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Main photo: A young Don Payne leans over the cockpit of the Royal Canadiana to bolt the fin. (Courtesy of Don Payne)
It’s been five years since the Royal Canadiana, a record-breaking hydroplane racing boat, was reborn when Dwight mechanic Don Payne rebuilt it from the ashes.
But for its origins, we need to go way back to 1963.
That’s when the Royal Canadiana was built in Dorset by Don Payne’s father, Harvey Payne, and a small team of mechanics. Harvey Payne was a car mechanic who became interested in the world of hydroplane boat racing. The Royal was the first boat he ever built, and he would go on to build five more hydroplanes in his lifetime.
Don Payne assisted in the building process, which spawned his fondness for boats and the world of hydroplane racing.
“I remember stories of my father as early as eleven years old,” Payne recalls. “It was the first boat I got to climb into and work on.”
The Royal Canadiana was built for Aubert Brillant, the owner of the Canadiana racing team, which consisted of five world-class hydroplanes. Its elegant design and bright-red finish deemed it a real “eye-catcher,” Payne says. The Royal was just as extraordinary in performance as it was in appearance and Payne and his team’s painstaking work proved highly successful.
The Royal was the first seven-litre hydroplane racing boat in Canada and was the first in North America to average 145 kph in the middle of a race. It set the world speed record and won American Nationals in the 1960s, driven by Art Asbury, a veteran of the Royal Canadian Airforce who served in the Second World War.
Art Asbury pilots the Royal Canadiana (Courtesy of Don Payne)
In 1966, Brillant lost interest in hydroplane racing and turned his attention to horse racing. The Canadiana Racing Team was dissolved in 1967 and the Royal was sold to Jean Piquet, who renamed it Miss Quebec. Its name change and new ownership did not hinder its spirit, however, and in that same year it won the Canadian National Championship with Asbury as its pilot.
The boat changed hands a number of times throughout the years, but Harvey Payne bought it back in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s, the Royal Canadiana was being stored in a barn in Milton which burned down and took the boat down with it.
In 2004, two years after his father’s death, Don Payne discovered original parts from the Royal Canadiana, mainly bottom hardware, which had been stored separately from the barn.
The discovery of these parts led Payne to the decision to rebuild the Royal and restore it back to its former glory. It was a means for Payne to honour his late father and to recount some of the fond memories he has of him.
“I remember standing alongside my father and him telling me what you had to do to make the boat work better,” Payne says. “When he got back from a race, I was always waiting to hear all the stories.”
Payne began the rebuilding process in 2008, which took him seven years to complete. He used the original blueprints of the boat which he had inherited from his father. Payne had help from a few other men, one of whom was his father’s best friend Bill Ellerington, who built the frames for the boat. Payne’s intention for the rebuilding process was to make the boat as close to the original as possible, only making small improvements to its interior.
Restoration of the frames for the Royal Canadiana by the late Bill Ellerington, Harvey Payne’s best friend. (Courtesy of Don Payne)
Some of the hardware on the Royal Canadiana are original like the rudder bracket (Courtesy of Don Payne)
The Vintage Hydroplane Association considers the rebuilt Royal Canadiana to be the same boat as the original, not a replica. This is due to the use of original parts, an original blueprint, and Payne’s family ties to the original boat.
Finally restored to its former grandeur, the Royal re-entered the hydroplane circuit in 2016.
“She can’t just look like the right one,” Payne says, “she also has to work like the right one.”
And work like the right one, it did. During a test run on Lake of Bays in June 2016, the Royal reached speeds of up to 177 kph and its official relaunch occurred later that month. It was entered into Burk’s Falls and Dwight engine shows that same year. The last time the boat was on the water, it participated in the 2016 Valleyfield Vintage Grand Prix in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec, which is the racing capital for hydroplanes in Canada.
The Royal Canadiana’s comeback career was short-lived and it is now in retirement in Payne’s possession. As of now, Payne has no plans for the boat in the future, as his joy of it came from the building process, not in seeing it perform.
“For me, it was more about the building of it. I have no intention of making money from it,” Payne says. “The boat has nothing to prove.”
Though the Royal Canadiana now sits idle, its fierce and unwavering spirit lives on.
See more Royal Canadiana photos here.
See more Wayback Wednesday photos here.
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