Hilliard Northwest News

Boat launched by local students in 1995 surfaces in Ontario

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Students at Princess Elizabeth School in Windsor, Ontario, hold up Paddle to the Sea Boat No. 7, one of nine boats students from Hilliard Station Sixth Grade School launched into Lake Erie from Gibraltar Island, near South Bass Island and Put-in-Bay, in 1995.
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"Teachable moments" became an international event last week when the husband of an Ontario school teacher found a small yellow boat Hilliard students had launched 17 years ago in Lake Erie.

"It's such a great and exciting story," said Kevin Buchman, principal of Hilliard Station Sixth Grade School.

The hand-carved wooden yellow boat is one of nine boats students from Hilliard Station Sixth Grade School launched into Lake Erie from Gibraltar Island, near South Bass Island and Put-in-Bay, in 1995.

Seventeen years after it was launched, Paddle to the Sea Boat No. 7 was plucked from the water at Point Pelee National Park in Ontario, Canada, about 20 miles northeast of Gibraltar Island.

The husband of a third-grade school teacher at Princess Elizabeth School in Windsor, Ontario, found Boat No. 7, on which is inscribed, "Please put me back in the water. Please tell me where I was found," and the name and address of Hilliard Station Sixth Grade School.

The man took the boat to his wife, Vinka Gervais, who shared the find with her students.

Students from Gervais' class wrote letters to students at Hilliard Station Sixth Grade School that Buchman expects to receive by week's end.

Buchman said students at Hilliard Station Sixth Grade School will return letters, and a streaming video conference between the classes is being scheduled.

"I am also working with my staff to plan a special program for the kids," said Buchman, who received Gervais' email, as well as another concerning Boat No. 7, on the same day, Nov. 5.

"When I got the email, and another on the same day from someone else who had encountered the boat, it was incredible and hard to believe," Buchman said.

It is believed that Boat No. 7 spent most of its life in dry dock as it was found in nearly pristine condition.

Buchman received an email Nov. 5 from David Johnston of Toronto, who told Buchman he found Boat No. 7 in the possession of his late brother-in-law, whom Johnston said loved to walk the shores of Point Pelee National Park and had a collection of things he'd found on the shorelines.

Johnston said he did not know the circumstances of how his brother-in-law found the boat. Additional markings on the boat indicated the crew of a ferry boat, M.V. Jiimaan, had found and relaunched the boat in 1995.

Johnston said family members relaunched Boat No. 7 into Lake Erie before Gervais' husband found it.

None of the faculty involved in the launch of the nine boats in the summer of 1995 remain at the school today, but Buchman found the teacher who led the expedition.

Lynda Floehr, retired and living in Tennessee, is the teacher whose students launched the boats in 1995. To this day, Hilliard students make the same annual trip to Gibraltar Island, but 1995 was the only year students launched boats.

As a graduate student, Floehr had worked at Stone Lab, an Ohio State University facility on Gibraltar Island. In 1995, she arranged for the students' first trip to Gibraltar Island, building on a three-year program Floehr and Jan Snyder, another teacher, had established.

Floehr and Snyder successfully applied for a grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to monitor a portion of Darby Creek.

Floehr expanded the program to teach students about the Great Lakes and freshwater ecosystems, but boats were never launched again because of opposition from officials at the OSU-operated laboratory, Floehr said.

Rick Thorpe, a teacher at Hilliard Tharp Sixth Grade School, carved the boats for the students.

"We heard from someone (in 1995) who found one of the boats (on Middle Bass Island). We never heard anything else until now," Floehr said. "This is all so incredible."

The nine Paddle to the Sea boats were inspired, Floehr said, by the 1941 novel of the same name, written by Holling C. Holling, about a boy who carved a canoe and its journey through the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Atlantic Ocean.

Buchman said introduction of the novel to students at Hilliard Station Sixth Grade School as well as launching a new set of boats into Lake Erie are among the ideas staff is considering to recognize the event.

Floehr said she was "amazed" and "choked up" when she learned about the boat's discovery and corresponded with Gervais.

"To think that is was found after 17 years. ... The students that released the boats are 28 and 29 years old now," Floehr said. "It's all so incredible."

Boat No. 7 is on new journey as Gervais' students relaunched it Nov. 2 into the Detroit River.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

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