Born and raised at Sproat Lake, Bob Cole is a self-proclaimed boat-a-holic who has been collecting outboard motors for most of his life.
His diverse collection of outboards, that has been donated to the Industrial Heritage Society, boasts close to a couple of dozen motors, many of which are antiques from as early as about 1914. Cole’s outboard motors can be seen now through summer at the Maritime Discovery Centre.
Growing up at Klitsa Lodge on Sproat Lake, Cole said people still tell him he rode boats before he could walk and from as early as age six he was riding around the lake on a 22 m.p.h. hydroplane boat built by the Stone brothers, famous boat racers from Port Alberni.
“Their boats were called the Golden Arrow, and I had the Golden Arrow ll, a cedar-strip hydroplane with a seven-and-a-half horsepower Johnson on it,” Cole said.
Outboards were common around Klitsa Lodge, where a young Cole acquired his first motor. Soon people caught wind of his hobby and his collection began to multiply.
“The outboards, I just sort of collected and then somebody would say ‘hey, I have an outboard in my basement that belonged to my dad,’ and they’d bring it to me,” Cole said. “People kept bringing me more.”
The oldest outboard in his collection is close to 100 years old, an Evinrude, advertised as a detachable row-boat motor that’s unique with a gearshift in the handle and a cam-driven water pump.
“It might have been used at Sproat Lake sawmills by the Mannings. It ended up at Klitsa Lodge on a boat,” Cole said.
By high school Cole was working at Valley Outboards, currently Swale Rock Cafe, where he would sweep the floors and take apart motors. After spending 11 years at the shop, the water enthusiast bought Port Boat House where he remained for 26 years.
“During the years that we had [Port Boat House] we became the largest single Yamaha dealer in Canada,” Cole said. “For three or four years in a row we sold more outboards than any other single store in Canada.”
Cole says he admires the work that the current team at Port Boat House are achieving.
“The crew that’s there now is doing an absolutely amazing job, super impressed with what they’ve done with the business,” Cole said. “They’ve taken it to a level that was far beyond the ma and pop operation that we were running.”
With boating in his blood, Cole loves all types of water recreation and said, at last count, he owns about 16 or 17 watercraft.
“I have a stand-up paddle board, a wind surfer, three kayaks, a canoe, Boston Whaler fish boat, three row boats, an inflatable boat and a 27-foot fishing boat,” Cole said.
The Maritime Discovery Centre is located at Harbour Quay, comprising the Ken Hutcheson Gallery and the lighthouse gallery.