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Michigan Heritage Awards

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Gary Tassier
2016 awardee, Cedarville (Mackinac County), Boat building and restoration

Gary Tassier (b. 1948) learned to repair and restore wooden boats from his grandfather, Leo, and Uncle Marvin at their shop, Tassier Boat Works in the Les Cheneaux Islands in Michigan. Upon graduating from Lake Superior State College with a degree in mechanical engineering technology, he returned to the Islands to work at the family boat shop. Gary subsequently became a key figure in the region’s wooden boat revival of the 1970s and helped the restoration and care of antique and classic boats to become an important aspect of the Les Cheneaux Islands economy in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Some of the boats he rebuilt early on have become mainstay models for this renaissance of wooden boatbuilding. Gary has built, preserved, and restored dozens of boats from wooden sailing yachts to lapstrake rowing skiffs; from wood and canvas canoes to mahogany runabouts.  He continues, 15 years into his retirement, to provide advice, mentoring and consultation on the technical challenges that accompany restoring wooden boats.

Wooden boats were not designed to last longer than one or two decades.  However, there are boats on the water in the Les Cheneaux Islands today that are in their fourth generation of use thanks to the work of Gary, Leo, Marvin, and now Gary’s protégés, Mike Freel and Vaughn Rye.  Some of these boats were built by craftsmen at Michigan’s major wooden boat manufacturers such as Chris Craft or Hacker Craft, who worked from drawn plans created by gifted designers.  Others were designed by Gary’s grandfather Leo, and no written plans ever existed for them.  Many of the boats that were built or rebuilt by Leo or his contemporaries were done without benefit of existing plans, although sometimes they had a photograph of an original boat from which they could work. Not only has Gary preserved and rebuilt many of these actual boats, which still carry passengers about the islands today, but he has also preserved many of their designs by constructing scale models of them from scrap lumber, which is a very old practice for communicating in traditional marine designs—a plan that does not require writing.

Compiled by Nick Schaedig with MTAP Staff, 2016

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