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Island family launches Chinese junk boat business that's bridging cultural gap

Monte Gisborne is shown in front of his Chinese junk boat. Since moving to P.E.I., Gisborne's family does about four tours every day, which includes going for a sail around the Charlottetown harbour. The boat is also available for special events. More information is at Chinesejunktour.com. - Mitch MacDonald
Monte Gisborne is shown in front of his Chinese junk boat. Since moving to P.E.I., Gisborne's family does about four tours every day, which includes going for a sail around the Charlottetown harbour. The boat is also available for special events. More information is at Chinesejunktour.com. - Mitch MacDonald - Mitch MacDonald

Monte Gisborne is willing to bet he’ll have the most well-photographed landmark in Charlottetown this summer.

Gisborne, who also goes by Shan Long and owns the red Chinese junk boat sitting in the Peakes Quay Marina, said there are few who walk by the distinctive vessel without taking a picture or video.

It’s no wonder, as the boat’s unique design and vibrant colour stands out in the day while a light show dances across its bright red sails at night.

“It’s such a striking image and probably an unexpected striking image. This is the only junk ship in Canada and it’s one of, I believe, to be only about seven in North America,” said Gisborne, adding the boat was built in 1968 out of authentic Burmese Teak wood. “(From what I can tell through my research) in the world, there’s definitely less than 100 (authentic junks) left and at one time there were millions.”

Junk boats are an ancient form of Chinese boats that were used as early as the second century.

Gisborne, who has had a passion for Asian culture since growing up in a heavily Chinese area of B.C., had been looking for years to purchase an authentic junk before realizing how difficult it was to find one.

He eventually bought a sloop converted to look like a junk and hauled it across Canada with a goal of using it for tours.

Following a news story on the unique boat, Gisborne was connected with an elderly couple that owned an authentic junk they commissioned in 1968.
They were looking for someone special to take over their ship.

“I bought the boat because I loved (it) and I love my family. I love our Chinese culture we’re living in… even though I’m a white Canadian, I’m immersed into a Chinese society.”

Since purchasing the boat, Gisborne and his family have put it to good use.

This is the second year that Gisborne, his wife, Luo Dan Ni (Daniela), and daughter Li Qin Lin (Dominica), who are originally from China and became permanent residents of Canada last week, have operated the junk boat tour in Charlottetown.

The tour, which is listed as an excursion at most of the cruise ships that come into Charlottetown, tells the story of the boat as well as the family’s history and Chinese culture.

The tours can also include Chinese cuisine and traditional music.

“It basically acts as a bridge between the Chinese culture and visitors and residents of P.E.I.,” said Gisborne. “Chinese history is so dynamic and vibrant. We’re just really scratching the surface.”

Gisborne said the Chinese community in P.E.I. has been very hospitable to his family since moving to P.E.I.  His family was given a small statue of the sea goddess Mazu to keep on the boat.

“It’s a beautiful artifact,” said Gisborne, adding it was at least 100 years old and restored at the only monastery in the world certified to do the work.

“It really complements the whole thing.”
Daniela also said she has felt very welcomed since moving to P.E.I., which has a much slower pace than her previous home in Wuhan, China.

Did you know?

  • The term junk boat has no relation to garbage. It is based on the Chinese terms zhong and chuán (which means boat), and was gradually changed to “junk” after southeast Asia was colonized by the French and later the English.
  • Junks are an ancient style of ship that have evolved through the years and are believed to be the first to use sternmounted rudders.
  • Junks were used by Admiral Zheng He during his expeditions from 1405 to 1433, commanding a fleet of more than 300 ships and about 30,000 sailors.
  • Junks can still be found today throughout Southeast Asia although modern recreational boats customized to look like junk boats are more common

More information is at Chinesejunktour.com.

Twitter.com/Mitch_PEI

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