Eugene was born in 1944 on Indian Islands, Notre Dame Bay to Frank and Netta Saunders. When he was three years old, his family moved to Glenwood where Frank, a blacksmith, worked with Anglo-Newfoundland Development (AND) Company.
Eugene grew up in Glenwood alongside the Gander River and learned how to build boats at a young age. “It always enthused me building boats. I used to go out to my uncle Nat Gillingham’s when I was growing up. They were boat builders,” Eugene says.
While his father (originally from Change Islands) would have built trap skiffs and punts, Eugene learned how to build the unique Gander River Boat from watching his uncle Nat Gillingham.
Like other builders in the area, Eugene uses steam-bent juniper ribs and spruce planking. “Years ago we’d always go looking for fir plank, but it’s hard to get that now. There’s not many places around you can cut fir sticks, so we’ve got to use spruce,” Eugene says. “She’s pretty much all spruce, clear of the juniper ribs.”
At one time Eugene used four bulkheads, but found that he could get a better shape with three. “The first thing you do is scarph your keel and counter knee,” Eugene says. Next the transom is installed, followed by sheering strakes and gunnels, and then she’s battened out. Once the ribs are boiled, “with someone’s help, she can be ribbed in an hour or so.”
“I got a big vat made up and put them all in at the one time. That’s why it takes a little longer to do them, but it does a good job. When they’re boiled, they’re good. I usually put about half a gallon of Javax in the water with it. That makes the juniper pretty soft.”
Eugene has built over fifty Gander River Boats. Typically, he would build one for himself each winter and sell it at the end of the season, but has also built boats to order. One winter, with the help of his son Paul, Eugene filled orders for seven boats – four destined for outfitters in Labrador and three for the United States.
A carpenter by trade, Eugene has also spent more than a decade as a guide on the Gander River and other parts of the province. Often alongside his wife Rose, Eugene has worked at outfitter camps at Michael’s River, Eagle River & Eclipse Lake, among others places.