British Columbia

From high notes to high seas: How this Surrey man turned 3 pianos into a canoe

While British Columbians developed new hobbies over the pandemic, one Surrey man decided to jazz up three pianos destined for the dump, and turn them into a canoe.

Piano technician George Klassen made the boat, with the help of video tutorials, over the course of 15 months

George Klassen, pictured here with his wife Cathy and two of his grandchildren, made a boat by recycling three pianos destined for the dump. (Janella Hamilton/CBC)

While British Columbians developed new hobbies over the pandemic, one Surrey man decided to jazz up three pianos destined for the dump, and turn them into a canoe.

George Klassen, who has been a piano technician for over 40 years, says he found himself with an unplanned two-month break from work when the COVID-19 lockdown was implemented last year.

Coming across some cedar strip canoes listed on Facebook ended up prompting an odyssey of discovery for Klassen and his family.

"Every day old pianos are just going to the dump. Nobody wants them, and they take up a lot of room," he said. "I just wondered whether it'd be possible to use the wood [from old pianos] and meld them into strips."

The canoe is made almost entirely of recycled piano parts, including ivory key tops and soundboard material. (Submitted by George Klassen)

"And you know, as you can see, it's really nice wood. I was surprised when I started making strips out of these old pianos, how beautiful it was. That kept spurring me on as well." 

After more than 350 hours in his workshop in the course of 15 months, Klassen's canoe was ready for its first voyage in Pitt Meadows on Saturday. The canoe was christened Middle Sea, a reference to the middle C note on a piano.

Klassen says he taught himself how to build the canoe purely through online tutorials on YouTube. His last experience with this sort of construction was when he built a fibreglass canoe in high school, which he laughed off as "too long ago."

His extended family, including his grandchildren, were in the canoe when it set sail on the Pitt River for the first time. Julia, one of his granddaughters, described the experience as "fun, but wobbly."

The canoe, dubbed 'Middle Sea,' made its maiden voyage on the Pitt River in Pitt Meadows, B.C. on Saturday. (Janella Hamilton/CBC)

"My dad's always been — for lack of a better term — a tinkerer. He's always able to fix things with whatever's laying around. And so he was wanting to take pianos and turn them into a boat," said Grant Klassen, George's son. "I thought it was an incredible idea, but not completely shocking."

Apart from the fibreglass shell, nearly the entire canoe is made of old piano parts, including ivory key tops, wood handles and soundboard material.

"To make something useful, and beautiful, and artistic, out of something that's been deemed trash ... I think that's maybe one of the intriguing pieces of this," said George. "I think being involved in the creative process gets pretty close to our fundamental DNA."

"It's something that'll stick with us as a family for years and years to come. Just when you think of a canoe — a canoe's a canoe, but this one has a lot of value, lots of special meaning," said Grant.

"We're joking that this is now the family yacht. Like it'll be passed down from generation to generation."

With files from Janella Hamilton