A Dime for Your Thoughts: What is the Bluenose and Why We Love It

May 12, 2017

A Dime for Your Thoughts:  What is the Bluenose and Why We Love It

Have you ever stopped to stare at the image on the Canadian dime? Perhaps while you waited in the early morning queue for your Double-Double, your mind wandered to the fine looking schooner on the small silver coin in your palm. Many will recognize the 20th century beauty as the famed Nova Scotian ambassador, the Bluenose, yet how many of us know the ship’s true tale? Filled with adventure, sorrow, mystery, and most certainly a great deal of wax, it is a story worth reading. So prepare, dear reader, to be taken aboard a great story, and perhaps even make new friends in the Timmies line up as you recant this very tale (which you are welcome to take as your own!)

One might be struck, at first, by the ship’s catchy yet curious name, the Bluenose. The endearing moniker has been used to describe those hailing from Nova Scotia for more than a full-moon. In fact, the first recorded usage of the nickname goes all the way back to a humorless priest by the name of Jacob Bailey. In a 1785 letter, Bailey complained about living in the company of “a bunch of Blue Noses” in Nova Scotia. The reason for the name has been hotly debated, though Cape Breton University’s Bill Davey proposes two likely origins. The first supposition is the wives and families of fishermen would often dye the thick wool used for mitten-making blue to add a spot of colour to the otherwise dreary uniform ensemble. In the harsh weather conditions out at sea, the fishermen would commonly use their mitten-covered hands to wipe their faces. In so doing, they would often leave behind traces of blue dye on the most susceptible members – the nose. Another possible, though far less exciting, origin story is that the early settlers ate blue herring and blue potatoes native to the region. Someone coined the phrase bluenose, and it was added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2013.

Whatever the explanation, the term ‘bluenose’ went on to become the title of one of Canada’s most beloved sear-faring vessel. The ship was designed in 1920 by William Roue. It was, incidentally, the first major design for Roue, who had previously only designed small, recreational vessels. The ship was designed as both a fishing and a racing ship, intended to compete annually for the International Fisherman’s Trophy. To win the trophy, ships would race 100 or more nautical miles to a designated end point. Bluenose was built in Lunenburg out of Nova Scotian pine, birch, and oak, though the masts were made of Oregon pine. The ship had a waterline length of 36.6 meters, and included 10,000 square feet of sails, costing a grand total of $35,000 to produce. Completed in 1921, the ship was skippered by Captain Angus J. Walters, and the duo was undefeated until 1938. The Bluenose also made the lengthy transatlantic journey to attend the silver jubilee of King George V.

Much to the great dismay of Captain Walters, the Bluenose was decommissioned in the late 1930s as sail powered fishing boats were replaced by engine powered boats. In 1942, the ship was sold to the West Indies Trading Company, where it carried rum, sugar, bananas, and war supplies to the United States. In particularly harrowing incident, the ship was stopped by a German U-Boat on its way to Havana with a cargo of aviation fuel and dynamite. Fortunately, the captain of the U-Boat recognized the ship as the famed racing schooner, the Bluenose, and let the ship sail off without searching it when the schooner’s captain disclosed that they were “only fishing.” Sometime later, the ship ran aground near Haiti and sank, ending its long and prosperous life.

Yet, after twenty years, a Bluenose sized hole gaped in the hearts of Nova Scotians and fans across the country. In response, a replica of the esteemed vessel was commissioned by the same ship yard responsible for the original. In 1963, the Bluenose II was launched, and was given as a gift to the government of Nova Scotia in 1971. Since then, the ship has been the official ambassador to Nova Scotia, and travels from port to port around the world.

After fifty years of excellent service, the aging schooner was pulled from duty to be fully restored as a result of extensive hogging damage. In 2009, in the wake of a great hullaballoo, the restored Bluenose II was unveiled. The uproar was the result of the fact that almost the entire original ship was scrapped during the restoration. Though the riggings, masts, sails, ironwork, and deck structures are original to the Bluenose II, the rest is primarily new construction. The reasons for this are twofold: firstly, in the years since the Bluenose and Bluenose II were constructed, safety regulations for commercial and fishing vessels have changed a great deal. Moreover, the damage to the original ship made it easier to simply rebuild much of the ship.

In any case, the Bluenose II can be found in its home harbor of Lunenburg, when it’s not touring on behalf of Canada. If you’ve got your sea legs, the beloved schooner is certainly an excellent way to get around Nova Scotia’s coasts!


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