Earlier in 2016 I set out on a journey to learn as much as possible about the history of Grew Boat Manufacturing. Since I began this research, I have been amazed by the different eras of the brand, and although the original research was for my own interest, we have been getting many calls and emails from Grew enthusiasts who want to know more about their boat(s). Most information requested is regarding late models, built near Owen Sound, that owners need product specifications for but, some requests for historical information come in as well. Understanding the different eras of the brand, and manufacturing facilities will help people understand more about their vessel.
Although I won’t have all of the facts perfectly detailed, the following summarizes how the Grew brand has evolved, why it is such a strong Canadian name, and how it came to where it sits at rest today.
In the early 1900s Arthur Grew learned to build boats from the Ackroyd Brothers of Toronto. Due to health issues, he moved from Toronto to Jackson’s Point, where he used the skills he picked up building dinghies in Toronto, to built his first boat. That first boat was reportedly sold to David Gibson, of Simpson’s Department stores. He went on to rent and sell the boats he built, from a two-storey boathouse where the company first began. During this period, there were craftsman building beautiful wooden boats throughout Southern Ontario but, over the decades a few companies grew to prominence. In 1932, Grew purchased Gidley Boatworks and consolidated the two facilities in Penetanguishene, Ontario, where Grew continued business until the early 1990s.
During the Second World War, several Canadian Boat Manufacturers were commissioned to build high-speed submarine chasing war ships called Fairmiles. Grew was responsible for the manufacture of several Fairmiles that played an important role in the war effort, including defence against German U-Boats, and even the landing on D-Day. During this period of time, all resources were focussed on war-efforts, rather than pleasure craft.
Following the war, and prior to the NAFTA Free Trade Agreement, Grew enjoyed a few decades of successful license and manufacturing agreements with established U.S. boat brands. Through several transitions, Grew boats evolved in appearance, based upon the partners they were working with and, these changes can make some of the vessel identification and information rather confusing. In the early 1960s Grew manufactured and distributed lapstrake wooden boats for Cruisers Inc., and became nationally prominent under the marketing power of Algonquin Marine.
After the Cruisers Inc. contract expired in the late ’60s Grew entered the fibreglass boat market, building boats under license for Slickcraft. Leon Slickers left Chris Craft to start his own company, during a labour strike that was affecting manufacturing. During the time when Grew was building the Canadian version of the Slickcraft line of deep-V hull pleasure boats, the facility in Penetanguishene expanded exponentially, to accommodate high demands. There are still many of these boats on the water, reportedly dependable and sea-worthy to this day.
Throughout the 1970s, Grew changed ownership, and leadership and, in the early 1980s the Slickcraft era came to an end. During the early 1980s Grew entered an agreement similar to the Slickcraft arrangement, with the historical boat manufacturer Chris Craft, although the Chris Craft vessels were branded with the Chris Craft brand, unlike the Slickcraft Grews.
During the mid to late 1980s Grew was Canada’s largest boat manufacturer, under the legal name ACF Grew, developing and marketing original Grew models, manufactured in Penetang, and sought after internationally.
With the emergence of NAFTA, U.S. manufacturers no longer needed a manufacturing partner like Grew so, the company was forced into another transition. Unfortunately, in 1991 the Penetanguishene facility was destroyed in a devastating fire. Many company records were destroyed and, the company was dismantled. It is unclear where all of the company assets that remained were distributed to, and why, but David Cameron purchased boat moulds, and opened his own manufacturing facility in Grey County, south of Owen Sound. The original company, ACF Grew, and the Trademark were all held by different parties, although David Cameron did his best to maintain the integrity of the great Canadian name throughout the 90s and into the new millennium. Grew continued to develop, manufacture and market sought after boat models until 2011. Unfortunately, following a devastating incident that resulted in the death of David Cameron, the company’s assets were dismantled and distributed across the province once again, this time the result of a public auction. Several company records, including boat specifications, and owner’s manuals were either lost as a result of the auction, or destroyed in another fire.
Currently, the most recent boat moulds, from the David Cameron era of Grew, are owned by one company, the manufacturing facility sits as a fire-damaged shell, and the intellectual brand is owned by Ron Jackson. The Jackson family has a dream of rebuilding the Grew brand, and manufacturing retro boat designs that are worthy of Arthur Grew’s name and craftsmanship.