NOTE: A more detailed, documented history of Withey's Shipyard and the Withey family, "Withey's Shipyard at Silva Bay", also written by Jenni Gehlbach, was published in Issue 22 (January, 2010) of SHALE, the journal of Gabriola Historical and Museum Society.

Withey's Shipyard at Silva Bay

After World War II, a self-taught boat builder brought his young family to live in beautiful Silva Bay. He quickly developed a thriving shipyard that provided employment for dozens of local men for more than two decades. His name was Leslie Albert Withey.

Les Withey was born in Fort William, Ontario on March 2, 1915 and after his family came out west he decided to become a fisherman. He’d need a vessel and he was an energetic and creative teenager, so without formal training, he built his first boat in his Mum’s Vancouver backyard. But as soon as he finished it someone offered to buy it, so Les Withey, the frustrated fisherman, became a successful shipwright in his spare time.

The Withey family in Vancouver and shipbuilding in the war years

Les married Margaret (Marg) Inglis in September 1939 and they launched the Naomi 1 that November, moving to live aboard at Cardero Wharf. In 1940 Les chartered the boat to BC Fishpackers but the Withey family moved aboard again in 1941 while Les worked at Wallace's Shipyard (Burrard Dry Dock Ltd.) in North Vancouver, building warships for the Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy.

They sold their boat in 1942 and bought a house. That summer, after their second child was born, Les changed to afternoon work at the shipyard so he could get more work done on the 40-foot Naomi II, which he was building in the family’s backyard. In March 1943, the children went to live for a little while with Marg's parents in Gibsons while the boat was finished and launched, and the house sold. An article in The Vancouver Sun reported that Les transported the Naomi II with “half a dozen husky helpers” through the streets to False Creek for launching. It also reported that the boat was constructed as a west coast troller or halibut boat, powered by a reconditioned Cummins diesel engine.

But in August 1943 Les Withey’s boat was expropriated by the RCAF for use in their Marine Patrol, which looked for submarines off the BC coast. Les signed up with the RCAF and his family went to Gibsons a couple of days later. Les served in the Marine Squadron's vessels that patrolled the Strait of Georgia

The Witheys come to Silva Bay after the war

Described in his discharge papers as 30 years old and six feet tall, with medium complexion, hazel eyes, and brown hair, Les was discharged from the RCAF in May 1945 just as the war was ending. The Withey family moved to Gabriola that summer. Les later told The Vancouver Sun’s Barry Broadfoot that while he had been in the Marine Squadron, every so often they had navigated the tricky entrance to put into Silva Bay and he had seen its potential.

When Withey’s requisitioned boat was returned to him with compensation he quickly sold it to Gabriolan Roy Peterson for $10,000. Les used most of the boat compensation money to go into partnership with Norm Sear who was a fisherman and, with his wife Jackie (née Shaw), owned all the Silva Bay property, including the original white farmhouse and orchard, which stood roughly where the pub’s parking lot is now.

The Withey family was used to change and they quickly settled in—Marg wrote in her diary:

Got a cabin at Mrs. Law’s. Stayed there six weeks. Then we got into our house, which Les built. It was not finished when we moved in. We finished it as we went along.

Local guests at their house warming party that November included Ed, Joe, and Kitty Silva, Ronald and Leslie Page, the McLearns, the Fredettes, the Sears, and the Fields. Silva Bay was the centre of life at the southeast end of the island. Les’s son Fred recalls:

At that time there was a small store run by Henry Halverson who lived with his wife Anita in the back, a fish buyer who sold to Canadian Fish Co., a small set of floats, and a coffee shop run by Bea and Ben Bodaker. The store sold gas for Imperial Oil and Page’s sold Standard Oil. I used to watch the tankers coming in at night as they shone their spotlights in my window. The fish packers used to come in once or twice a week to pick up the fish and drop off ice…

Withey and Sear’s first shipyard at Silva Bay, 1945-9

Norm Sear and Les Withey started their boat building and repair company, based in Withey’s expertise and Sear’s property. As soon as his family’s house was built, Withey began to build the new shipyard. Withey started to build boats in Silva Bay and between 1945 and 1949 the business built seven fishing boats:

Launching the Saturnina

saturnina

They built a six-room house on a landing barge for Tom Higgs who had previously owned the Gabriola ferry Atrevida. They built a yacht and also a wheelhouse for a work barge for Nanaimo Towing as well as several rowboats, and did all kinds of repairs.

Transmitted power didn’t come to Gabriola until 1955. Before that the shipyard had a big Fairbanks Morse generator, which had been used previously in the Atrevida ferry. It ran 8am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday and also supplied power to the store, coffee shop and the Witheys’ and Sears’ houses. A whistle blew at startup and shutdown and they had a spare of course, to ensure continuous power supply.

In the next couple of years , the yard acquired a Petters diesel auxiliary 8hp engine, a 3hp Wisconsin gas engine, and a 1931 Chevrolet engine for the ways. Other equipment listed in 1950 was:

The Witheys move to Bellingham 1948-9

But the Witheys were restless. Fred Withey told me that his father had five sisters, most of whom lived in the USA and Les had always wanted to live in the States too. So early in 1948, he decided to sell his interest in the shipyard to Ken Alexander and take the family to San Diego. A new company called Silva Bay Shipyards Ltd., which did not involve Withey, was registered during this period.

The family made a brief preliminary visit south and then headed for California again in August, stopping off in Vancouver to get a trailer. But Les found no work in California and the family worked its way back up the coastal route without finding employment until they reached Bellingham, Washington, where Les started to build a boat at the Bellingham Shipyards. He was very quickly appointed General Manager and Vice President there, and made a quick visit to Gabriola before starting his work on January 1, 1949.

The Bellingham yard built several big seiners that year. Ernie and Muriel Swanson and Evelyn and Herdie Dick came down from Gabriola to join the Witheys and Marg was acting as the Secretary/Treasurer of the shipyard (without pay). The Witheys were doing pretty well in Bellingham but all was not well back in Silva Bay. The new owner had not been successful in running the shipyard and Les went back the following year to attempt to revive it.

Withey’s Shipyard Ltd. established 1950

When Les Withey returned to Gabriola he not only bought out Alexander, but also Norm Sear’s interest in the shipyard. A new company Withey’s Shipyard Ltd. was incorporated on February 2, 1950 under certificate No. 25,603, with declared capital assets of $10,000, and Les and Marg Withey became its Directors on March 1. Corporate records state that Les had “made advantageous arrangements with Norman Sear…for the purchase of lands… together with the shipbuilding works and facilities thereon, …for… $10,500.00 with interest at 4% per annum payable at the rate of $40.00 per annum.” He had also arranged to purchase the physical assets (machinery and materials) of the boat building business for $3500.00 payable at $25.00 per month with interest at 5½% per annum. For this, Withey received 5000 shares of the Capital Stock of his own company on March 31, recorded in an agreement witnessed by Louis [Lou] Meyer. The 1951 financial statement shows that in addition to the long-term liabilities owed to Sear, Withey also still owed just unader $2000 to Alexander. Norm Sear stayed involved in the Withey’s business by acting as Sales Manager, and he reserved the right to lease part of the ways constructed on the land he’d sold.

The Memorandum of Association for Withey’s new company stated its objectives as:

Withey added much major equipment to the shipyard’s inventory:

and he’d also bought a thousand dollars’ worth of additional small tools and various ships chandlery and lumber stock.

The yard lost nearly $3000 in 1950 but under Withey’s renewed leadership things quickly turned around and in 1951 the yard made a net profit of nearly $5000. Withey paid out nearly $33,000 in wages that year—a considerable contribution to the local economy.

The prosperous 1950s—work, homes, and barbecues in Silva Bay

Between 1951 and 1954, Withey’s shipyard built several trollers and gillnetters for BC Packers, specifically for Japanese fishermen. A 1951 newspaper clipping headlined “Shipbuilding at Gabriola Booms: April Launchings” reported:

With four vessels due to be launched at Silva Bay this month, and five others to be started soon as the ways are cleared shipbuilding on the island is booming this year… giving employment to more than 15 workers… the yard is currently engaged in building four 40-foot trollers for the BC Packers of Vancouver, worth about $10,000 each. These boats were started on January 1 of this year, and two [named Sharjoan and Variant] will be lunched at a ceremony at Silva Bay Saturday night.

In 1952 Withey also built a $12,500 boat for George C. McTaggart, a Vancouver realtor. In this period the shipyard was expanding to double its capacity (it had three ways by then) including pile driving, new buildings, and equipment installation. New facilities were planned for a machine shop and for arc and gas welding. The long building (around 75 feet) was the drafting shop, where the boat patterns were laid out. The crane that was used to lift the stacks of yellow cedar, which came by barge from the Chemainus sawmill, originally had a crank winch, but later it was electric. People in those days were less aware of their adverse impact on the environment and paints, oil products, and other scraps were usually just dumped in the bay, which didn’t seem to prevent the locals from eating shellfish without harm.

Withey's Shipyard in the 1950s
The Withey family's home is top left and the ways are on the far side of the wharf

Wharf 50s

In a 1955 newspaper interview Les Withey said about his various enterprises:

I learned economics the hard way, not in university. Every nickel I earn goes back into the shipyard. The rest are sidelines necessary to a one-industry town.

It’s always been a struggle keeping the yard and the workers busy but I’ve always made it. The main thing is to keep the economy stable. I bring in the workmen and so have a responsibility to them. The money comes in in the form of contracts, is processed in the building of boats and is passed on to the workers. That’s the way it works.

The newspaper article referred to the “trim homes of his workmen back among the trees”. By now, the Withey family lived in their large, well-appointed modern home overlooking Silva Bay and also owned the old white farmhouse, a big pale green Cadillac, and 37 acres including Commodore Heights. Withey had also bought the General store and coffee shop in 1954 and leased it to Henry Halverson.

By 1955, Silva Bay had become a busy centre of island life. Fred remembers that the first salmon barbecue in 1955 was held in the Witheys’ orchard and old-timers recall that the Witheys, the Pages, and Tom and Frances McDonald were all involved in the original barbecues. Fred Withey recalls driving people over the gravel roads to the old Community Hall after the barbecues.

Naval contracts

In 1952, for the first time since the war years, Canada’s navy contracted the construction of four wooden boats in BC, two to be built at Star Shipyard (Mercer’s) Ltd. in New Westminster, and two at Withey’s Shipyard on Gabriola Island. Jim Fairley, the Marine Editor of the Vancouver Province reported that they were to be built for use in Esquimalt and other coastal naval installations. He reported that “The contracts were awarded to the two firms on the basis of competitive bids”, and the Vancouver Sun reported on March 14, 1952 that this naval contract was: "the push that sent him [Withey] onward and upward. But it took the self-determination that he could get them, the determination to go after them, two trips to Ottawa and submitting of the proper bids to get them".

Les Withey and two of the naval vessels

Withey

In a 1952 cost estimate, Withey refers to the vessels as 75-ft harbour craft and states a contract price of $208,440. He estimated an eventual profit of $23,305.74. The Vancouver Sun described the two new vessels as “sea-going busses”, each 75 feet long and 18.5 feet wide, with coach-roof cabins fore and aft and engine room between with a steering shelter above. They would operate with twin-screw 150 hp diesel engines. Another newspaper clipping reported that this contract was worth $270,000 and that machinery worth $35,000 was to be supplied by the navy. This report also said that “Withey expects some extra hands will have to be secured” and that Jack Gilmour of Nanaimo had been appointed as Superintendent.

Thus began a busy and prosperous period for Withey’s Shipyard throughout the 1950s. When this first large contract with the Navy was completed, others followed. Barry Broadfoot wrote in a Vancouver Sun article that Withey was a shrewd businessman and referred to several more navy vessels being built in 1955. He wrote:

Right now three sleek and trim Royal Canadian Navy personnel boats, each twin-screwed and 75 feet long, lie at the big dock. One is just about ready for final tests; the two others will be ready in a short time. Two others have been completed and are now being used as personnel carriers by the navy. Each is worth $125,000, with $30,000 wages in each of them for Les and his workmen.

In addition there’s another navy craft near completion in a high shed covering a marine ways and Les won’t discuss it. It’s on the “super-secret” list and Department of National Defence posters tacked to the doors warn all strangers away.

Skilled workers

Of course, to get these contracts with the Department of Defence, Withey had to prove he had skilled workers. In February 1954, Cdr. Miller, the Resident Naval Overseer for the Vancouver area, wrote to Withey that from the results of his employees’ welded test-pieces:

Please be informed that Mr. G. Halliday has qualified for Naval Steel work being carried out at your plant.

The test pieces welded by Mr. N. McLearn have not met with the requirements and therefore he must not be employed on welding of naval work. Mr. McLearn has the opportunity to be re-tested in the future and should endeavour to increase his skill in the meantime.

A similar letter exists stating that in 1955 Halliday had passed the required tests in “Inert Metal Arc Welding of Aluminum in accordance with Specification NCC 136”. We have a record that skilled welder Halliday was paid $115.00 for a 40-hour workweek (about $2.90 per hour) in May 1955, and had $13.45 deducted for income tax and 54¢ for Unemployment Insurance.

Inspections and sea trials

Naval inspectors followed the progress of these contracts, signing off at various stages of completion. The navy vessels also underwent sea trials before delivery. The order for the final acceptance trials of YFM 320 stated:

Vessel will leave Withey’s Shipyard, Silva Bay, Gabriola Island at 0845, 1 November 1955 and will proceed to Nanaimo (C.P.S. Wharf) to embark trials officer at 1000. Vessel will then proceed to sea to carry out the following trials:
H-61 Magnetic compass final inspection
H-68 Anchor windlass final trial
H-84 Final inspection
M-18 Final machinery sea and acceptance trial

Acceptance will take place off Gabriola Island, B.C.

In the detailed Contract Shipbuilders Certificate for YFM 320, Withey had certified the satisfactory condition of the vessel for removal from his premises and for the purposes of trials. This certificate was countersigned by the Senior Executive Officer of the ship, by the Engineer Officer of the ship, and by Cdr. J.P. Wadsworth, the Resident Naval Overseer for the Vancouver area.

Withey had handed over his first two naval vessels, HMCSs YFM 306 and 308, on January 20 and 21 1954 at Nanaimo. Cdr. Miller signed them off on behalf of the Chief of Naval Technical Services, and Cdr. Ronald Jackson, the Queen’s Harbour Master at Esquimalt accepted responsibility for their transfer into the Royal Canadian Navy fleet. HMCSs YFM 317 was handed over on August 5, 1955, YFM 319 on September 7, 1955, and YFM 320 on November 1, 1955.

But one slightly odd report exists about one of Withey’s naval contracts. A 1958 Canadian Press report from Ottawa stated:

Howard Green, acting defence production minister, today informed the Commons that Withey’s Shipyard Limited of Gabriola Island, B.C., was paid $99,102 of a $119,200 contract price for a small naval vessel though only 50 per cent of the work was ever completed by the firm.

The contract was cancelled by the former Liberal government in 1956, and the ship—a clearance diving vessel—was transferred to the naval dockyard at Esquimalt, B.C., for completion.

[Auditor-General] Watson Sellar said it is accepted practice that progress payments on firm-price contracts be made as various stages of the construction are reached… Mr. Sellar added that certificates as to progress were given. But it turned out that these certificates were “unsupportable” because the contractor was paid more than 80 per cent of the contract price while performing only 50 per cent of the work… Mr. Green added that the progress certificates were signed by the responsible naval overseeing officers of the defence department.

Les’s son Fred says that this report is “totally false. If only 50% was done the boat wouldn’t float.” He went on to explain:

The problem was that the navy kept changing things and didn’t want to pay for the changes. After there was more than $40,000 in changes with no payment, Dad stopped doing any more work until he was paid. It then became political and at one point radio personality Jack Webster got involved on our side. However, you can’t fight the government and if my memory serves me correctly there was a change in government while this was all going on and each group was blaming the other. I do remember that we had a number of high profile people supporting us, but to no avail. The Ottawa people didn’t want to hear from any people out west.

Gabriolan employees—shareholders and union men

The shipyard at Silva Bay soon became a significant employer on the island. Other employers then were logging contractors Billy Cox and Tim Brown, various fishermen, and the brickyard at False Narrows, though this was beginning to wind down by the time the shipyard got going. Many Gabriolans and some Nanaimo men worked at the shipyard over the next 20 years.

Herbie Dick (remembered by many on Gabriola as an ace badminton player) who had served in the Marine Patrol with Les came over to Silva Bay after the war. Phyllis Reeve records that Frank LePoidevin was employed at the shipyard and Bea Meyer told me that her husband Lou worked as a shipwright there in 1952 after the brickyard closed. A 1951 newspaper story named Cory Johanson and Pete Sandnes as foremen shipwrights and Wolfgang Stoerzer worked at the shipyard as an electrician in the 1950s.

Others who worked there at some point included Nelder Boulton (in the office), Gerald Halliday, Norm Nash, Ken McCollum, Norm Windecker, Frank McLearn and Joe Davis. A few workers also came over from Nanaimo by ferry during especially busy periods. The shipyard employed 30 people in the mid-1950s, all but one living permanently on Gabriola.

This continued into the sixties: Robert and Betty Castell arrived on Gabriola on Labour Day 1967, and Bob told me that he too worked at the shipyard for the first few years. He said “Yeah. Oh yeah. They used to build a lot of things. Good boats, big boats. It was a really thriving business at one time.” Castell’s business partner and friend Peter Boorer also worked there at that time.

When Withey formed his Company, ten thousand shares had been authorized at $1.00 par value and by 1953 only 5004 had been issued: 5001 to Les and three to Marg. But in December 1953 the Directors (Les and Marg!) made a special resolution to convert all shares to shares without nominal or par value. The maximum price or consideration for which the shares were to be sold was to be $15 per share. Although Margaret Withey is consistently described as “housewife” in all the legal documents for the shipyard, she played an important role as Secretary of the company. This was recognized financially on February 11, 1954, by a motion at their Directors’ meeting awarding her 2000 common shares in lieu of $2000 salary.

Soon after this, the shipyard workers and others were invited to purchase shares. A list of shareholders submitted to the registrar of companies that year included many familiar local names and records their jobs, mostly at the shipyard:

But, such investment was not considered enough protection for BC workers in the 1950s. In September 1956, Withey signed a two-year agreement with Local 527 (Nanaimo) of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, affiliated with the AFL. The agreement specified a regular workweek of 40 hours, and a 35-hour second shift with eight hours pay for seven hours worked. Overtime was to be double-time for any hours beyond the regular day or week, and for all Sunday and holiday work. The contract specified the statutory holidays and established vacation pay at 4% of straight time. It said that dirty work was to be paid at time and a quarter and laid out how dirty work was to be defined. All employees were to become Union members after 30 days employment (the probationary period) and a grievance procedure was established. By mutual consent, after three months it would be possible to amend the clauses regulating hours of work, overtime and statutory holidays. But overall employee relations at Silva Bay appear to have been very smooth—there is only one record of employee-employer conflict, and that was quite a bit later, in 1965 at Withey’s Restaurant.

The Lady Rose comes to Gabriola

One of Les Withey’s enterprises in the 1950s was helping to work out a deal for the 105-foot cargo and passenger vessel Lady Rose to have Silva Bay as one of its stops on its weekly voyage out of Steveston. Barry Broadfoot reported that Withey wanted to see Gabriola become a famous vacation spot because of its fine fishing and clamming, protected anchorages, and good swimming. Also, Fred Withey recalls that part of the Lady Rose deal was to haul livestock feed and store it in the empty shed beside the dock. Local farmers would (they hoped) buy the feed and subsidize the service.

The Lady Rose in Silva Bay

Lady Rose

A newspaper account of the first docking of the Lady Rose at Silva Bay tells that the electrician at the shipyard, Wolfgang Stoerzer, had the presence of mind to sound a welcome greeting from a nearby small craft in the absence of Withey, who was ill with ’flu and reports that Joint Master Jim Brayshaw supervised the unloading of feed and building supplies. But, sadly, this Lady Rose service to Gabriola lasted only a year or two.

Private contracts

After the navy contracts were completed in 1955, the shipyard built 10 or 12 Fleetwing pleasure craft—21-foot cabin cruisers, powered by outboards. They were very modern looking with “fins” like the cars of the day and one was on display at Simpsons Sears in Nanaimo. The biggest outboards then were 50 hp Johnson or Evinrudes and the shipyard was a Johnson dealer, displaying one in the chandlery, though they didn’t sell that well. In this period, Les also built a 38-foot boat “on spec”, which was eventually bought by Roy Tufnail.

A Fleetwing in the yard in May 1957

Fleetwing

Over the next decade or so, the yard also built some larger yachts for Canadian and American clients. On September 9, 1968, Nanaimo’s Daily Free Press reported the launching of Cee-Aer, the largest pleasure craft ever built at Withey’s shipyard. It was built for BC broker Robert Hall and was 65 feet long, 17.4 feet wide, and powered by two 300-hp Cummins diesel engines. The project employed 15 men for 10 months. This report added that Withey “will start work on another 43-foot vessel in a month’s time”. The launching of Cee-Aer apparently attracted about 400 people—which was roughly the population of Gabriola at that time.

Launching the Cee-Aer from the boathouse

Cee-Aer Launch

The luxurious, 47-foot MV Siboney was built in this period for Dr Roger Delgado of El Paso, Texas and launched in Silva Bay by the owner’s daughter, with introductory remarks to the large crowd made by local pioneer farmer and businessman Bill Coats. Fred came down from Prince George for the launch of this $60,000 boat, which was built of Canadian yellow cedar with red cedar for planking, and slept eight—four in two double bunks amidships and four in single bunks in the bow. It had twin diesel 100-hp Ford engines made in England and could be controlled from a flying bridge in fair weather. Its cruising range was 1000-1500 miles when its 800-gallon tanks were full and a 110-volt generator provided auxiliary power.

Another large luxury boat built by Withey was the Mardik, a 52-foot yacht contracted by R.H. Jones of Seattle. It was launched mid-winter in Silva Bay but was christened later in Seattle and Les and Margaret went down for the occasion.

Not all the boats being built in this period were luxury yachts though. Les Budd’s new West coast troller replaced the Mardik on the ways. It was described in the newspaper as a 43-ft modern version of the Saturnina, with a 12-ft beam and powered with a Gardiner diesel (6 cylinder) engine. The report stated “Les will have a sturdy, practical and comfortable craft. He intends to have every modern piece of electronic gear on board…” That report also said:

Riding the ways in the next bay is a jaunty looking craft, the Sheju belonging to Mr. McAllister. She is well known locally and is in for minor repairs. Withey’s Shipyard is rated ninth in size in BC.

The ship building business was very stressful because it tended to be all or nothing, but there was always maintenance and repair work. Less navigation equipment was used in those days, which meant more accidents and damage. Damaged propellers and bent shafts were the most common. Fred says Les wore overalls and did a lot of the machine work himself, despite being the owner.

A new Director

On September 6, 1957 formal notice was given under the Companies Act that Norman W. Hullah an Executive living in West Vancouver, had been appointed a Director of Withey’s Shipyard Ltd. Until 1960 Hullah held only one of the 7605 company shares that had been issued, but in 1960 and 1961 Les Withey bought out all the local small shareholders, and in May 1961 he and Marg transferred a substantial chunk of shares to Hullah. After these transactions, Les held 3021 shares and Marg 857; their daughter Dianne Withey had one, and Hullah held 3726. This arrangement remained until 1965, when Withey re-acquired all of Hullah’s shares.

Fred recalls that Hullah had been brought in because he had some expertise in building and managing marinas but that he in turn introduced a rather shady character, supposedly an accountant, called Fred Conrad who quickly established himself in the Silva Bay community and began making extravagant changes at the marina. Fred Withey, who was managing the hardware store and chandlery at this time, didn't trust Conrad at all and soon left to go live in Nanaimo for a while. Conrad turned out to be a con man with several aliases and a police record, and his involvement in Withey’s marina soon ended.

Developing the marina

Into the 1960s, Withey’s Shipyard Ltd. expanded the Marina from a few log floats to something closer to the size it is now. They also changed the location of the marine ways to the other side of the wharf. Talking about the marine ways, Fred says one of his jobs as a teenager had been to grease the cable and axels of the ways and “I still have some of the steel spurs embedded in my hand from the experience!”

Withey's Wharf in 1968 with two boats on the
marine ways moved to the other side of the wharf

Ways68

The old coffee shop was torn down and a new small one built into one end of the chandlery, next door to the shipyard and marina office with its sign painted by Les and a telephone booth nearby. This coffee shop was managed at first by Marg and later by Ev Stewart.

The shipyard office, chandlery and coffee shop

Chandlery, office & café

The old Sear house, which had often been rented to shipyard workers, was torn down in the 1960s. Henry Halverson moved over to the Boatel to run the store there. A third coffee shop was built as part of the marina where Halverson’s store had been, next to the old pub (now an office). The dining room became Withey’s Restaurant, which got a liquor licence in 1965—the third on the island (previously only Surf Lodge and the Grande Hotel had licences on Gabriola).

Withey's Restaurant at the marina in 1965

Restaurant 1965

Silva Bay Marina was taking shape. Float pontoons were built using fibre-glassed wood with decking on top. They had a contract with British American Gas to sell marine and auto fuel, using the first modern gas pump and “offering to clean windshields and check oil”.

In 1965 Les Withey borrowed money either to buy out Hullah or to develop the marina (or both). He mortgaged Water Lot Lease 284 for $40,000 borrowed from the Industrial Development Bank, and he borrowed another $40,000 against Lots 1 and 14, Section 5. From 1966 to 1973, Withey’s Shipyard Ltd. was again solely a family enterprise with Les holding 6747 shares, Marg 875, and Dianne (now Mrs. Anderson) holding a single share.

Winding up Withey’s Shipyard

Les Withey had begun to think about retiring in the late 1960s—he and Margaret looked forward to a more leisurely life afloat. They now had two successful and time-consuming enterprises—a marina and a shipyard. He sold the marina first, in 1968. The deal with Silva Bay Resorts Ltd. must have been satisfactory because that year Withey discharged his mortgages for $80,000 with the Industrial Development Bank. An additional small Bill of Sale for $4,000 for “goods and chattels” is recorded on April 2 1968.

A couple of years later in April 1970, he sold the shipyard and marine ways to Ian A. McKinnon, but the sale didn’t work out. Withey held McKinnon’s mortgage and reluctantly had to take the business back when McKinnon couldn’t manage it. Once again Les took back the shipyard and revitalized it.

He eventually successfully sold his shipyard in 1974 to Arne and Judy Bentzen who had come to live on Gabriola that Spring from Maple Bay, where they had owned Maple Bay Marina and Shipyard with Arne’s brothers. Judy says: “Before we bought the yard we used to haul our commercial tug on the Withey's ways every year.” They did not buy Withey’s company, but paid $120,000 for his business assets and $40,000 for the house and land.

The Bentzens changed the name of the yard back to Silva Bay Shipyard Ltd. and continued to build commercial vessels and yachts up to 50 feet, employing between four and seven workers depending on their workload. During their tenure they filled in the back area, installed the first travel lift in Western Canada, and repaired and upgraded the buildings and marine ways. The old hardware store was long gone, so they added a ship’s chandlery and parts sales, and also a general store for food supplies and gifts that operated from May through September. The Bentzens in turn sold the shipyard to Ken and Kathy White in 1981.

Les & Marg Withey’s retirement

After Les and Marg sold their Gabriola home they lived on the converted tugboat Point Hope, which Les had bought in 1971 and rebuilt—it was 62.7 feet long and 60 years old but Les said “Her hull is sound as any boat I’ve ever examined”. Les re-powered the boat with a 260 hp Gardner diesel engine with wheelhouse control so that they could manage it without crew. The tug had “all the amenities of home, with a master bedroom and bathroom on the main deck, and a large lounge, which can be converted into a guest bedroom on the boat deck”.

Les and Marg aboard the Ivanhoe

Ivanhoe

A few years later Les sold the Point Hope and bought the 115-foot tug Ivanhoe, which had been used to tow barges from Powell River to Vancouver. Les converted eight crew staterooms to four larger ones, then he and Marg spent several years living aboard and chartering, and cruising the west coast and Gulf of Georgia. After they sold the Ivanhoe, their son Fred says they “followed the sun pulling an Airstream trailer behind a truck”. Les Withey died in 1987 and Marg in 1992.

This webpage

Created February 2, 2010; updated January 4, 2014
by Documents that Work