As you know if you’re a regular DesignTies reader, my hubby and I recently went on a weekend trip to Nova Scotia. We spent the first couple of days in Lunenburg, which is a harbour town southwest of Halifax (red star in the lower left corner of the map).
Lunenburg is a beautiful town with brightly coloured houses, lots of cute little shops, and a long nautical history. I was so enthralled by the ships that we saw in Lunenburg (and Halifax too), that I decided to write a series of posts about them. Starting with one of the most famous ships of all time...
Queen of the North Atlantic
Bluenose was designed by William J. Roué and built by Smith and Rhuland. Her captain was Angus Walters (1881-1968). She was launched at Lunenburg on March 26, 1921, and proceeded to become the most successful fishing and racing ship of her time.
It all started with a 23mph wind…
It was 1919. A New York newspaper published a tiny article on its sports page announcing that the New York Yacht Club had postponed an America's Cup yacht race because of “gale-force” 23mph winds.
William B. Dennis, owner of the Halifax Herald in Nova Scotia, read the article and laughed. A 23mph wind was nothing more than a breeze to a fishing schooner skipper — those yachtsmen and their fancy boats were a bunch of wimps!
Mr. Dennis was inspired. Along with some other Halifax businessmen, Mr. Dennis created The Halifax Herald North Atlantic Fisherman’s International Competition. The International Fisherman’s Cup (as it’s more commonly called) would be a rugged head-to-head series of races on a 40-mile course between the fastest Canadian and American fishing schooners. Only REAL bona-fide working ships with hardy crews need apply.
Lunenburg was home of the greatest deep-sea fishing fleet in the world, and had a long and proud shipbuilding and fishing heritage. Gloucester, Massachusetts was equally proud of its fleet of fishing schooners. For years, the Canadian and American schooner crews raced each other to the fishing grounds in Grand Banks, Newfoundland. And they loved every minute of it!
Delawana vs. Esperanto
The elimination races to determine Canada’s entry for the inaugural International Fisherman’s Cup were held on October 11, 1920. The two ships in the final elimination race were Delawana and Gilbert B. Walters (captained by Captain Angus Walters). On the last leg of the race, the topmast of Gilbert. B. Walters broke, and Delawana won the honour to represent Canada. She went on to face Esperanto, a fishing vessel from Gloucester that happened to return home just after the port in Gloucester received a telegram from Halifax issuing the racing challenge.
Esperanto wasn’t in the best of shape — she was 14 years old and had just returned from over two months at sea — but she was the only ship available. The Gorton-Pew Fisheries Company was able to scrape & paint her bottom, repair her spars and rigging, and adjust her ballast. Then she sailed 400 miles up to Halifax for the International Fisherman’s Cup — where she beat Delawana two races to one. Esperanto took the trophy back to her cheering fans in New England.
Plans for revenge
That just wouldn’t do. So William J. Roué, a young naval architect in Halifax, was given the challenge to design a fishing schooner that would be fast enough to defeat the Americans and bring the trophy back to Canada. Captain Angus Walters and four Halifax businessmen financed the building of the schooner at a cost of $35,000. That schooner was Bluenose.
A few weeks after her launch in late March 1921, Bluenose set out for her first season of fishing off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Captain Angus Walters was at the helm. Her crew were rugged, hardy, seafaring men.
Bluenose finished her first fishing season in September 1921, which qualified her for that year’s International Fisherman’s Cup. She had proven herself to be sturdy enough to withstand constant beatings by North Atlantic winds and waves. She was strong enough to carry heavy loads of fish and cargoes along Atlantic trade routes. And she was fast enough to reach home with fish, scallops, and seafood still fresh.
The International Fisherman’s Cup: 1921–1938
First up were the elimination races in Halifax to determine which Canadian schooner would represent Canada in the 1921 International Fisherman’s Cup. Bluenose out-sailed all her competitors to earn her spot against the American schooner, Elsie. In the first race, Elsie lost her fore-topmast. To keep things equal, Captain Walters doused his own fore-topmast. Bluenose finished the race with a thirteen minute lead. And in the second race, Bluenose beat Elsie by three miles to win the International Cup and bring the trophy back home. Yay Canada!
Bluenose won the International Fisherman’s Cup in 1922 as well. Protests and controversy tarnished the series in 1923. Captain Walters refused to complete the races, and his opponent, Captain Ben Pine of the Columbia, refused to accept the trophy when it was offered to him.
The bad feelings between the two captains resulted in an eight-year hiatus before the next Cup series in 1931. Bluenose defeated Gertrude L. Thebaud to retain the trophy — the same schooner that had defeated her a year earlier in a race in Gloucester sponsored by the Thomas Lipton Tea Company.
In 1938, Bluenose took on Gertrude L. Thebaud once again off the coast of Massachusetts in the final International Fisherman’s Cup. In spite of being older and losing the first race, Bluenose stormed back to win the second the third races. Thebaud won the fourth race, so it all came down to the fifth and final tiebreaker race. The two schooners were close all the way, but Bluenose pulled just ahead of Thebaud at the finish line to win the last-ever International Fisherman's Cup series and keep the trophy in Canada.
Watch silent film of the beautiful Bluenose in her final race against Gertrude L. Thebaud on the Nova Scotia Archives & Records Management web site. The 16mm silent colour films were taken by W. R. MacAskill.
Bluenose is a star!
Bluenose earned the title Queen of the North Atlantic by never relinquishing the International Fisherman’s Cup trophy. She was also named “high liner of the fleet” several times during her fishing career as the fishing schooner with the season’s top catch — one year landing a record 646,000 pounds of cod.
By the early 1930s, Bluenose was an international celebrity. She travelled to the Chicago World Fair in 1933, Toronto in 1934, and the Silver Jubilee of King George V in England in 1935. Everywhere she went, she received a warm welcome and was boarded by thousands of admiring visitors.
While crossing the Atlantic on her return voyage from England in 1935, Bluenose encountered the most powerful storm she had ever faced. She actually keeled over and stayed down for five minutes, masts and all. But she somehow managed to right herself, and Bluenose and her crew eventually arrived back in Lunenburg safely.
Good-bye to a Canadian icon
By the late 1930s, North America was in the throes of the Great Depression and schooners were no longer the fishing powers they once were in the Northern Atlantic. They had been replaced by steam-powered, steel-hulled vessels.
Captain Angus Walters had retired, but he valiantly tried to keep Bluenose in Nova Scotia. He borrowed money to keep her afloat, and tried to have Bluenose declared a national treasure. But in spite of Captain Walters’ best efforts, he was eventually forced to sell Bluenose to the West Indies Trading Company in 1942. She spent the next four years unceremoniously hauling cargo in the Caribbean. And then, like so many fishing schooners of her time, Bluenose was lost at sea — on January 28, 1946, she struck a reef off the coast of Haiti and sank, her wreckage never to be raised or seen again.
Gone but not forgotten
Bluenose is gone, but she’s a Canadian legend that will never be forgotten…
Bluenose and Captain Angus Walters were inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1955, making her the first non-human CSHF inductee.
The Bluenose stamp was issued in 1929, and is considered by many to be the most beautiful stamp in Canada — some think even the world. The stamp was created by the Canadian Bank Note Company, Limited and is based on pictures of Bluenose in Halifax Harbour taken by Mr. W.R. MacAskill in 1922/23.
She’s also on the Nova Scotia license plate:
And probably the greatest tribute to Bluenose — Bluenose II, a ship built to commemorate the great Bluenose and the subject of Part II in my series about the tall ships of Lunenburg.
Whether returning to Lunenburg with a load of fresh fish or crossing the finish line in one of the many races that she won, Bluenose was the fastest fishing schooner of her time and is a true Canadian legend. Imagine how beautiful Bluenose looked, with her sails billowing in the wind and the water churning around her hull as she raced through the waters of the North Atlantic…
Seeing as I’m hooked on the tall ships of Lunenburg, I’m linking this post to Julia’s Hooked on Fridays blog party at Hooked on Houses. Sail on over and see what everyone else is hooked on today… :-)