Pages Navigation Menu

Build a Bigger Boat


Build A Bigger Boat

words & music Mike Ford


Britannia rules the waves from sea to sea and shore to shore

Behold the colonial fleet and Kingston’s proud ship-sailing corps

Well actually it’s only two schooners and a sloop

And a rag-tag bunch of sailors on deck to take a poop

And with what the Yank’s are building our sails will surely droop

We need an unexpected strategy – What could the clever calculation be?

I know!

We’ll simply build a bigger – oh yes we’ll build a bigger – it’s best to build a bigger boat

We’ll simply build a bigger – oh yes we’ll build a bigger – it’s best to build a bigger boat


We’ll show young Uncle Sam our shipwright skill, our dockyard pluck

Behold the new brigade to turn the tides and turn our luck

But down at Sackets’s Harbour they’re working like baboons

Whipping up a squadron sure to make one swoon

Big guns, indestructible – might be sailing soon

We must muster all our English savoir-faire

And devise a cunning plan with craft and care

I have just such a plan!

We’ll simply build a bigger – oh yes we’ll build a bigger – it’s best to build a bigger boat

We’ll simply build a bigger – oh yes we’ll build a bigger – it’s best to build a bigger boat


To win on Ontario would be so sweet

But t’would be awfully awfully worse to go down in defeat

We just can’t risk it – not worth the biscuit – I’d have to give up Sunday brisket

We need more guns, more cannonades, mortar fire, and fusillades, chain shot – in short

We need more canon power than Nelson had his finest hour

We’ll be like him – the man himself – at Trafalgar

Only we won’t actually use the cannons, that would be too terribly vulgar

But the enemy persists in ship-building provocation


Each side of the lake locked in an escalation

One day they’ll call it mutually assured annihilation

To preserve the status quo, there’s no finer machination that I know

We’ll simply build a bigger – oh yes we’ll build a bigger – it’s best to build a bigger boat….



I wrote this song after reading the excellent book Lords of the Lake by the late Robert Malcomson (I often dedicate my live 1812 performances to this historian whose inspiring research and writing of Southern Ontario’s experiences in that war give us crucial information of those times). We learn of Lake Ontario being the site of an incredible ship-building competition between British and US forces – climaxing in the construction of war ships as big, or bigger, than any on the world’s oceans at that time. The surprise that goes along with that is that these great ships (primarily built at Kingston for the British and right across from Kingston, at Sacket’s Harbour for the US) hardly saw any battles. The naval leaders on both sides of the lake were enthused by the great show of force the ships represented, but were seemingly terrified of initiating a battle, as a loss would mean loss of the whole lake itself, paralyzing their side’s chances in the war.

The whole situation reminded me in a way of The Cold War between The USA and The Soviet Union after World War Two – which is why I include the line “One day they’ll call it mutually assured annihilation”.

Ship-building was of course an enormous part of the power of The British Empire – many in authority saw Canada first and foremost as an endless resource of wood for those ships – including the massive forests of white pine that then still covered southern Ontario. The need for sailors to man those British ships was one of the factors leading to the War of 1812: British raids on Yankee ships at sea, to arrest ‘recently British’ sailors and make them work on Her Majesty’s ships (‘impressment’) was one of the main US reasons for invading Canada.


Discussion Questions

1. What was the British Empire?

2. Why would ship-building be important to the British Empire?

3. What would make Kingston a good spot for ship-building?

4. Why does the songwriter approach this topic in a somewhat comical way?

5. Although no serious lake-battles occurred, what strategic effect did the ships have?

6. Where any Canadian towns overwhelmed by a naval invasion?

7. Were other Great Lakes the site of naval battles?

8. What would prevent a Lake Ontario ship from joining Lake Erie battles?

9. Did Canada go through any other times of increased ship-building?

10. Are many ships built in Canada today? If so, in what harbours?


Related Activities

1. Create a map showing Kingston and Sackets Harbour. Show on your map where different supplies for ship-building would come from.

2. Draw a map, or build a model of a ship-building harbour like Kingston or Sackets harbour of 1813.

3. Imagine you are a clerk in one such harbour, in charge of all the ship-building supplies you have in storage. Create a skit wherein different ship-builders come in to get needed supplies…which ones are on hand, which need to be ordered, which ones are difficult to get – what challenges may come up?

4. Imagine you are the mother, sister, wife or girlfriend of one of the sailors out on the lake. You can see their ship from time to time, and hear some of the news, but you of course have no way to instantly text them! What would be in a letter or diary you write?

5. MUSIC: The above song has a tongue-twister for its chorus – that uses alliteration (repetition of a consonant, in this case, the letter B). Take one of the battles of the war and make a chant chorus tongue-twister with alliteration (e.g. “The States got stuck and stumbled stupidly at Stoney Creek!”).