The legend of the famous Bluenose lives on 100 years later

Today, March 26th, marks the 100th anniversary of the launch of the famous Bluenose schooner built in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

             Bluenose – Nova Scotia Archive photo

Designed by William Roué, a Halifax marine architect, and built by shipbuilders Smith and Rhuland, the Bluenose was intended to be both a fishing and racing schooner to compete with American ships in the Fisherman’s Cup Race.  It was a real race for the hard-working  fishermen who made their living on the sea. Nova Scotia’s pride and shipbuilding reputation sailed with the Bluenose.

The vessel was constructed of Nova Scotian pine, spruce, birch and oak and the masts were created from Oregon pine.  Her unique design allowed more room in the forecastle for the crew to eat and sleep while still allowing to keep her ability for speed.

The vessel had a crew of 20 and her hull was painted black and cost $35,000 to build.

Captain and part owner, for most of her fishing and racing career, was Angus Walters who was born in Lunenburg and who had worked on his father’s fishing boat from the age of 14.  On October 6, 1921, the first race was held and Walters led the Bluenose to victory which qualified him to represent Canada in the second International Fishermen’s Race, that he again won.  Under Walter’s command, the Bluenose won five international titles and went undefeated for over 17 years.

    Bluenose racing – Nova Scotia Tourism

Bluenose gave Walters several opportunities he would not have had otherwise.  In 1933, he and his vessel were invited to represent Canada at the Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago, after which he took Bluenose to Toronto where she was a popular display for two seasons.

Then, in 1935, Walters was invited to take part in the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary of England. Walters sailed to Plymouth, England in 17 days and was met with great enthusiasm, was presented with a piece of sail from the Royal Yacht Britannia and was presented to the King.

Bluenose dime            1937

With the nickname, Queen of the North Atlantic, the Bluenose became a provincial icon for Nova Scotia and later for Canada when she was recognized with a 50-cent postage stamp by the Canadian government on January 6, 1929, a 1982 60-cent stamp, again in 1988 on a 37-cent stamp that celebrated Angus Walters, on the Canadian dime in 1937 and, today, she is on Nova Scotia license plates.

Bluenose and Captain Angus Walters were inducted into the the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1955, where she was the first, non-human inductee and, in addition, well-known Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers wrote a song entitled “Bluenose” celebrating the ship.

Unfortunately, the Bluenose came to a sad ending.  In 1942, stripped of her masts and rigging with the advent of the diesel engine, she was sold to the West Indies Trading Company and was converted into a coastal freighter working in the Caribbean carrying cargo between the islands.  Then, on a voyage carrying bananas, she struck a coral reef off Haiti on January 28, 1946.  Wrecked beyond repair, the Bluenose was abandoned and broke apart on the reef … the end of a great career.

The legacy carries on however, when in 1963 a replica, Bluenose II, was built using the original plans and again was launched at Lunenburg.

                      Bluenose II – Nova Scotia Archives

The replica, also built by Smith and Rhuland, was sponsored by the Oland Brewing Company and used as a marketing tool for the company’s  Schooner Lager beer brand and as a pleasure yacht for the Oland family.  Captain Walters sailed on the Bluenose II’s maiden voyage.

According to Nova Scotia Archives, in 1971, the Bluenose II was sold to the government of Nova Scotia for the sum of $1 or 10 Canadian dimes and is used for tourism promotion as a “sailing ambassador”.

In honour of her predecessor’s racing record, Bluenose II does not officially race. The replica has undergone several refits to extend her life. This vessel was decommissioned and dismantled in 2010, and an entirely new Bluenose (also named Bluenose II, since Transport Canada deemed it a “reconstruction”) was built as close to the original schooner deemed necessary and launched in Lunenburg in 2013. (Wikipedia)

Bluenose II spends much of the year tied up at the Lunenburg Foundry wharf in the port of Old Town Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, a UNESCO World Heritage site and origin of its predecessor.

In the summer, the schooner tours the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, routinely stopping in ports across Nova Scotia, as well as Montreal, Quebec City and many ports of call in the United States, serving as a ‘goodwill’ ambassador and promoting tourism in Nova Scotia. In the summer months, the schooner also offers onboard tours and harbour cruises.

In the summer of 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Bluenose II has restricted its summer tour to Nova Scotia ports. The schooner’s 20-person crew formed a Bluenose quarantine bubble for training, maintenance and sailing.  Its visits to ports aside from Lunenburg were restricted to ‘at-anchors’ or ‘sail-pasts’.

According to the Nova Scotia Historical Society, “… the historic vessel, with its unrivalled legacy, is a living reminder of the glorious sailing era. For an entirely new generation, it serves as a fitting introduction to Canada’s maritime heritage.”

Visit the Nova Scotia Archives website to read more about the history of the original Bluenose and Bluenose II.

Gordon Boyd, Southampton
Nova Scotia Archives
Nova Scotia Historical Society