Speaking Topics

The Ship on the Dime

The Life and Times of a Canadian Legend

Bluenose Grill. Bluenose Vending Machines. Bluenose Laundry. Bluenose Well Drilling. Bluenose Gifts. Bluenose Video. Bluenose everything, everywhere in Nova Scotia.

And out in the harbour, an elegant wooden ship, 143 feet long, looking like a vision from the past – Bluenose II, looking just like the ship on the Canadian dime. She's an exact replica of one of Canada's most cherished national symbols, the Grand Banks fishing schooner Bluenose – the ship that beat every Canadian and American challenger in a racing career that spanned nearly three decades.

As the author of a book, a radio play and several articles on the subject, Silver Donald Cameron knows the Bluenose story intimately. In this presentation, illustrated with dozens of period photographs by such notables as Wallace MacAskill and Frederick William Wallace, he traces the history of schooners and the schooner fishery as well as the races themselves, illuminating the shared sea-going culture of New England and New Scotland.

That culture, he says, should be an inspiration to Nova Scotians and New Englanders today.

Fundamentally, these regions are populated by the same people – the same families, in many cases – and their stories are deeply interwoven. When Halifax was levelled by an enormous explosion in 1917, Massachusetts sent a train full of doctors, nurses and medicines that very day. In gratitude, Nova Scotia still sends a huge Christmas tree to Boston every December.

Yet the two regions have repeatedly gone to war with one another, and their frictions and rivalries are also entrenched and historic. John Paul Jones, for instance, began his career by raiding the coast of Nova Scotia, the “loyal” British colony – which in turn provided a base for the British troops who sacked Washington and burned the White House in 1814.

The Gloucester schooner Esperanto was freighted with this history when she sailed into Halifax in October, 1920 and defeated Lunenburg's Delawana in the inaugural races for the International Fishermen's Cup. That winter, the chagrined Nova Scotians built a new schooner called Bluenose, to be skippered by Lunenburg's Angus Walters. Thus began an almost mystical marriage of man and ship, and that autumn, Walters sailed Bluenose to Gloucester and brought the trophy home for good.

The schooner races were held intermittently over the following two decades, and they were eventful, hard-fought and sometimes bitter. They represented the last flowering of the last major fleet of working sail in North America. Bluenose was occasionally beaten in individual matches against a series of excellent New England challengers, but she and Angus Walters never lost the Cup. That remarkable record made Bluenose a Canadian icon. In 1937 her image appeared on the Canadian dime, where it remains. She was lost on a reef off Haiti in 1945, but an exact replica, Bluenose II, was built in 1964.

The most spectacular series of all was the last one, in 1938. By now Bluenose was old, tired and sodden. She won two races and lost two. Then she surged forward magnificently to win the cup again in the final leg of the final race, covering the course faster than any other sailing vessel in history. That last “hook,” which provides the setting for Silver Donald Cameron's CBC radio play, The Last Hook, was a thrilling finish to an indomitable ship's magnificent career.


To book Silver Donald Cameron as a speaker, contact The Atlantic Speakers Bureau or LimeLight Communications Group.

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