Back in the 1880's and 90's Sauve boats (cedar rowing and sailing skiffs) built in Brockville, made a name for themselves across Canada and the States. At the height of their popularity, they were being shipped to buyers in Montreal, Halifax, Vancouver, Victoria, New York City, Wisconsin, Chicago, San Francisco, Omaha and even as far away as England.
The Sauve family came from the Beauharnois/Valleyfield area in Quebe province. Moise Sauve, Sr. was a blacksmith who provided teams of horses to pull barges up the St. Lawrence River from Montreal. Canal-building work along the River had kept him busy for a number of years but, when this work petered out, he moved westward and settled in Brockville in the mid-1860's and found work at the foundry.
There were ten children in the family including four sons. When the older boys presented themselves at the school (the old St. Francis Xavier), they spoke only French and were told to "go home and learn to speak English and then come back" . Instead, they went to work - apparently as apprentices at one of the local boatworks where they learned to build the "St. Lawrence skiff" . By the 1880's they had their own boatbuilding business "Sauve Bros." on Water Street.
The brothers were:
Cyrille Sauve who became a
machinist and who made the metal fittings for the skiffs turned
out by the firm.
Moise (Moses) Sauve, Jr. who made a name for himself designing and building sailing skiffs.
Joseph Sauve who, in the 1889, was described by the Recorder as "Brockville's champion oarsman".
Noe (Noah) Sauve who, for some years after the "Sauve Bros." firm broke up, had his own boat livery and manufactory at the foot of Home Street.
In those days there were a number of boatbuilding firms in Brockville turning out cedar skiffs. What set the Sauve boats apart from the others was the performance of the racing skiffs or sailing canoes designed and built by Moses Sauve Jr. According to a report in the Recorder, they "created a sensation by beating all the crafts against which (they) sailed" - as a result of which they became renowned throughout the continent.
At the time, there was great rivalry between the River towns (Brockville, Prescott, Gananoque, Ogdensburg, Clayton) which each entered locally-built sailing skiffs in the regattas held on the River. The Sauve boats were repeatedly challenged and repeatedly beat their rivals.
On August 27, 1887, a skiff built and sailed by Moses Sauve is reported to have "astonished" the Montreal sailors in a regatta held at Lachine. The Recorder reported "A yacht race was started at the same time with the skiffs and the whole fleet had to succumb to the Brockville craft. The distance was about nine miles and, at the finish, Sauve led by about two miles".
The Sauve boats acquired their greatest renown after Moses Sauve's sailing skiff "Canuck" , built for and sailed by Ford Jones of Brockville, won the American Canoe Association international trophy three years in a row.
The Recorder of July 8, 1891 reported: "A Tribute to the Canuck. In last night's issue of the Detroit Free Press, Miss E. Pauline Johnson, the noted Indian authoress and poetess, a daughter of Chief Johnson of Brantford, Ontario contributes a very interesting and original article on Canoeing...the article includes amongst the rest a cut of the canoe Canuck with which our young townsman Ford Jones has twice captured the ACA cup..."she was the prettiest thing afloat at the meet of the American Canoe Association in 1889...how the good old dead and gone Indians would have regarded this dainty offspring of birch-bark ancestors I do not know...she still has within her the blood of the birch-bark..."
The publicity attending these triumphs brought orders for the Sauve sailing skiffs from all over the continent, particularly from the United States and, for some years, the Sauve firm flourished.
Ironically, one of the developments that eventually put the Sauve brothers out of business was the turn-of-the-century political battle over free trade with the States. Sir John A. MacDonald, the Conservative Prime Minister, who opposed free trade and who was pushing the east-west, "buy British" connection, introduced his "National Policy" which placed a 25% tariff on manufactured goods moving between Canada and the States. The Sauve's, who had many American customers, looked for relief from the tariff to the Liberal Wilfred Laurier who was pushing for free trade with the States. Unfortunately for the Sauve's, Laurier lost to MacDonald in two elections.
Other factors contributed to the firm's decline: the introduction of steel-hulled skiffs, four-oared skiffs and "steam yachts" . The Chicago World's Fair of 1893 was a problem for the Sauve's, and for other St. Lawrence boating establishments, as it attracted American tourists who would otherwise have summered in the Thousand Islands and kept the boat liveries busy. It drew away Canadian holidayers as well.
The "Sauve Bros." split up in the early 1890's. Cyrille Sauve left Brockville and went to Syracuse, N.Y. Moses Sauve held on for a time as "Moses Sauve & Son" but eventually he too headed for the States and settled in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Joseph Sauve went to Chicago. Noah Sauve operated his own boating establishment in Brockville for some years before going to Rochester, N.Y. However, after two years, he returned to Canada and settled in Montreal where he worked at the CPR carriage works.
Although the Sauve brothers left Brockville, the family continued to be represented by their sister Delima Sauve (Mrs. James Connors) who lived at 187 Church Street until the late 1950's.
From: Brockville Illustrated 1894
The beauties of the Thousand Isles have become world-renown and visitors from every quarter of the globe have been entranced by the grandeur of the old St. Lawrence and the vista of Isles of every shape and size which form such a perfect earthly paradise. It is but natural that the boatbuilding industry should have sprung into prominence, and strangers are delighted with the beautiful pleasure skiffs which are so numerous on the river.
The skiffs turned out by Mr. Noah Sauvé, whose boat works and livery are situated at the foot of Home Street, Brockville, are of every description, the residents of the Island City spending so much time among the islands that they need boats of their own. Mr. Sauvé has opened a boat livery in which he has placed only new boats of his own manufacture.
Many thanks to Deb Bridger of NY for submitting the above articles.