Finding dory: Edmonton man builds Newfoundland boats in landlocked Alberta

Finding dory: Edmonton man builds Newfoundland boats in landlocked Alberta

When Paul Winter quit his steady job as a cement truck driver to build traditional fishing boats in landlocked Alberta, his wife thought he had gone off the deep end.

Winter —  born and raised in Corner Brook, N.L. — is the founder of L.A. Dories, a boat-building company bringing Newfoundland-style dories to Edmonton's North Saskatchewan River.

"I told my wife what I was going to do, and she was like, 'You're going to do what? How are you going to that?' I could see on her face, she was thinking, 'Have you lost your mind?'

"It's kind of scary when you think about it, but I could see how I could do it."

'A unique experience'

After six years in concrete, Winter longed for an ocean-faring kind of life. The clean lines of a flat-bottomed fishing boat seemed the perfect vessel.

"It's a unique experience; it's much different than a canoe and it's much different than any other rowboat, really," the 56-year-old said from his small bungalow in the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood. 

"Everyone has forgotten about rowing. It's so much fun. It's good exercise. It comes from the tip of your toes, right out through your fingerprints and that power goes right down through the dory through the oar and into the water."

After his boss denied his request for two weeks' vacation to spend time at his cabin in Newfoundland, Winter promptly quit, started building his first boat and founded L.A. Dories.

Winter had learned carpentry and woodworking skills from his father but had never built a dory. To learn how, he returned to Newfoundland and sought out the knowledge of master boat-builder Roy Dennis, whose family has been building dories in John's Beach since the 1880s.  

"He's one of the last boat builders in Newfoundland to build these dories. He's been building them all of his life and his grandfather showed him how when he was 13 years old," Winter said.

"Someone has to show you how to make a dory. You can make it off a set of plans but it's better if someone shows you. There are a lot of tricks and things you need to know to make it properly."

'I'm free now' 

Winter had an old dory dismantled, and parts of it shipped to Edmonton, to use as a model for his designs.

It took Winter more than 300 hours to build his first craft out of salvaged Douglas fir and spruce. He is now working on a second.

Before, I had no time and lots of money and now, I only got a little bit of money but I got lots of time. -Paul Winter

He plants to rent the boats out to paddlers on the North Saskatchewan River this summer — and even hold a few dory races.

Since starting the company, Winter has taken on a day job as a bus driver to cover the bills. The work hours are shorter and the summer vacations are long.

For the first time in his life, he feels like he's the captain of his own ship.

"Before, I had no time and lots of money and now, I only got a little bit of money but I got lots of time.

"Now, I can do what I want. I'm free now."