthews Sr., also a renowned model boat builder in his day, are hang­ing on the back­ground wall.


Photo of Leonard Matthews, a model boat builder

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