Cute Manitoba-made campers make a comeback

The light trailers introduced in 1968 have always had a cult following, but in recent years demand has surged.

Once ubiquitous Bolers appeal to a new generation with retro look and minimal weight

California-based Happier Camper rents refurbished Bolers. (Happier Camper)

The humble Boler camper is getting some long-overdue love.

Invented and manufactured in Winnipeg, the light, retro trailers introduced in 1968 have always had a cult following, but in recent years demand has surged.

Chad Celaire owns Winnipeg' Bee2gether, a company that used to just rent tandem bikes until customers kept asking about the little trailers they used for offices and storage.

"We noticed that a lot of people were more drawn to our Boler camper than they were to our bikes," Celaire told CBC News.

He and his wife purchased four Bolers to rent almost five years ago and have never looked back.

"Every year we see growth in the business," he said. "June, July and August were just packed."

For eight years running, St. Malo Provincial Park has hosted an unofficial Boler convention in August. This year, the 8th annual Manitoba Fibreglass and Vintage Camper Rally runs Aug.18, to Aug. 20. 

The trailers maintain their appeal, Celaire said, because they started with solid design. They appealed to campers in the 1960s and 1970s when gas prices were high and still do, nearly 50 years later, among people who value economy.

Weighing about 450 kilograms and measuring about four metres in length, Bolers can sleep a family of four comfortably (but snugly). The rig includes an icebox, sink and stove, and is light so a car can tow them, Celaire said.

"I'm six foot three and my wife is about six feet so we're pretty tall people but when we go in our boller we feel like it's our little home," he said. "They're just cute."

Tom McMahon became a Boler enthusiast in 2012 when he purchased a fibreglass trailer for less than $3,000. Today typical Bolers cost around $7,000 in Winnipeg.

Production for the original Boler ended in 1980, but that hasn't stopped owners from making them new again — painting them inside and out and adding unique design flourishes.

Nova Scotia's Tina Hennigar shows off her refurbished '60s Boler trailer. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

"Boler owners are very proud of their personalized touches," McMahon said. "Out of the 10,000 that were produced there are probably 10,000 variations."

The Boler's inventor, Ray Olecko, was an accomplished fibreglass designer in Winnipeg who, of all things, specialized in septic tanks.

McMahon, who has researched the Boler's history, says the trailers origins began with one of Olecko's tanks.

He fine-tuned the design while camping with his wife and two daughters.

"He and his family just loved camping," McMahon said. "They liked to go camping by Pointe du Bois, Manitoba. They were the guinea pigs for all of the Bolers."

Among his successful ideas was a folding dinner table that could double as a bed, and a couch that could be converted into a bunk bed.

"He really wanted a camper that would appeal to a large segment of the population," McMahon said. 

While production for the original Bolers ended in 1980, many companies, including Scamp in Minnesota, Trillium Trailers in Alberta and Happier Camper in California, continue to make trailers inspired by the classic Boler.

Happier Camper's HC1 trailer was inspired by the Boler design. (Happier Camper/Wil Sarmienti)