How Grand Bank made the 'Grandy dory' a Newfoundland icon

·8 min read
Dories are pictured in Grand Bank in 1980. (Allan Stoodley - image credit)
Dories are pictured in Grand Bank in 1980. (Allan Stoodley - image credit)
Allan Stoodley
Allan Stoodley

During the late 1800s and all of the 1900s, the small boat of choice along the south and southwest coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador was the dory. This versatile little craft was used for inshore fishing, carried on the decks of schooners to fish from on our offshore banks, and a means of transportation connecting many of our smaller isolated communities and also often filled the role as lifeboats on larger vessels.

Simeon Lowell of Salisbury Point, Mass., is credited with inventing the dory in 1793. Over the ensuing decades these small, shallow-draft flat bottom boats, measuring five to seven metres long, became so popular and were in such demand for fishing along the eastern seaboard that eventually "dory factories," where they were mass-produced, were established.

When the more than 450 vessels of the New England fishing fleet were looking for newer and richer fishing areas in the 1860s, they expanded their fishing efforts farther offshore to the Scotian Banks and the Grand Banks. According to Gloucester author and historian John N. Morris, "it was on the more distant fishing grounds, the Western and the Grand Banks, that ground-trawl dory fishing first gained its foothold, and once it started it overspread the fleet by the end of the decade."

This led to the dory being modified by making the thwarts, or rower seats, removable, so they could be nestled — stacked up to six deep — and carried on the deck of the schooner to and from the offshore grounds.

Around the same time schooners from Nova Scotia also took advantage of the lucrative fishing on our offshore banks followed by our own fishermen in 1891, led by Samuel Harris and at least 16 other schooner owners from Grand Bank.

The increasing demand soon led to dory factories being set up in our neck of the woods: at Lunenburg and Shelburne in Nova Scotia, as well as at Bay of Islands, St. John's, Grand Bank, Monkstown and Lamaline in Newfoundland and on the nearby French Islands of St-Pierre-Miquelon.

Submitted by the Grandy family
Submitted by the Grandy family

As dory building developed in other countries, there were attempts to improve the original Lowell design did occur but basically over the ensuing 200 years no major changes were made to the overall style of the first dory. Some builders did depart from the original Lowell design by, for example, raising the height of the bow or changing the slope of the stern.

Local dory builders of note included brothers John and Henry Monk of Monkstown, Placentia Bay — builders of their own designed dory for some 60 years — James Tuff of Lamaline and Stephen Leonard Grandy of Grand Bank.

"The sturdy Monk dory was a great favourite with fishing skippers and dorymen who fished in their small 'western boats' off Cape St. Mary's , the Virgin Rocks and even out on the far flung Grand Banks," according to Otto Kelland, in his 1984 book Dories and Dorymen.

Stephen Leonard Grandy was born in 1884 in Garnish, where shipbuilding was the major employer from the late 1800s until the 1940s. While honing his carpentry skills as a young man, he moved to the larger nearby town of Grand Bank, which offered more employment opportunities.

Eli Harris, brother of merchant Samuel Harris, was an experienced carpenter/shipbuilder who also operated a dory factory at Grand Bank from 1905 to 1928, according to historian/writer Randell Pope, and it was there that Grandy found employment around 1918.

Allan Stoodley
Allan Stoodley

When Eli Harris retired, Grandy took over the dory building and schooner repair business, serving the needs of the Samuel Harris business, which operated a large fleet of offshore fishing and foreign going vessels.

In the 1930s, following the bankruptcy of the Harris empire, Grandy developed a mutually beneficial working relationship with another Grand Bank fishing firm, G&A Buffett Ltd., which marketed his Grandy-built dories all along the south coast.

Over the years Grandy had designed a dory that he felt better suited the Newfoundland fishery, weather and ocean conditions. He raised the bow height, making the craft more seaworthy. The stem was truncated, making it safer to offload over the side of the schooner while at sea. He used only grown timbers, which were much stronger than the jointed timbers commonly used by other builders.

In Dories and Dorymen, Kelland wrote, "The Grandy was always recognized as a good carrier and an excellent seaboat. This fine dory was usually painted buff with green gunnels. I have heard nothing but high compliments paid to the Grandy, by men who are familiar with her while pursuing the Banks and shore fisheries, as well as those who have served on vessels engaged in the coastal trade."

Stephen Leonard used an assembly-line system in his dory factory; all the separate parts would be manufactured and assembled, until they had enough material to build two dozen dories. Then a crew of four men, in teams of two, would assemble two dories per day.

Allan Stoodley
Allan Stoodley

During the winter of 1934-35 G&A Buffett received orders from 11 different Burin Peninsula and South Coast fishing businesses for 98 Grandy dories.

Grandy's three sons joined the business by the mid-1940s, but not before his oldest boy, Max, had spent some time working as a foreman with the well-known Canadian shipbuilding firm of Smith & Rhuland, builders of the famous racing schooner Bluenose at Lunenburg, N.S. The exposure and experience in the building and repairing of larger ships he brought back with him to Grand Bank and resulted in the Grandys not having to depend entirely on the building of dories to be kept busy.

It was at this time that two of the brothers, Max and Roy, struck out on their own and began operating under the trade name Grandy Brothers Ship Repair and Dory building. According to Max's son, Harold, Grandy Brothers was a partner concern and not an incorporated company.

"Their main function at that time was building dories and also carrying out repairs to banking-schooners, employing 12 carpenters at their factory including their father, Stephen Leonard, and their younger brother, Len," said Harold Grandy.

A 1947 newspaper article entitled "Many Employed In Dory Building at Grand Bank" gives details about the early days of Grandy Brothers and their growth in this subsidiary industry, having built well over 100 fishing and motor dories that year and also supplying dories for the northern seal hunt.

Allan Stoodley
Allan Stoodley

In the 1940s and 1950s the Grandys' workshop operated at full capacity, meeting a production quota of two dories per day, each selling at $90. They built more than three thousand of them over the years. Max Grandy left the partnership in the mid-1950s to work different construction jobs until 1958, when he was approached by then provincial fisheries minister Aiden Maloney to start a boat-building yard at Marystown.

After he built several long-liners there and the facility expanded to accommodate the building of larger boats he transferred to the Fisheries Loan Board as an inspector, where he stayed until he retired.

Following Max's exit, the two remaining brothers, Roy and Len, reorganized the business and then operated as R&L Grandy Ltd., still building dories and doing larger vessel repairs but concentrating mainly on the construction of long-liners for south coast fishermen, who were now supplying product to the newly opened fresh fish plants in the area.

In 1961 a grandson of Stephen Leonard Grandy, 20-year-old Jim Grandy — who had completed marine diesel studies at the Trade School in St. John's, after briefly going to sea — went to work with the firm.

"Over the years I was a jack of all trades connected with shipbuilding — some carpentry but mostly doing mechanical work such as installing engines and rudders and latterly doing the accounting end of the business," said Jim Grandy, now 82.

Allan Stoodley
Allan Stoodley

That same year, the company — faced with limited space at Grand Bank to expand its operation into the building of larger vessels — moved to the nearby town of Fortune where for a few years they continued to build dories (one winter they built 40) but gradually the building of larger vessels took over their business.

In July 1964 the Grandy shipbuilders launched the Frederick L. Blair. The 250-ton, 120 foot-long vessel — the largest ship ever built on the south coast of our province — was often referred to by the family as their greatest accomplishment.

Carl, another of Stephen Leonard's grandsons, worked briefly with R&L Grandy (from 1971 to 73) before moving to the Marystown Shipyard, following in the footsteps of his father, Len, who went to work there a few years earlier.

Len had left the Grandy partnership after the completion and launching of the 65-foot fishing vessel Oderin in late 1966, built for John McGrath of St. John's at a cost in excess of $100,000 — or more than $800,000 in today's dollars.

For the next 20 years Jim Grandy and his father, Roy, employing six to eight other carpenters, carried on the Grandy tradition continuing, to build 40- to 65-foot long-liners and other boats at Fortune until 1987, when they closed up shop and sold their facility to the provincial government, to be used as a Marine Centre.

Allan Stoodley
Allan Stoodley

In 1992 the Canadian Mint, to commemorate 125 years of Confederation, struck a commemorative set of silver coins — one quarter for each of the 10 provinces — giving Stephen Leonard Grandy and Grandy Shipbuilding the ultimate recognition by featuring the Grandy dory on the Newfoundland quarter.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting