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February 17, 2022

Ice Boats on Toronto Harbour, 1912 (Archives of Ontario)

I do not know of any local photographs of iceboats, but there are a lot of stories of what a wild time people enjoyed. Beginning in the 1870s, many local gentleman commissioned an ice boat—including John A. Barron, George McNeill, George Cunningham, Mossie and Willie Boyd (note it is the second generation—in the first generation there was work to be done!)

Iceboats were small wooden boats, fitted with large sails. The time to go was when the lake was sheer ice, with nothing at all to slow the boat down… until it hit that big crack in the middle of the lake! They were commonly driven in excess of sixty miles an hour. For all practical purposes, there was little that could be done to turn or stop. But the drivers could typically see disaster coming a mile away and save themselves. When they hit large cracks they often upset. It would be unusual to go iceboating and not wreck your vessel, so iceboaters, or their employees, spent more time repairing their boats than they did sailing. Yet for those who had the time and money, it was one of the most exciting sports. This generation had not known a car, let alone a snowmobile, most would never have driven anything else that was faster than their horse—so iceboating was an unforgettable, scintillating, jump off to save your life, (maniacal?) experience…

So would you like to give it a try?

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