Boat-building tradition continues in modern vessels
MUSKOKA — It’s rare to find hand-crafted watercraft today. But when George Rossiter founded Rossiter Boats almost 40-years ago, he was following a passion as much as a business model. As a result, he ensured that every boat made, then and since, was lovingly crafted with an uncompromising commitment to quality, style and performance.
George Rossiter, who grew up spending summers at Go Home Bay, didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of both his parents by becoming a doctor. He knew in his heart he wanted to build boats. And stubbornly, that’s what he did. Rossiter studied marine architecture and in 1974 established a small factory on the eastern shores of Georgian Bay with himself and one employee. At a time when rowing was a vanishing art, he built rowboats – sleek, streamlined vessels based on traditional Ontario designs – using fiberglass for his hulls and teak to embellish the decks.
“George was driven by a desire to make rowing accessible and enjoyable to everyone,” says Scott Hanson, who has owned Rossiter Boats for the last five years.
Rossiter was a boat-building craftsman in an era when these men, once so common in Ontario, had all-but disappeared. As a result, it took a while to build his business. Gradually, one sold boat at a time, people got to know a Rossiter boat, to trust and to love it. They knew that each rowboat offered superior performance and sea-keeping characteristics, and that each one was a work of art, made slowly and carefully, by hand, to order. A Rossiter boat was, and remains, the polar opposite of mass production.
In 2007 George met a kindred spirit in Scott Hanson and a new chapter in the Rossiter story began.
Hanson grew up in the Thousand Islands, where he created fond memories rowing his grandparent’s wooden St Lawrence skiff and running a windsurfing shop and school while still in his teens. When the real world beckoned he made his way into advertising and communications, but never forgot his love of the water. Boats kept calling, and in 1993 he answered by attended the celebrated Landing School of Boat Building and Design in Kennebunkport, Maine where he graduated with honours in Yacht Design and Boat Building.
When Hanson and Rossiter met, they saw in each other a shared a passion for boats and quickly realized that here was an opportunity for both of them. For Scott it was a chance to realize a dream of building boats. For George, ailing at the time, it was a chance to pass on his legacy of knowledge and skill, and to ensure his beloved company would be in good hands.
With Hanson at the helm, Rossiter Boats prospered as never before. “We’ve grown every year since 2007. We have seven full-time employees now, making 75-80 boats per year which we ship all over the world. Our principal market is Ontario, but we’re growing exponentially in the United States and we’ve sent boats to England, Europe, the Middle East, and Hong Kong,” says Hanson proudly.
As a result of the expansion, Rossiter Boats recently moved to a state-of-the-art plant in Markdale, allowing for increased capacity while staying focused on producing some of the finest boats around. “All our boats are still built to order, and our commitment to quality, performance and value for the customer’s money remains true to George’s original vision.”
While Rossiter Boats still crafts numerous rowboats, they’ve recently introduced a line of power boats. First was the Rossiter 14, which many admired for its big-water performance in a little boat. New this year are the Rossiter 17 Centre Console and Runabout models, powered by either 90 or 115 horses, for those who like to feel the wind in their hair. All have composite hulls with wood accents, and are as distinctive in the water as they are well-made.
Look closely and you’ll see some Rossiter Boats on the Muskoka lakes and on Georgian Bay. The company has two Muskoka area representatives: Hamer Bay Marine and Mountain Trout House. Also, be sure to watch for them at the Muskoka In-Water Boat and Cottage Show (July 27-29).
Over 40-years Rossiter Boats has grown and expanded its line beyond the rowboats that founder George Rossiter concentrated his love on. And yet, the company remains true to its roots, capturing the feel of classic boats.
“I’m just carrying on the traditions and values that George instilled in the company,” says Hanson. “It’s a pleasure, because I love building high-quality product.”