Saturday, November 18, 2017
 

A Little Boat with a Long Legacy

Friday, December 21, 2012

by Christina Dierkes, Ohio Sea Grant Communications

The letter to Hilliard Station School begins its journey from Canada to Ohio.

The letter to Hilliard Station School begins its journey from Canada to Ohio.

Credit: Vinka Gervais

A small yellow boat became an international celebrity last month when it was found on the beach at Point Pelee National Park in Ontario, Canada. What at first looked like a lost toy turned out to be “Paddle to the Sea” Boat Number 7, one of nine small wooden boats that were first launched in Lake Erie 17 years ago.

In 1995, Lynda Floehr, then a teacher at Hilliard Station Sixth Grade School, took a group of students on a field trip to Stone Laboratory, an Ohio Sea Grant and Ohio State Universityresearch and teaching facility on Lake Erie’s Gibraltar Island. In preparation for the trip, Rick Thorpe, a teacher in the Hilliard City School District, carved the boats. The yellow wooden boats were released as part of the research cruise that every field trip class takes on the Stone Lab’s research vessel Bio-Lab. Each boat was labeled with a number, the class’s address, and a request to anyone who found them to re-release the six-inch boats back into the water after marking the date and location of the find.

CTV was on hand to record the occasion when Mrs. Gervais’ class re-launched Boat 7 in the Detroit River in November.

CTV was on hand to record the occasion when Mrs. Gervais’ class re-launched Boat 7 in the Detroit River in November.

Credit: Vinka Gervais

"We did hear from someone that year on Pelee Island who found one of the boats," Floehr said in an email to Kevin Buchman, principal at Hilliard Station.

Markings show that Boat 7 was found a few times in 1995, but it hadn’t been heard from since then—not until this November, when the husband of a third-grade teacher at Princess Elizabeth School in Windsor, Ontario, found the boat. The wayward vessel arrived on shore at Point Pelee, about 20 miles northeast of Stone Laboratory. He took the boat home to his wife, Vinka Gervais, who shared the story with her students and contacted Buchman at Hilliard Station to find out more about the boat.

Boat 7 begins its trip down the Detroit River from a riverside walk in Windsor, Ontario.

Boat 7 begins its trip down the Detroit River from a riverside walk in Windsor, Ontario.

Credit: Vinka Gervais

After a number of emails between Gervais, Buchman, and Floehr, the students are exchanging letters with students at Hilliard Station, and hope to meet each other virtually during a streaming video conference. Staff members at the Ohio school are also working on other special events to commemorate the find.

"To think that [the boat] has been there for 17 years is just incredible," says Floehr. "The kids who sent him on his journey would be 28 or 29 years old this year."

The “Paddle to the Sea” activity was inspired by a 1941 children’s book by the same name, written by Holling C. Holling. The story tells of a boy who sends a carved canoe on a trip through the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean.

Students at Princess Elizabeth School in Windsor, Ontario, signed the boat before sending it back on its journey through the Great Lakes.

Students at Princess Elizabeth School in Windsor, Ontario, signed the boat before sending it back on its journey through the Great Lakes.

Credit: Vinka Gervais

“Teachers all over the Great Lakes region know about the “Paddle to the Sea” story and how much it can teach about the geography and culture of the area,” says Dr. Rosanne Fortner, Ohio Sea Grant’s former Education Director. “In our multidisciplinary education activities, we chose to relate this award-winning children’s literature to the school curriculum, and the stories of Paddle’s adventures have spurred children and their school classes to explore their own watersheds.”

Ms. Gervais’ third graders have also launched Boat 7 again, this time in the Detroit River.


This article includes information from “Boat launched by local students in 1995 surfaces in Ontario,” written by Kevin Corvo of ThisWeek Community News, an affiliate of the Columbus Dispatch.

Stone Lab continues to offer Lake Erie field trips like the one Ms. Floehr’s class took in 1995. Or take a virtual tour of the lab.

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