On 26 March 1921, a great Canadian tradition was launched into the waters off Lunenburg, Nova Scotia . . .
She was built to fish the Grand Banks, and to win back some important bragging rights. After losing a big race to the Americans in 1920, a group of Halifax businessmen commissioned Bluenose with the intention of winning speed races, while simultaneously making a living as a top fishing schooner. She was undefeated for a generation.
Rivalry and camaraderie between Lunenburgers and Gloucestermen served to salt and sharpen the racing.
During the summer of 1920 the final race of the America’s Cup was cancelled after a 23-knot wind threatened to swamp the expensive, top-heavy contestants. Seasoned Grand Banks fishermen considered it a race for ‘delicate’ yachts in ‘tender weather’. Their own fishing schooners regularly worked in such conditions and their hardy crews thought nothing of it.
During the fishing season, schooners competed to be first to reach the Grand Banks to fish and the first to get home and start selling their catch. Informal races, which had been held for years were formalized in 1921 with the first ‘International Fishermen’s Race’. Bluenose was built with one eye on that challenge.
A century ago the original Bluenose represented Nova Scotia’s prominence in fishing and international trade as well as superb marine design and the outstanding workmanship of Nova Scotia shipwrights and courageous crews.
A century ago Bluenose she was a gritty salt-bank schooner.
Today Bluenose II serves as a cultural ambassador for the province and a major participant in Nova Scotia’s important tourism and hospitality industries.
The original Bluenose hit a reef and sank while hauling bananas and rum near Haiti in 1946. Almost twenty years later people in her home port of Lunenburg decided to build a replica of the great schooner. Bluenose II was launched in 1963. The Oland Brewery paid for the project and used the ship to advertise Schooner brand beer. In 1971, the government assumed ownership and launched Bluenose II on a new career as the province’s star tourist attraction.
Even when not fighting gales on the Grand Banks, life is hard for a wooden ship. Repairs piled up and by the late aughts Bluenose II required a total rebuild. The government of Nova Scotia faced a tough decision: patch up the worst of the damage (as had been done many times before) or invest the millions needed to keep Bluenose II sailing for another 50 years.
The solution was expensive and problem-plagued but after being refurbished with painstaking attention to detail, much gnashing of teeth and the investment of a king’s ransom, Bluenose II passed its sea trials and began public cruises in 2015. You can visit the Bluenose II website to see the current sailing schedule and follow its journey in real time.
Established in 1972, the Lunenburg Marine Museum Society, a volunteer group, operates the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic (on Bluenose Drive in Lunenburg of course) and the schooner Bluenose II on behalf of the Province of Nova Scotia so that these key pieces of Lunenburg history can be showcased and preserved.
Also, if you’ve been shopping online as much as I have recently, you are going to want to know about the Bluenose II Company Store, home of the Official Bluenose II brand. For $10 you can fly the colours with a Bluenose 100 Face Mask.
Check out the Bluenose Centennial Events schedule.
A Heritage Minute brought to you by Historica Canada.
A National Film Board Canada Vignette: Bluenose 1921-1946.
Please check for any COVID-19 restrictions or requirements while planning your trip to Nova Scotia.