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May 30, 2022

Les GundersonLes Gunderson, Master Boatbuilder

Les Gunderson is an icon in the Vancouver boatbuilding industry. Like many Quadrant Marine Institute instructors, his family and his early life provided a natural transition into his 55-year career building commercial fish boats.

His grandfather emigrated from Norway with his skills in carpentry, boatbuilding, and fishing. Les’s father was born at Cape Scott (northern Vancouver Island) and spent his summers fishing on their seiner and the winters building boats.

Les spent his whole childhood on the Fraser River. By age 8 he was captain of his own rowboat. He moved on to be a deckhand on his neighbor’s tug boat and spent his teenage summers working at Sather Boatworks in Queensborough, New Westminster. Starting full time in 1955, he eventually he took over the foreman position from his father in 1975 where he remained until 1995.

"We built 120 wooden boats from 32’ to 70’ in my time,” says Les, “and we did everything from the keel up…including the engines and equipment installations. When I started my career the systems were all manual. I got to experience the whole transition to onboard freezer systems, hydraulics, and electronics.”

His favorite memories in the boatyard were the boat launches. “There was such satisfaction finishing the boat and watching it sail away.”

Les taught wood structures and repairs for 14 years before he retired in 2020. He was known by Quadrant MST students as an amazing storyteller. He felt, “[apprentices] should learn the tricks of the trade to make their work easier”, and, not wanting to read from a textbook they could read themselves, “I’d bring all my old tools in and set [the apprentices] up to try to run a thread of cotton.” He retired from teaching for us in 2020/2021 and still lives 5 blocks from the historic shipyard where he spent his career.

Thank you Les, for all your hard work and inspiration to our apprentices!

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