How a model canoe is like family farm succession plan

Estate planning is not a one-man operation. Instead, farmers should make sure that the entire family is involved.  |  File photo

My wife gave me my 54th birthday present back in February. It was a long cardboard box not quite 1.5 metres long, 25 centimetres wide and 10 cm deep.

As I took off the wrapping paper she watched for my reaction and, as it wasn’t immediately obvious what she had got me, I took my time to respond.

I am an outdoorsman. I love canoeing, kayaking and camping and the winter months can be hard on me as I wait out the long freeze.

So she bought me a model canoe. It was actually a box full of wooden pieces and a set of instructions. The only way I could tell what it was, or what it was supposed to be when finished, was from a small photograph glued to the outside of the box.

I thanked her and was pleased that she had gone beyond the usual two pairs of socks and a book, but the reality was that I had never done anything like this before in my life. I’m not bad with my hands; I can make things and fix things. But I wouldn’t say I was a craftsman. I perhaps lack a little patience and I can easily put things off. So, I placed the box in a corner and I left it.

About two months later I looked at the box. It hadn’t been moved and I hadn’t really taken the time to look inside. I opened it up and took an inventory of the contents, I read the instructions and then I put it all away again. It was full of various bits of wood and a set of very vague instructions, which referenced tools I had never heard of. The truth is, I found the idea daunting and a little unsettling.

One month later I revisited the box. My wife had spent about $500 to buy this model kit and I realized that I owed it to her to attempt to make the model. Otherwise, what she had bought me was a very expensive box of wooden bits that might only be worth $20.

Although the picture of the end result looked amazing and I was keen to see the finished product, it dawned on me that the value was in making the model, not in the cost of the parts.

I was determined to do this to the best of my abilities. I realized that, although the kit contained all the pieces I would need, it didn’t contain all the tools. I had to go and buy the glue, I had to go and buy bar clamps, I needed a small modelling plane, I needed to gather together my own tools from the garage.

I then sat down and read the instructions. I have always found that following the instructions is the most effective way to get things done. But the instructions were still very vague. I then realized that there was a video to watch so I sat and watched it. The video was much more informative than the paper instructions and the combination of both gave me the confidence to start.

I assembled the initial frame work around which the model would be built. It looked good, it looked like it should and I was proud of my progress. There were things that didn’t quite fit as they should and there were stages that I thought were likely unnecessary, but I followed the instructions and did them anyway.

I then left the model. I left it for about a week. In truth it might have been easy to leave it a while longer. I’d done the easy bit, assembling the frame, so it appeared to all who looked that I was doing something and that I was making progress. But I hadn’t really done anything other than slot together a frame and I knew that I needed to discipline myself to commit to the build if I was actually going to make something worthwhile.

The canoe is made of thin strips of wood glued together around the frame. The entire shape of the canoe depends on the first strip. This first strip, called the shear strip, sets in place everything that will follow so it requires a lot more focus and a lot more effort to get it right.

It turned out, though, that the instructions and the DVD didn’t quite prepare me for the initial challenge. Getting the bend in the shear strip right, and holding it in place, was tougher than I imagined. This is where I found out that having enough of the right tools is essential, and having patience and taking time are vital. I also had to adapt to my own situation but in the end, I got the shear strip to the place I wanted it to be.

Now I had to build on that first piece, and as I glued on each strip I learned new things: which piece it was best to apply the glue to and where best to place the first clamp. And as the canoe began to take shape, I felt considerable satisfaction and I realized just how important the process of building the canoe was, more so than perhaps the end result. Sometimes things didn’t go right, sometimes a piece didn’t fit exactly as I wanted it to and often I needed to revisit the instructions, but my knowledge grew along with my confidence and in the end I felt a tremendous sense of achievement as things began to take shape.

Financial consulting companies help family owned businesses deal with inter-generational transition and the many issues and situations that go with that work. I am often asked, “what will I get for my money?” and I think that the analogy of the model canoe fits well with my response.

What you get is a kit. The kit includes processes and structures and it includes instructions and some tools. You also get some personal tuition and a “help line” should you get stuck. The most important thing that is offered is the shear strip, that first piece of the puzzle that sets in place how all other pieces fit.

Financial consulting companies facilitate the right conversations, establish the ground rules, manage expectations and offer guidance. But it is still just a kit. If we built it for you then it will be ours, not yours, and you won’t understand how the pieces fit together, where some pieces didn’t quite fit or where there was a little extra glue applied to an area of weakness. You won’t have the satisfaction of knowing that you created something or the intricate knowledge of how it was put together.

When I watch the video of the guy who sells these models, I smile at his ingenuity. He didn’t really sell me very much — a box of bits and a set of instructions — and, if left unmade, it was certainly not worth the $500 it cost. But by building the model, the experience I gained, the satisfaction and the enjoyment, the learning and the education was worth far more than that $500. As an old friend of mine once said, “the value will be felt long after the cost is forgotten.”

And what would have happened had I simply bought a finished model, perhaps a plastic one at less than half the cost? I would have learned nothing, I would have understood nothing and it really would not have had any value.

Bob Tosh is a farm management consultant in MNP’s Farm Management Consulting group in Saskatoon. For more information, call 877-500-0778 or email

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