100th anniversary of legendary fishing schooner Bluenose

By Valerie Casbourn

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first racing victories of the Bluenose, the legendary fishing schooner from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. The Bluenose was launched in March 1921 and triumphed in the International Fishermen’s Cup Race the following October. Winning the trophy, it sailed into the hearts and minds of those in Nova Scotia and beyond. The remarkable schooner quickly became a well-known Canadian icon.

The inaugural International Fishermen’s Cup Race was held in the fall of 1920, and the Halifax Herald newspaper donated a trophy for the winner. The race was established for working fishing schooners; vessels had to have fished on the Grand Banks for at least one season to be eligible. Elimination races were held off the coasts of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Gloucester, Massachusetts, to select the challenger from each country. The two finalists then competed to win two out of three races for the cup. The American challenger, the Esperanto, won the trophy races in 1920 and sailed home with the prize. In response, a group from Nova Scotia decided to build a new schooner, giving it the long-standing nickname for Nova Scotians, “Bluenosers,” as a name. A local naval architect, William Roué, designed the Bluenose to be both a competitive racer and a practical fishing vessel. The Smith and Rhuland Shipyard in Lunenburg built the schooner. With an enthusiastic crowd looking on, the Bluenose was launched on March 26, 1921.

Black-and-white photograph of the Bluenose at the finishing line of a race.

The schooner Bluenose crossing the finish line, W.R. MacAskill, 1921 (PA-030802)

The Registrar of Shipping in Lunenburg entered the registration for the Bluenose in its ledger on April 15, 1921. Ship registration records include information about ownership, and also the type, dimensions and means of propulsion of vessels. Library and Archives Canada holds archived records from Ports of Registry across Canada, and many older registers are indexed in the Ship Registrations, 1787–1966 database. The Bluenose of Lunenburg, registered in 1921, is one of seven vessels with the same name in the database.

Some older registers are available on digitized microfilm reels, on a partner website, Canadiana Héritage. The Bluenose appears on page 34 in the Lunenburg shipping register for the years 1919 to 1926 (RG42 volume 1612 [old volume 399]), and a digitized copy is available on microfilm reel C-2441. The Bluenose was official number 150404, and the owner of the vessel was the Bluenose Schooner Company Limited of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

Copy of the two-page registration entry for the Bluenose in the ledger of the Registrar of Shipping in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

The registration page for the Bluenose from 1921, in the records of the Registrar of Shipping in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia (Reel C-2441, image 615; RG42 volume 1612 [old volume 399], page 34)

Captain Angus Walters and the crew of the Bluenose headed to sea and successfully completed their first fishing season. In October 1921, the Bluenose entered the second International Fishermen’s Cup Race. The Annual Report of the Fisheries Branch of the Department of Marine and Fisheries for 1921–1922 includes a description of the race. After the elimination race to select the Canadian challenger, the Bluenose sailed against the American challenger Elsie in two races and won both. The trophy races were “held off Halifax on Saturday and Monday, October 22 and 24, and enlisted very great interest, visitors being present in large numbers” (Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, 1923, volume 59, number 6, sessional paper number 29, page 38). The annual report describes the second and final race as follows:

The second race, Monday, October 24, the Elsie again being first to cross the starting line—9.00.32—the Bluenose following at 9.01.52. For nearly three hours the Gloucester schooner had the Bluenose trailing in her wake, but the Lunenburg schooner showed her quality on the homeward stretch and crossed the finish line at 2.21.41, followed ten minutes later by the Elsie.

These races have awakened intense interest and will doubtless result in evolving a type of fishing schooner well adapted for both the salt and fresh fish fisheries.

Black-and-white photograph of sailing vessels at the start of a race.

The start of the elimination race, W.R. MacAskill, 1921 (PA-030801)

The victory of the Bluenose inspired great pride and interest in Nova Scotia, and this quickly spread further afield. The next year, the International Fishermen’s Cup Race took place off Gloucester, Massachusetts. In honour of the race, a delegation from Nova Scotia attended. The Canadian government also sent a representative and the escort HMCS Patriot. Prime Minister Mackenzie King wrote to George Kyte, Member of Parliament for Cape Breton South and Richmond, on September 23, 1922, to confirm that Kyte would represent the Canadian government at the forthcoming schooner race. The Privy Council passed an Order-in-Council to that effect (PC 1922-1937).

One-page copy of Order-in-Council PC 1922-1937, dated September 21, 1922.

Copy of PC 1922-1937, the Order-in-Council appointing George Kyte, Member of Parliament for Cape Breton South and Richmond, the Canadian government’s representative at the 1922 International Fishermen’s Cup Race (Reel C-2246, image 211; MG26-J1 volume 75, page 64113)

The Bluenose won the trophy again in 1922 and continued to race in the three subsequent International Fishermen’s Cup Races held in 1923, 1931 and 1938. The schooner became increasingly famous. In 1928, the Post Office Department began to depict Canadian scenes on regular issue stamps. The Bluenose was one of the first subjects chosen for a scenic stamp, representing the fisheries, shipbuilding and seamanship of Nova Scotia. Less than a decade after the launch of the schooner, the Post Office Department issued the Bluenose 50-cent stamp on January 6, 1929. The stamp has a composite design that shows the Bluenose racing off Halifax Harbour, based on photographs by Wallace R. MacAskill.

Canada Post 50-cent stamp with an engraving showing two images of the schooner from different angles.

Bluenose, 50-cent postage stamp, date of issue January 6, 1929, copyright Canada Post Corporation (s000218k)

The Bluenose continued to be a working schooner, fishing on the banks of the North Atlantic. The crew set a record for the largest catch of fish brought into Lunenburg. Additionally, the vessel and crew represented Nova Scotia and Canada internationally. The Bluenose sailed to Chicago for the 1933 World’s Fair and to England for King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935.

As time went on, circumstances changed, and the schooner was sold in 1942. Sadly, the original Bluenose was lost in 1946 after striking a reef off Haiti and sinking. However, the “Queen of the North Atlantic” is remembered fondly and commemorated in a variety of ways. For instance, Captain Angus Walters and naval architect William J. Roué are each featured on their own commemorative stamps, issued in 1988 and 1998 respectively. The schooner first appeared on the Canadian dime in 1937, and it is featured in a song by Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers. The Bluenose II, a replica of the original vessel, continues to sail from the port of Lunenburg as an ambassador for the province.

Related resources

Nova Scotia Archives virtual exhibit: Bluenose: A Canadian Icon

Canadian Museum of History: Items in the William James Roué collection


Valerie Casbourn is an archivist in the Reference Services Division at the Halifax office of Library and Archives Canada.

Forgotten Flags

By Forrest Pass

In 2015, Canadians observed the 50th anniversary of the National Flag of Canada with its iconic red maple leaf. Library and Archives Canada’s collection features materials related to the tumultuous debate that led to the flag’s adoption in 1965. However, our collection also sheds light on the earlier adoption of some lesser-known Canadian flags, also featuring maple leaves. If these flags proposed in 1870 were still in use, we would be marking their 150th anniversary this year.

Paintings of six early flag designs survive in the records of the Privy Council, attached to an 1870 Order-in-Council. Five of these, based on the Union Jack, served as personal flags for the Governor General and the lieutenant governors of the four original provinces: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The sixth, a British Blue Ensign with a Canadian shield, identified federal government ships such as fisheries vessels.

A painting of a blue flag with a Union Jack design in the upper-left-hand corner and a crest in the bottom-right-hand corner. There is handwriting to the right and at the bottom of the flag.

Proposed Blue Ensign, 1870 (e011309109)

The Governor General’s flag features a wreath of maple leaves This was the first use of the maple leaf on an official Canadian flag. Within the wreath is a shield bearing the coats of arms of the first four provinces. This was Canada’s first national coat of arms, designed by the heralds of the College of Arms in London and proclaimed by Queen Victoria in 1868.

A painting of a flag consisting of a Union Jack design with a crest surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves in the middle. There is handwriting to the right and underneath the flag.

Proposed flag for the Governor General, 1870 (e011309110)

The provincial lieutenant governors’ flags feature the newly designed arms of their respective provinces, each within a wreath of maple leaves. The designs for the Ontario and New Brunswick shields survive unchanged to this day, but time itself has altered the Ontario painting slightly. The anonymous artist may have coloured the top portion, or “chief,” of the Ontario shield with real silver paint. This has tarnished over the years, giving it a dark grey hue. Today, most heraldic artists use white paint to represent the heraldic metal “argent” to avoid this change.

A painting of a flag consisting of a Union Jack design with a crest surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves in the middle. There is handwriting to the right and underneath the flag.

Proposed flag for the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, 1870 (e011309113)

A painting of a flag consisting of a Union Jack design with a crest surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves in the middle. There is handwriting to the right and underneath the flag.

Proposed flag for the Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick, 1870 (e011309111)

The fleurs-de-lis, lion and maple leaves of the Quebec arms represent three periods in the province’s history: the French regime, British colonial rule and the Confederation era. The provincial government still uses these arms today, but it added one more fleur-de-lis and altered the colours slightly in 1939. These changes make a stronger visual allusion to the former royal arms of France.

A painting of a flag consisting of a Union Jack design with a crest surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves in the middle. There is handwriting to the right and underneath the flag.

Proposed flag for the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, 1870 (e011309114)

The arms on the 1870 flag for the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia are different from the provincial coat of arms today and recall a misunderstanding. Today’s Nova Scotia coat of arms dates from Sir William Alexander’s failed attempt to found a Scottish colony in North America in the 1620s. In 1868, the English heralds may not have known about the earlier Scottish design, and they designed an entirely new emblem for the province. The Lieutenant Governor’s flag displayed this new coat of arms, featuring three Scottish thistles and a salmon to honour the province’s fisheries. At the request of the provincial and federal governments, the College of Arms reinstated the original Nova Scotia arms in 1929.

A painting of a flag consisting of a Union Jack design with a crest surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves in the middle. There is handwriting to the right and underneath the flag.

Proposed flag for the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, 1870 (e011309112)

As the choice of emblems suggests, the impetus for these flags came not from within Canada but from Great Britain. In 1869, Queen Victoria authorized the governor of each British colony to use a Union Jack bearing his colony’s emblem as a distinctive personal flag. In Canada, an unknown artist at the Department of Marine and Fisheries painted these illustrations at the request of the federal Cabinet.

Canadians would not have seen these flags very often; initially, they flew on ships at sea only. As late as 1911, the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan decided that he did not need an official flag because his province was landlocked. Over the years, the federal and provincial governments have adopted new, less “colonial” flags for the Governor General and the lieutenant governors. These fly daily on official residences and on other buildings when the Governor General or a lieutenant governor is present. Preserved in the archives, these paintings recall the British origins of some of our national and provincial emblems.


Forrest Pass is a curator with the Exhibitions team at Library and Archives Canada.

Maritime voices: Alistair MacLeod

By Leah Rae

About 360 kilometres from downtown Halifax, on the west coast of Cape Breton Island, lies the tiny community of Dunvegan. Too small to be a town, Dunvegan is a fork in the road located between Inverness and Margaree Harbour. It was here, in a small, hand-built shed overlooking the Atlantic Ocean (with Prince Edward Island in the distance) that writer Alistair MacLeod spent his summer vacations. It was in this shed that he wrote some of the greatest short stories in the English language and his one and only novel No Great Mischief.

A handwritten first page of The Boat.

Front page of the manuscript for The Boat by Alistair MacLeod. © Estate of Alistair MacLeod (e011213687)

Like many “Capers” before him, MacLeod spent his youth working as a miner and a logger. He used his income to pay for his education, earning both his undergraduate degree and teaching degree from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. MacLeod spent his career as an English and creative writing professor at the University of Windsor in Ontario. Between the demands of being a full-time professor and a father to six children, he found it challenging to find time for his writing during the school year. However, during his summer vacations, he and his family returned to the family home in Dunvegan (named for Dun Bheagan on the Isle of Skye in Scotland) where he had the opportunity to focus on his writing. MacLeod’s work examines the daily struggles of the people of Cape Breton Island. What gives MacLeod’s writing its power and its majesty is its lyricism: MacLeod often read his work out loud as a way to perfect the cadence of each line. He was a slow and methodical writer, carefully considering every word. Although he produced a very small body of work in his lifetime, the quality of that work is outstanding.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is lucky to be the repository for the Alistair MacLeod fonds. In the early 2000s, LAC acquired about 4.5 metres of material (both textual and graphic) created by MacLeod in Ontario and in Nova Scotia. The material spans his career as both a writer and a teacher. The fonds includes manuscripts, correspondence, essays, thesis notes, clippings, photos of MacLeod and more.

A black-and-white photograph of a man sitting at a rough desk with paper and pen in hand.

Alistair MacLeod working in his writing shed in Dunvegan, Nova Scotia. © Chuck Clark (e011213686)

Looking at MacLeod’s original manuscripts gives us a fascinating glimpse into his process as a writer. He was known in the Canadian literary community as a perfectionist, and you can see this is true in his manuscripts. The first draft of his short story The Boat is handwritten in an examination booklet from Notre Dame University (where MacLeod earned his PhD). If we look at the published version of the first paragraph of that story—perhaps one of the most beautiful paragraphs in English literature—it is nearly identical to the author’s draft version.

MacLeod continued the practice of handwriting his work throughout his career (a practice perhaps perceived by many writers today as very old fashioned!) He also wrote part of his manuscript for his novel No Great Mischief by hand. It is quite a special thing to see a work of this calibre written in long hand rather than as typewritten words on a page that we are so used to seeing nowadays. It gives you a very personal sense of MacLeod working diligently away during his few precious hours of free time, overlooking the beautiful cliffs of Cape Breton and the sea below.


Leah Rae is an archivist based in Halifax in the Regional Services and ATIP Division of Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Nova Scotia now on Flickr

Nova Scotia is one of three Maritime provinces in Canada, with New Brunswick to the northwest and Prince Edward Island to the north across the Northumberland Strait. The Mi’kmaq are the dominant First Nations group in the area, with ancestral roots tracing back 10,000 years.

Interactions between First Nations groups and French settlers early during the fur trade were positive overall, and Nova Scotia in time became part of the area called Acadia. Yet, over the course of the 18th century, Britain gained control of all of France’s possessions in North America and renamed these colonies. After the American Civil War, the migration of Loyalists northward drove up the British colonial population, as settlers with grants claimed the land and pushed the Mi’kmaq to the margins of their territory.

Black and white photo of two women and a man standing on the edge of a dirt road near the coast looking at the ocean

Tourists with Mike Sullivan’s Bus take in the view at Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia (MIKAN 3265746)

Nova Scotia was awarded responsible government in 1848, ahead of the other British colonies, and took part in the road to Confederation. It became one of the first Canadian provinces in 1867 under pro-Confederation leader Charles Tupper. However, many Nova Scotians were largely against it, voting for an anti-Confederation government in the following provincial election.

Did you know?

  • Nova Scotia is Latin for “New Scotland,” named for its first Scottish settlers during the British colonial period.
  • Nova Scotia was home to the largest free Black settlement in North America, inhabited by Black Loyalists who migrated north after the American Revolution.

Visit the Flickr album now!

Portia White: In honour of the 75th anniversary of her Toronto debut

By Joseph Trivers        

Throughout the 20th century, great operatic singers have populated Canada’s cultural landscape—from Raoul Jobin, Maureen Forrester and Jon Vickers to Gerald Finley and Measha Brueggergosman. Their lives are often as dramatic and inspiring as the roles they play on stage in an opera. The life of Portia White, Nova Scotian contralto, was no exception. Praised for her radiantly beautiful and consistently even tone as well as her regal and dignified stage presence, White was the first African-Canadian concert singer to win international acclaim. November 7, 2016, marks the 75th anniversary of her triumphant national debut in Toronto and gives us a welcome opportunity to reflect on her life, accomplishments and career.

“I really made my debut here [in Toronto] when I sang in November, 1941. It was my fourth professional engagement, but it was my first big city. The next day I received a contract. I always feel it was Toronto which discovered me.” – Portia White

White’s remarks about her debut in Toronto might give the impression that her success came quickly. However, the path to that 1941 concert, and the contract that followed, was marked by years of hard work, some good fortune, and plenty of support from her family and the people and governments of Halifax and Nova Scotia.

Early life and education

It seemed as if Portia was destined for a career in the performing arts and to have a strong and determined character. She was given the name Portia after the heroine of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice by a family friend. In the play, the character Portia achieves her goal of marrying the suitor of her choice through intelligence, grace and quiet determination. Whether or not such a name foreshadowed these same traits in Portia White, her upbringing certainly encouraged them.

Her parents were themselves remarkable people. Her father, the Reverend William A. White, was the son of freed slaves from Virginia, only the second African-Canadian admitted to Acadia University and the first to receive a doctorate in Divinity from Acadia. He also served as the only black chaplain in the British Army in World War I. Portia’s mother, who was descended from Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia, gave Portia her first music lessons. The family moved from Truro, Nova Scotia, to Halifax after Portia’s father returned from the First World War and became the pastor of the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church.

The family’s life was centred around the church, so it is no surprise that much of Portia’s early musical life and education began there. She began singing in the church choir under her mother’s direction. She later took teacher training at Dalhousie and became a teacher in black Nova Scotia communities such as Africville and Lucasville. The work helped to pay for her music lessons. Throughout the 1930s, she took lessons from Bertha Cruikshanks at the Halifax Conservatory of Music. A scholarship enabled White to study with the Italian teacher Ernesto Vinci at the Conservatory in 1939. It was Vinci who began to have her train and sing as a contralto.

Toronto and beyond

Portia White first gained recognition and acclaim in Nova Scotia by performing in local festivals and benefit concerts and by singing on her father’s weekly radio program. She won the Helen Kennedy Silver cup at the Halifax Music Festival in 1935, 1937 and 1938. Further opportunities beckoned when Edith Read, principal at Branksome Hall, a private girls’ school in Toronto, heard her singing. Read was originally from Nova Scotia and was on vacation from Toronto at the time. It was through the support of the Branksome Ladies Club that White came to sing at Eaton Hall in Toronto on November 7, 1941.

The Toronto concert was such a success that White was immediately offered a contract by a branch of Oxford University Press for concerts and a touring career. She resigned from her teaching job to devote more time to her music. In 1942 and 1943 she toured across Canada, which helped boost her Canadian reputation, eventually giving a command performance for the Governor General. White eventually gave her first performance in the United States at New York City’s The Town Hall, in March 1944, to wide acclaim. She moved to New York to be closer to her managers, and was supported financially by the governments of Halifax and Nova Scotia through the Nova Scotia Talent Trust. It marked the first time two different levels of government came together to support an artist’s career. White signed with Columbia Concerts Incorporated and went on to tour Canada, parts of the United States, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

Later career and legacy

Concert life was hectic, and White eventually began to feel she didn’t rest enough between concerts and travelling. She started experiencing difficulties with her voice, and some critics began complaining of flaws in her voice. This, and disagreements with her managers, led White to retire from public performance. She settled in Toronto, where she took further singing lessons at the Royal Conservatory with the soprano Gina Cigna. She also taught singing privately and at Branksome Hall. White did perform again, throughout the 1950s and 60s, but not very often. One such notable concert was for Queen Elizabeth on October 6, 1964, at the Charlottetown Confederation Centre of the Arts in Prince Edward Island. Less than four years later, in February 1968, White passed away in Toronto after a battle with cancer.

As an artist, Portia White was renowned for her versatility and varied repertoire. She was equally at home singing spirituals as she was singing arias from Italian operas, German Lied or French mélodies. No commercial recordings of White were made during her lifetime; however, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) acquired audio recordings, from the White family, of concerts she gave in Moncton, New Brunswick, and New York City. Some commercial recordings were released posthumously, including the album Think on Me from 1968, two songs on the Analekta label’s Great Voices of Canada (Volume 5), and the album First You Dream (1999), all of which are in LAC’s collection. A documentary, Portia White: Think on Me, was directed by Sylvia Hamilton and released in 1999. White’s legacy continues to live on in the trust fund that was created in her name. Each year the Nova Scotia Talent Trust presents the Portia White Scholarship to a young person showing “exceptional potential as a vocalist.” The Government of Canada named Portia White a person of historical significance 1995 and honoured her with a millennial stamp issued in 1999.

A colour stamp featuring, in the foreground, a young woman singing and, in the background, a close-up of the woman’s face with her eyes closed. A musical score with notes and lyrics appears faintly in the bottom half of the stamp.

Portia White: Irrepressible Talent [philatelic record], 46-cent Canadian millennial stamp (MIKAN 2266861)


Joseph Trivers is Music Acquisitions Librarian in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.