ST. STEPHEN – You may have noticed the bateau which was once located along the St. Stephen Waterfront has not been there for years. Well, it has now been restored, and it has found a permanent home on the waterfront, near the Beacon Apartments. Deputy Mayor Ghislaine Wheaton said the original bateau was built by a professional boat builder in 1996 for the town’s 125th birthday celebration.

The bateau sat on the waterfront across from the civic centre for several years, but unfortunately it was not protected against the weather, and began to deteriorate. So, it was moved into the Border Arena, where sat until a few months ago when the restoration project began.

“When we were celebrating this year, we were going to celebrate the 150, we decided to restore it,” said Wheaton. “We had a really good bunch of volunteers. It ended up going to the high school. Dave Somers, he’s the one who does woodworking at the school, he and a group of students, with the leadership of the volunteers, and it was quite a project.”

Wheaton said the project turned into a much bigger one than anyone had anticipated, considering they didn’t have any plans from the original builder. But, she said the volunteers who restored the bateau did a “beautiful job”, and it looks just as it originally did.

The bateau was originally designed to look like the ones that were used when there was a heavy logging industry in the area. The first sawmill was built around 1780, and at one point there were approximately 140 sawmills along both sides of the St. Croix River. The bateaus were used to carry men, food, and supplies to temporary logging camps, powered by “oars and the current”.

“It was designed to allow the bateau to move through the rapids. You’d have a sea of logs along the river. It also provided shelter when it was turned over on the shore,” said Wheaton.

The newly-restored bateau will be covered in the winter months to protect it from the elements. This way, it will be around for all to enjoy for many years to come. Wheaton said it is a “beautiful addition on the trail”.

Kev Sumner, director of community services for the Town of St. Stephen, was approached by former Future St. Stephen president Richard Fulton, who knew the bateau was in storage, and he wanted to get it restored and put back along the waterfront.

“He saw we had the bateau in storage in the Border Arena,” said Sumner. “It’s been there since 2014. It used to be on the waterfront. We put it in storage. It hasn’t lasted brilliantly in there. There’s not much protection from the cold. It’s not a heated area. It can get damp in there in the winter time.”

Sumner and Fulton approached town council to find out if they were interested in having the bateau restored, which of course they were. They set aside some of the money from the St. Stephen 150 budget, and Fulton was set with the task of finding volunteers to help with the restoration. He spoke with Dave Somers, who teaches woodworking at St. Stephen High School, and towards the end of 2020 the three took a look at the bateau and decided to see what they could do in order to restore it. The biggest issue they ran into was finding lumber for this restoration project.

“We were very fortunate to find a member of the public through Richard’s connections who had access to a mill and a couple of trees,” said Sumner. “I think we ended up only using one tree to get the necessary lumber. They milled once the ground was dry enough and they could get out and get the mill going, and they moved the wood to the high school. Then, the bateau was moved out of the Border Arena in March. It’s been lovingly restored and put in place.”

Sumner said at the same time the bateau was put into place, they also added a memorial bench for Don Lyons, who used to run the St. Stephen Curling Club. His wife has moved into the Beacon Apartments, and through her efforts, funds were raised for the memorial bench and a memorial shrub. There will also be a plaque installed at a later date.

“We hope people will continue their walk further along the trail and look for the bateau. We hope for a few more things in the next short little while,” said Sumner.

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca