Sturgeon I, ready for visitors on Malcolm Island. (Sointula Museum photo)

Restored boat on display in Sointula, honouring the past

A 34-foot gillnet fishing boat built on Malcolm Island in 1948 is the newest museum addition

Sointula has a long history of fishing and boat building, and the Museum and Historical Society’s latest permanent exhibit shows them both off. With hundreds of hours of volunteer support, contributions from local organizations, they’ve refurbished an old boat and constructed a display pavilion near the waterfront.

The Sturgeon I is a double-ended 34-foot wooden gillnet fishing boat built in 1948 by Toivo Aro and Albert Tarkanen in Sointula. It took Sointula volunteers nearly 10 years to restore the boat and find it a permanent home, but late this summer the last coat of paint dried and the interpretive signs were hung up.

The launch party has been delayed until physical distancing requirements are lifted. “This was a big community project, and there are way more than 50 people who will need to be there, said Kathy Gibler, the museum director.

In former years, Sointula had a booming boat building industry. At least nine commercial builders operated between the late 1950s and 1960s, according to the historical society. As demands on fishermen increased, boats got more sophisticated and Sointula’s boat builders, who had excelled at small wood boats, gradually closed up shop.

The restored Sturgeon I represents that legacy as well as the fishermen’s blood that runs through the community still.

Toivo Aro was a Finnish-born fisherman, boat builder, lighthouse keeper and painter. He used to paint backdrops for the town plays, and also did the make-up for the actors, his grandson Vern Aro recalled. As a young lighthouse keeper he complained that he didn’t get paid enough and when they refused to give him more, he started building boats to supplement his income. That quickly became his livelihood. Aro passed away in 1958.

The Lions Club, Malcolm Island Lions Harbour Authority, Tarkanen Marine Ways, Island Coastal Economic Trust and many individuals contributed towards the project.

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The Sturgeon I being lifted onto its new pavilion. (Sointula Museum photo)

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