It’s winter and Floyd Stewart’s flotilla of miniature boats are stored for the winter. But in a few months, with the arrival of spring, Stewart will launch the flotilla in the waters of Little Big Harbour in Lockeport and the tourists will visit this unique attraction on the South Shore.
Stewart started building the boats about 25 years ago inspired by his then preschool grandson who tied a small boat on a string and dragged it along while he and Stewart were out in a bigger boat.
“I thought I must make some more,” Stewart says.
Since then, Stewart has built about 200 boats. The 2018 flotilla had about 32 boats. Even more floated in harbour in 2017. What 2019’s flotilla looks like has yet to be determined.
Some of his first boats were the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, three ships from Christopher Columbus’ armada that explored the New World. Since then, Stewart has built everything from fishing trawlers to boats from songs. He made a replica of the Scotia Prince ferry, Cape Islander lobster boats, a crab boat from Alaska, the Queen Mary cruise ship, and even The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.
“We all live in that one,” Stewart jokes.
He built a replica of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the American Great Lakes freighter than sank in a storm in Lake Superior in November 1975 and inspired the Gordon Lightfoot song, Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The replica was four feet long, took him a week to build and included a lot of realistic details. Stewart remembers watching that replica freighter in the water during a storm, the waves breaking on its hull. He wished he had a camera and thought about the ill-fated real ship and its crew of 29.
“I used to make them pretty realistic looking back then,” Stewart says.
The boats are made from Styrofoam, which he says floats well, although he has made wooden boats. The boats are painted in bright colours and the sailboats have fabric sails. The boats stand out as they bob along in the waters of the harbour. They can easily be spotted from the road as visitors drive past.
Stewart says he’s had visitors from around the world stopping by to see the flotilla. They come from the U.S., Australia, Europe, Russia, and Japan. One of his neighbours built a bench where visitors can sit and take in the view, which also includes a miniature lighthouse perched on a rock in near the shore. He keeps a guest book that visitors can sign. He says he get beautiful comments from guests saying the flotilla made their day. When people stop signing, that’s when he takes in the boats for the season. While it’s free to visit, Stewart does accept donations, which go back to making more boats.
“I make them for people to enjoy,” Stewart says. “People ask me to sell them, but they belong to you anyway.”
Stewart is 85 now and lives alone in the house where he was born and where his mother was born, too. The harbour where the boats float is just across the street. He’s always worked on boats, repairing them and so on. The wharf from where he launches the boats is a bit weary and needs some repairs. He also built a shed where he stores the boats in the winter. But being the captain of the flotilla keeps him going.
“I keep saying, ‘This is the last one I’ll make,’ and then spring comes and I put them out again,” Stewart says.