By Rosalie MacEachern
For The News
Forever Bluenose: A Future for a Schooner with a Past (Nimbus, $27.95 hardcover) is an attractive coffee table book in spite of its unwieldy title, particularly as it contrasts to the gracefulness of the ships it so eloquently captures.
Written by Ron Crocker, a former CBC regional director, with photographs by Mark Doucette of Halifax, the book documents the $16 million restoration of the Bluenose II, speculates on its future and recounts the history of the ship and its iconic predecessor.
“The love affairs has lasted nearly a century. Bluenose, the great racing schooner. Bluenose II, the replica. Bluenose II restored. Schooner Bluenose of the famous MacAskill photographs. Bluenose on dimes, stamps and license plates. Bluenose forever; apparently young forever,” Crocker writes at the beginning of the book.
The original Bluenose, launched in Lunenburg on March 6, 1921, was built to fish and to race.
“She cost $35,580 to build, money raised by selling shares at $100 each, most of which were bought by Lunenburg and Halifax businessmen. Angus Walters of Lunenburg bought ninety shares himself, and was named both captain and managing director.”
By 1920 the golden age of the banking schooner was already in decline and the decision to build the Bluenose was, for some, more about honouring the past than charting a future but there were others who believed with all their hearts Nova Scotians could show the sailing world a thing or two about building and racing schooners.
“It would honour and help protect the indigenous trades, and not incidentally, it would show the effete yachtsmen of Boston and the ‘canoe-minded’ crowd in Ottawa, as the Herald once called them, how things ought to be done,” writes Crocker.
The well-known triumphs of the original schooner are chronicled but equally as interesting is beer baron Colonel Sidney Oland’s campaign to build the successor and current story of the litigious and painstaking restoration of that second ship. Bluenose II was built with the key purpose of promoting Schooner beer and only later did it become the property of the province of Nova Scotia. The ship’s early adventures brought as much embarrassment as glory to Nova Scotia which may surprise many unfamiliar with the early history of the replica.
By the time Bluenose II was in desperate need of restoration the ship had come to signify many things to Nova Scotians but once again money was hard to come by and there was a lengthy battle over the cost and manner of re-outfitting the emblematic ship. Crocker marvels that Canadian taxpayers, in poor economic times, would foot the bill for a wooden ship that had no real purpose other than to be looked at.
“It is no small wonder either that a postcard town in rural Nova Scotia, its population half of what it was a century ago, would be able to produce such a vessel a decade into the twenty-first century,” he writes.
Crocker skilfully unfolds a story of pride, perception and politics, greatly enhanced by Doucette’s photos of the reconstruction and the tradesmen who made it happen.
“Beyond her victories in races and her fishing utility and success, the original Bluenose was an impressive piece of design and construction. Her two successors were and are no different. People who have had the privilege of seeing Bluenose Now up close during construction won’t forget the experience,” contends Crocker.