Our Classic 1922 Muskoka Ditchburn Motor Launch

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We are very fortunate to have “Sevlo” (short for Severn Lodge), a classic 37’ Ditchburn motor launch, in the Severn Lodge family. She was originally built in 1922 by the Ditchburn Boat Company in Gravenhurst, Ontario. It was hull #2522 which was taken from the pencil mark on back of original dashboard and the #22 stamp that is in the cast aluminum stem. Other information including the original owner and the year of manufacture was confirmed by anecdotal information conveyed to William H. “Bill” Breckbill (owner of Severn Lodge) from Mr. and Mrs. Norman Gray. They indicated that she was originally commissioned to be built for Lady Eaton of the Eaton Department Store family at the Ditchburn Boat Company in Gravenhurst, Ontario and was to be used at their cottage near Cognashene, Ontario on Georgian Bay just north of Honey Harbour, Ontario.

She was subsequently sold by the Eatons to Mr. and Mrs. Norman Gray and moved to their cottage “Glen Ness” at the south end of Gloucester Pool, Trent Severn Waterway, near the hamlet of Port Severn in Ontario’s beautiful Muskoka lake district. Mrs. Gray was a cousin to Lady Eaton. When her husband, Norman Gray, died in 1941, the boat was sold to Bill Breckbill for $600, a tidy sum in those days. She remains in the Breckbill family to this very day. Her original name is unknown by the Breckbill’s, however Bill named the boat “Sevlo” which was short for Severn Lodge.

She was purchased for the purpose of transporting guests and supplies into and out of Severn Lodge, a historic Ontario resort dating to the late 1800’s, from Port Severn, the nearest road access at that time. It was a 30-45 minute boat ride to Port Severn, so during those years, there were two pick-ups a day, one at 11 am and one at 5 pm. Those missing the 5 pm pick-up had to stay over night in Port Severn. In the 1950’s Hwy 69 (currently Hwy 400) was built, and a road was established into White’s Falls, the connecting point of Gloucester Pool and Six Mile Lake. White’s Falls was only 10 minutes from Severn Lodge which made access to the Lodge much more convenient. After the road was built into the Lodge, her service was changed from that of a water taxi to being a cruise boat. Today her main job is to take Severn Lodge guests for cruises on Gloucester Pool.

Approximately 15 years ago, Rick and Ron Breckbill, sons of Bill, happened by chance (at Jeffery’s Pro Hardware in Midland, Ontario) to meet and talk with the original driver of Sevlo when she was owned by the Eatons. Unfortunately, only verbal information was exchanged, and his name was never written down. Likely, he is not living today, as he was quite old at that time.

Sevlo is a 37 ft Ditchburn sedan model, with a soft chine, white oak ribs, cypress bottom, and Honduras mahogany topsides. She was originally powered by a 6 cylinder Sterling marine engine of approximately 250 hp. This motor was replaced in 1946 by Bill Breckbill with a 100 hp Buchanan 6 cylinder Meteor marine engine. Then, in 1968 a 230 hp Buchannan V8 (Chevy 327 block) marine engine was installed. This engine still powers Sevlo today.

The original cabin was furnished with an attached driver and passenger seat and 4 movable wicker chairs. In 1946 the original cabin was replaced with a larger cabin that extended further forward to approximately 4 ft in front of the engine allowing enough seating capacity for 18 passengers under roof. The restoration and addition of this new cabin was done by Midland Boatworks in Midland, Ontario. Fortunately, several of the wicker chairs, the original dashboard, and parts of the original cabin were kept and stored in the attic of the boathouse at Severn Lodge. The new cabin matches the style of the boat and has 6 Model T type roll down windows, a light, a sign, and a luggage rack on the roof. Many have said that these modifications made her even more handsome.

Over the years there were several significant repairs to the boat. In 1970 a new keel was installed by Barron’s Custom Boats, Port Severn. In 1982 minor plank replacement was done by McLarney Boats, Penetanguishene, and in 2001 major work was done by Stan Hunter Boat Works, Port Carling that included a complete re-ribbing with new bottom planks, keel, transom, motor beds, and new mahogany planking on approximately 2/3 of the hull.

Today, many of these classic motor launches of yesteryear in the Muskoka area have been restored to their former glory. There are only a handful of historic resorts left in Muskoka that had similar launches, but only the Sevlo remains as an active launch that is used in the resorts’ operations. Others have either disappeared or are currently in the hands of private individuals.