N.S. senior dedicates life to building dream boat in his backyard

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WATCH: It takes a lot to keep a dream afloat, something one Nova Scotia man knows all too well. He's spent the past two and a half decades building his dream boat, even though he knows the end may not be in sight. Ross Lord has his story – Apr 19, 2016

St. Bernard, N.S. — It’s been said life is a journey, not a destination. If that’s the case, Jean Belliveau is an outstanding example. He’s been building a boat for more than a quarter-century, in a shed near his home in St. Bernard, Nova Scotia.

And, he’s still not finished.

“I don’t do it in a hurry,” says Belliveau. “If you start hurrying, then it’s not fun anymore.”

Belliveau’s 11-metre Dutch yacht is hand-made from spruce, oak and cedar wood he milled in his backyard.

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It’s a multi-level marvel, including dozens of intricate carvings, and portholes that are in need only of glass. Other pieces, like pulleys and the ship’s wheel, still need attaching.

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“I set a date to finish it, but then the fun disappeared. You gotta enjoy the process, I think,” he told Global News.

As his guestbook shows, scores of others enjoy his handiwork including the “other” Jean Belliveau — the late, great hockey player.

“I’ve had some people cry when they first step into the boat shop and saw the boat,” his daughter Janice said. “Others [are] just in awe.”

She joked that the hundreds of hours her father has spent labouring over his project, alone, has helped keep her parents’ marriage together.

Visitors are free to board the boat, but not Belliveau himself.

At 80 years old, he’s recovering from a total loss of feeling in his arms and legs. He spent several weeks in the hospital in 2014. That hasn’t put him off his goal, even if it can be a struggle some days.

After chipping away at the ship’s figurehead for a few minutes, his breathing becomes laboured.

He knows completing the boat is a dwindling possibility.

“I know that I’m not strong enough to do it,” he said.

Still, he has powerful memories of the times he’s surprised himself over the years.

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Like working for a full year to install 150 pieces of planking, steaming the boards so they’d bend into position.

“See that boat there?” says Belliveau, nodding in the boat’s direction.

“Well, I gave it a big kiss, when I got to that point.” Belliveau, said getting choked up at the memory. “I didn’t know if I could succeed in doing that. But, I did.”

At one time, he thought he’d sail the boat. Now, he’s thinking about selling, so some-one else can apply the finishing touches.

Belliveau would love to see the boat placed in a museum.

Despite his astonishing creation, and scores of detailed sketches used for the project, he refuses to call himself an artist.

“[It’s] all a great deal of fun, you know, very satisfying.”
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He insists, despite his in-complete project, the journey has been worthwhile.

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