Former President of Les Amis du Canal du Nivernais, Jo Parfitt died yesterday (10th January 2013) after a battle with cancer.
A lock on the Sardy Flight on the Canal du Nivernais — and
Jo Parfitt: Picture by Bob Naylor©
Jo was the first English President of Les Amis du Canal du Nivernais (ACN) and he had run businesses on the Burgundy canals for several decades. There can be few boaters who have explored the inland waterways of France who will not know of Jo Parfitt, even if they have not benefited from his engineering skills or learned more of the Burgundy canals from his encyclopaedic knowledge of those waterways.
Jo came from a farming background but caught the bug of canal enthusiasm as an apprentice toolmaker in Enfield in the late 1960s.
He formed a canal society at the East Herts College of Further Education and by the 1970s he was spending his weekends excavating the locks on the Widcome Flight on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Bath, enjoying the local ale and — as he put it: “doing our bit to stop the local ladies becoming bored on a Saturday night”.
By 1977 Jo was running a company in Worcester building boats — including 15 for a hire base in France.
When the people who were to run the hire boats in France backed out, Jo and a French-speaking colleague stepped in and he moved to France to help run the fleet.
In 1980 Jo bought a Dutch barge (complete with a 100-Hp crane on the deck) to live, work and travel the canals and he started repairing passing boats when the hire boats were out.
Jo spent 18 months in Corbigny and 10 years in Mailly La Ville before moving to Migennes.
After selling his business at Migennes and ‘retiring’ in 2010, Jo continued to carry out boat surveys, was establishing his general engineering business based near Clamecy and he also moved into technical journalism, writing a monthly column for the French waterways magazine, Fluvial.
Jo was a founder member of Les Amis du Canal du Nivernais (ACN) when it was set up in 1989 to promote the canal and to make it more accessible to as many people as possible without damaging its beauty and the tranquility of the countryside through which it passes.
Jo, prompted by the then ACN President Philippe Benard, looked for a canal in England to twin with. It was clear to him that the very canal that he had volunteered on as a young man, the K&A, was the most suitable.
The two canals have similar geographic and geological features — they both have 16-lock flights (at Sardy and Devizes), they both link two major rivers, they both have tunnels and similar geological problems. Jo met with the K&A Canal Trust’s Hon Engineer Mike Lee and as a consequence of that meeting the first twinning trip took place in 1991 when Jo brought a party of 20 to the K&A.
Jo was passionate about the potential benefits of twinning. “it gives us a card to play that catches the eye of politicians and local authorities. We can show people here in France what’s being achieved abroad. In my opinion it will take European involvement to save the small central canals in France and for this we need our twinning links. There is also much more that can be achieved on the cultural front, with exchanges and projects between communities and schools.”
Jo believed that ACN and KACT were the first canal associations to twin. Since then others have followed. Jo’s influence prompted other French waterways to twin, including the canal D’Orleans, which is twinned with the Basingstoke (instigated by information on how to go about it from ACN), the Nantes à Brest is twinned with the Wilts & Berks and the Canal du Berry (ARICAB) has twinned with The Cotswolds Canals.
Since twinning with the K&A, Jo championed linking the Nivernais with other European waterways, including the Royal Canal in Ireland through their Amenity Group, and with the Dutch Barge Association.
Jo became President of ACN in 2008, four decades after he first caught the canal bug on the K&A Canal in England and he always remained passionate about the potential of inland waterways for recreation and employment.
Whilst he was President, ACN joined with six other French canals to form l’Entente des Canaux du Centre-France (Canal du Berry, Canal de Bourgogne, Canal de Briare, Canal lateral a la Loire, Canal d’Orleans, Canal du Centre et Canal du Nivernais) to encourage tourism and strengthen their voice in negotiations.
Jo said “United we stand, divided we fall! It is good to have the support of the other groups and it is helpful that we can share the cost of exhibiting at the major waterways events such as Paque Boat in St Jean de Losne. And it gives us greater access to local & national politicians.”
In 2009, his last year as President of Les Amis, Jo nominated K&A Canal Trust Hon Engineer Mike Lee to be invested as a Chevalier into the ancient French wine-makers’ society Le Confrérie des Chevaliers des Trois Ceps at the end of the two-day Fête Nautique in Vincelles to honour his involvement in the twinning association, saying: “it needs to be now, you never know what the future may bring”. How prophetic those words were and how typical of Jo that he ensured that public recognition was given where deserved.
"No canal, no tourists — no tourists, no canal"
Jo’s presidency of Les Amis ended in 2010, but his passion for promoting the Canal du Nivernais continued. He said: “The Nivernais, like any other canal, is an amenity for walkers, cyclists and anyone visiting the area interested in history, architecture, wildlife, botany and fishing. The canal makes a linear park that anyone passing can step into for a picnic if nothing else — and sit and watch boats go by.“The canal supports employment in many forms, it is an artery bringing essential tourists to an area with only agriculture and forestry and a small amount of industry. Tourism is absolutely vital to the Nivernais. “No canal, no tourists!” says Jo, “but equally important, no tourists, no canal”.
Jo has left a legacy on the canals in central France that is being continued by his friends and colleague at ACN.
MERCI, très grand MERCI pour ce splendide article et surtout d'avoir fait le voyage à Auxerre... Di & Bob, nous sommes fiers d'avoir d'aussi bons amis...toute l'équipe de l'ACN vous embrasse et souhaite vous revoir bientôt.
The French inland waterways magazine, Fluvial, marks Jo's passing...
Jo Parfitt embarked on the morning of 10 January 2013 for a very long trip and we, on the dock, are left sad and shivering. It seems that he took his toolbox in one hand and, with a turn, he gave us a wink. Noah's Ark was in need a serious check-up ... But, his family, Doret, and his friends are now alone.
As soon as Jo received his ten fingers, he dismantled anything that's operation he wanted to understand. Later, as a qualified mechanic, he set his sights on the boats, as so often have the poets and free men. In France, he created the shipyard Migennes and designed, fitted out, repaired countless boats. He was also a co-founder and one of the presidents of Les Amis du Canal du Nivernais, with the goal of saving the canal he loved.
He loved to share his knowledge and his dreams and launched, two years ago and with the blessing of Fluvial magazine, a technical column, now an orphan.
Many today feel alongside his two sons Matthew and Sam.
Sad times ...