Did Canadian Challenge for America's Cup Spawn the Bluenose?: A.C. Ross and the never-built schooner, “Maple Leaf”

The Bluenose was launched 100 years ago today, on March 26, 1921. The fabled schooner came to be as a reaction to the 1920 America's Cup series, in which one race was cancelled ostensibly due to high winds, leaving hard-working, hard-sailing East Coast fishermen in an uproar. This is the previously untold story of a one-time Cape Breton M.P. who subsequently proposed a Canadian challenge for the America's Cup that pre-dated talk of a new and separate contest for fishing schooners, helping lay the foundations for what would become the International Fishermen's Cup Races, the series for which Canada's legendary Bluenose was built.

(This is the extended version of my story published in the Cape Breton Post on March 22, 2021.)

"Canadian Elimination, 1921: Bluenose leading..." (Canadian Fisherman – July 1922)

Part 1: America's Cup

   On August 1st, 1920, Cape Bretoner Alexander C. Ross lodged a Canadian challenge for the America's Cup, the pinnacle of yacht racing to this day. Ross proposed to challenge the U.S. with a schooner, to be built in Canada and manned by Nova Scotia fishermen. His intended skipper was Toronto financier Aemilius Jarvis, an alternate skipper for the 1920 America's Cup challenger, Shamrock IV, and racing counsellor to her British owner, Sir Thomas Lipton. Ten days later the idea of a dedicated fisherman's race was first raised in the Halifax Herald, and three weeks after that the Herald announced their sponsorship of a schooner race amongst Nova Scotia fishermen. That initial running would quickly evolve into the International Fishermen's Cup Races, the series in which the iconic Bluenose would gain her fame.

Alexander C. Ross, federal Liberal M.P. for North Cape Breton and Victoria, N.S., 1906-08.

This is the story of how the 1920 America's Cup led to the founding of the International Fishermen's Cup Races, for which the Bluenose was built, and how Alexander Ross' challenge formed a bridge from the former to the latter.

The press had descended en masse upon New York City for the July 1920 America's Cup, and newsreel cameras were rolling. VIPs hobnobbed aboard Lipton's luxury steam yacht, Victoria. The series itself would be hard-pressed to live up to the enormous hype that preceded it, and alas it fell short. Two of the races, held in exceedingly light winds, were humdrum, being called off after the yachts failed to complete the course within a six-hour time limit. Then there was the fateful race postponement.

Sir Thomas Lipton (second from right) on the deck of his steam yacht Victoria with camera crew (July 1920).

On July 24th, 1920, Lipton had a chance to finally capture the America's Cup which had so eluded him in three previous attempts dating back to 1899. If his Shamrock IV were to win that day's race, then the Cup series victory over the American defender Resolute would be clinched. High winds heavily favoured his British challenger, built sturdy to make the Atlantic crossing from England in order to compete.

Lipton's Victoria "rolled and reared" in the heavy seas, and with waves sweeping over the deck, all the VIP spectators aboard had long since retreated to the refuge of the yacht saloons, leaving only Aemilius Jarvis, Sir Thomas, and two others on the bridge to monitor the race. "Sir Thomas held to the rails with both hands as the steam yacht plunged and rolled. His ruddy face became ruddier under the whiplash of the wind, and there was a sparkle in his eyes as he watched his green sloop ride the waves with reckless abandon. He thought it was just the kind of blow his Shamrock had been waiting for." (The Globe  July 26, 1920)

The race was about to start, when out of nowhere, the Racing Committee boat signaled to the sloops to see if they desired a postponement, to which both agreed. It was Aemilius Jarvis who –with a keen eye on the starting line through binoculars– first informed Lipton as-it-happened that the race had been postponed. This is the exact moment that led directly to the building of the Bluenose.

Aemilius Jarvis aboard Sir Thomas Lipton's Victoria, shouting suggestions across the water at Shamrock IV’s Captain Burton (July 1920).

The post-race focus in the press was on the high-winds aspect of the controversial postponement, a focus which has endured historically. This dereliction inspired the fishermen of Nova Scotia, long itching to go toe to toe vs. their U.S. counterparts, to jeer that they could do better; that, unlike America's Cup racers with their “pink tea affairs,” East Coast fishermen were real sailors

Upon returning to the dock, "[Shamock IV's] Captain Burton told Sir Thomas it was not the fear of breaking sparts [sic] or carrying away sails that prompted him to agree to the postponement—he feared that sailors would be washed overboard by the heavy seas that swept the decks of the racers." It was "the danger of loss of life among the crew that prompted the postponement." (The Globe – July 26, 1920)

In the final race, on July 27th, Shamrock IV was way out in front of Resolute, and so the American yacht tacked to try her luck in a different direction. Captain Burton made a colossal error, failing to tack himself to cover the competition's new course. It was a rookie mistake. Resolute subsequently came from behind to win the race and the series.

View of 1920 America’s Cup from the bridge of Sir Thomas Lipton’s launch, Victoria (July 1920).

It would take another 63 years before someone other than the Americans would finally win what was -up to that point and for a long time to come- really and truly “America's Cup.”

Three days later, on July 30th, 1920, Alexander Ross started making noise about a Canadian challenge for the America's Cup. One year later to the day he'd be dead, never to see the Bluenose he helped inspire win her first race.

Part 2: Canadian Challenge

   Alexander Charles Ross was born in 1847 in Inverness, Cape Breton, and his career was centred in Sydney. He was a man of many hats, but made his fortune in mining and real estate. Beginning early in his career, he'd been a long-time ship broker and salver representing the venerable Lloyd's Insurance, most likely in relation to Lloyd's industry-standard ship registry (and/or their Salvage Arbitration Branch). This gave him the necessary credentials and know-how to propose and oversee the building of a racing yacht.

Alexander Charles Ross [between 1881 and 1901]. (Photograph by Amos I. Rice. Rice Family fonds. MG 21.24 A.5. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University.)

On August 1st, 1920, Ross officially launched his one-man crusade to mount a Canadian challenge for America's Cup with a telegram to Commodore J.P. Morgan Jr. of the New York Yacht Club. Ross re-wired the communique a second time the next day, just to be sure.

The launch of Ross' bid was instantly national news, appearing on the front pages of newspapers from St. John's to Vancouver. He declared that Toronto's Aemilius Jarvis had intimated his willingness to skipper such a challenge.

The proposal called for a yacht to be designed in Britain and then built in Canada, the cost of mounting the challenge being estimated at $1 million (equal to $13 million in today's money). The funds were to be raised via popular subscription. The yacht was to be patriotically christened “The Maple Leaf,” and - crucially - would be manned by Nova Scotia fishermen. Initially, "several British Columbia skippers expressed their willingness to finance the project, but Mr. Ross intends to make the challenging for the America's Cup a matter of national interest, and subscriptions will be received from a dollar upward." (The Globe – Aug. 2, 1920)

The Globe  Aug. 2, 1920.

In his initial declaration, Ross had suggested the formal challenge would come via Halifax's Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron (R.N.S.Y.S.), however he'd overlooked the minor detail of informing the club before launching the bid. The leading members of the R.N.S.Y.S. were naturally annoyed, and -as it turns out- Ross wasn't even a member! (He had been previously, and quickly rejoined.) Meanwhile, Jarvis' friends at the R.N.S.Y.S. were desperately trying to get a hold of him to see if he was actually on board, as his involvement would lend significant credence to the project.

On August 3rd, The Globe delightfully reported the following: "Enthusiasm positively radiates from Mr. Ross when speaking of his scheme of having a national yacht race for the cup in 1922, and the possibility of defeat he reckons too remote to be even considered."(!) It was important to Ross that “the man of small means who could give one dollar could have a share in the yacht." He added, “I would rather see the mass of the people put a dollar each into the scheme than a few men subscribe the required amount by hundreds of thousands.” (The Globe – Aug. 3, 1920)

Back in Halifax, an R.N.S.Y.S. official responded: "A project of this nature, to be entirely successful, must come from one individual who is prepared to finance and superintend the whole matter for himself, but to make a public issue of it was to foredoom it to failure. [...] Little confidence is expressed of the matter ever being anything else but a vague suggestion, the wish being father to the thought." (Montreal Gazette – Aug. 3, 1920)

Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, Halifax, N.S. (Rod and Gun magazine  Sept. 1908)

The make-up of Ross' proposed yacht began taking shape in newspaper pages, the starting point naturally being the yacht class of the two most recent entrants, Shamrock IV and Resolute, which were sloops. Since Shamrock IV had to be built sturdy for the Atlantic crossing, the American Resolute had the advantage as it could be built lighter, subsequently performing better in light air, conditions which were prevalent in summer races: "The challenger for the America's Cup must come here [ie. New York] under her own sail, but the comparative proximity of Canada, as compared to Great Britain, would give the Canadians an opportunity to build a boat that would be more of a match for Resolute, in the matter of lightness, it is believed.” (Halifax Herald – Aug. 3, 1920)

The repudiation of this premise came quickly. Highlighting the temptation for Canada to build a lighter and subsequently more fragile boat to compete, an early suggestion was forwarded that the cup yacht class should be switched from sloops to schooners: "A race between schooners built under rules which would result in a boat of ocean-going staunchness would be an admirable example and would look back to the finest of the older races for the cup." (Vancouver Daily World – Aug. 3, 1920)

Canada had challenged for the America's Cup twice before, in 1876 and 1881, losing both times. The 1876 entry was R.C.Y.C. (Toronto) schooner, "Countess of Dufferin."

Ross' bid was making a splash in newspapers south of the border. In the New York Evening Telegram, the term “Bluenose” enters the fray: "A challenge from Canada for a race for the America's Cup has in it's elements of interest and novelty that cannot fail to stir the sporting blood of those on this side of the line. First and foremost naturally is the consideration that it would be strictly a North American affair.

"It would be 'Bluenose' seafaring skill against Yankee, and whatever the outcome, the trophy would still be on New World soil to excite the ambition of the yachtsmen of the Old." (via The Globe – Aug. 4, 1920)

The term "Bluenose", simply put, is like the term "Canuck," only for Nova Scotians. As legend has it, the nickname was coined in New England on account of the little blue potatoes exported there from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley – to the New Englanders, they resembled blue noses.

The unknowing march towards what would ultimately become a new and separate series, the International Fishermen's Cup Races, continued in the pages of the New York Evening Mail (via The Globe – Aug. 5) – "The late races were not of a kind to inspire a universal interest in yachting, nor a very high opinion of these contests as a test of seamanship or yacht building. But there is no reason why the next series of races should not be more thrilling. If the Canadians will challenge with a schooner, and set a date for the fall for the races, when there is some likelihood of a good wind, the contest would regain it's popularity.” Autumn races were to become a hallmark of the International Fishermen's Cup for a greater guarantee of stiff winds to properly test the mettle of yachts and crews.

Naval architect of the Bluenose, William J. Roué, ca. 1940 (colourized). (Orig. image via www.wjroue.ca)

The Evening Mail editorialist surmises further: "Canadians will probably look for a designer from the Dominion. They can do so with a great deal of confidence. G. Herrick Duggan of Montreal, and other Canadians, have won fame in their own country and in this as yacht designers.” The Bluenose herself would ultimately be designed by a Canadian, William James Roué.

Meanwhile, Aemilius Jarvis still hadn't confirmed that he was on board to skipper as Ross had claimed. On August 5th, the Toronto Daily Star provided this insight: “By the way, do not run away with the idea that if a Nova Scotia club challenges that Aemilius Jarvis, the famous Lake Ontario racing skipper, will necessarily sail that challenger. [...] Nova Scotia has many racing skippers, and if they build the Blue Nose boat and send the challenge they will probably want their own man." Indeed, they did, and that man was Captain Angus Walters, albeit sailing ultimately for a different cup.

Bluenose Captain Angus Walters (l.) with prolific yachting journalist  - and one-time Bluenose crew member - C.H.J. Snider (r., smiling)  May 1933 (Toronto).

Part 3: A New Idea

   On August 5th, 1920, Commodore H.G. DeWolf indicated that his Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron (R.N.S.Y.S.) would be willing to support Alex Ross' challenge for the America's Cup, however only if and when the money to underpin it had been raised.

It cost Sir Thomas Lipton $1 million to mount his 1920 America's Cup challenge. The R.N.S.Y.S. (and others) estimated that the next challenge “will cost nearer two than one million dollars.” By comparison, the Bluenose ultimately cost $35,000, a far more reachable goal.

Alternative America's Cup format ideas kept percolating in U.S. newspapers, and the evolution towards what would become the International Fishermen's Cup Races continued unabated: "[A] race to the Bermudas or about Long Island [...] would be 681 and 300 miles respectively, and would require yachts which would be real commercial ones, capable of something after their racing days were over." (Halifax Herald – Aug. 6, 1920) Such as fishing vessels, perhaps.

Pivoting, on August 8th Ross declared, "It is practically certain that the Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club, of Sydney, will challenge for the America's Cup." (He was alas a member of this club.) Crucially, on this day Ross came out as “keen on having a schooner rig craft to represent Canada," stating, "This is the type of boat preferred by our skippers and sailors on the coast." (Montreal Gazette – Aug. 9, 1920)

Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club, Sydney, N.S. (Rod and Gun magazine  1908)

Ross clarified that subscriptions would be capped at $100 per, after earlier being quoted pinning the cap at $1000. "If we made it a thousand," he said, "the money would be realized before everyone who wanted to had a chance to subscribe." He also announced at this time that “The Maple Leaf” would be built at Sydney, Nova Scotia. (Halifax Herald – Aug. 9, 1920)

In response to Ross' overture, Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club (R.C.B.Y.C.) Commodore F.E. Lucas stated the following via telegram: "The executive agrees that formal challenge will be issued when satisfactory financial arrangements are completed and further assurance of the co-operation of the other yacht clubs thuout Canada." Lucas issued a further statement, "We do not want to commit the club at this time. As a matter of fact the club is not in a financial position to challenge for the cup, and we will have to have every assurance that the financial backing will be available before we take the matter up. The challenge will certainly be taken up if the money is assured." (Halifax Herald – Aug. 10, 1920)

The R.C.B.Y.C. response echoed that of the R.N.S.Y.S. – they were willing to support the challenge, but only once the money was in the bank. While several newspapers spun Commodore Lucas' response as an endorsement, it was not: Ross' bid was now officially in trouble. The fatal flaw in his plan was the public subscription component, and his stumble left the door open for a new proposal to emerge. This new plan was one which would launch off of, and then ultimately supplant, his own.

A caricature referencing Irish Baronet Sir Thomas Lipton and his luxury steam yacht Victoria. It reads, "Oh deah,.." (Halifax Herald  Aug. 18, 1920)

The initial suggestion for a new and separate racing series appeared in the Halifax Herald on August 11th in the form of an editorial by Colin McKay entitled, “Why Not A Fishermen's Race For Canada and The States?” (The article also appeared in the Montreal Daily Star on the same day.) McKay noted the commentary flowing from U.S. newspapers regarding complete dissatisfaction with that year's America's Cup races (staged between “fair weather freaks”) and how a future competition could and should look.

He wrote, “If the Canadian yacht clubs want a real race let them build a fishing vessel and challenge the American clubs to build a competitor and run a race in the fall of a year over a course long enough to bring out the capabilities of the boats.”

What proposed 'fake race', which may have been of interest to said Canadian yacht clubs, could McKay possibly have been contrasting with? (Answer: Ross' challenge.)

On the very same day, the famous “A Race For Real Sailors” letter-to-the-editor was penned. The letter simply signed “Canadian” appeared in the Montreal Gazette two days later, and belittled Ross' intended skipper, Aemilius Jarvis, by name: the letter was explicitly a repudiation of the America's Cup, but it was also inherently an argument against Ross' bid, a nuance overlooked by historians but which would've been clear to readers at that moment. 

The anonymous letter, which also advocated for a new and separate series, perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the moment, galvanizing the public, and adding critical impetus to the fishermen's race project. 

Halifax Herald  Oct. 22, 1920. (The 1920 America's Cup Races were run off Sandy Hook, N.Y.)

Meanwhile, in the Montreal Gazette that day it was a reported that a New York yachting expert visiting Montreal had just discussed with A.C. Ross the preferability of a “more useful type of craft” for the next America's Cup “that could afterwards be used and not have to be practically scrapped.” Ross' bid had seemingly morphed into the fishermen's race idea, and now the two proposals were running in concert, and in competition.

The response to McKay's Halifax Herald editorial in Lunenburg was immediate and enthusiastic. On August 12th, the Herald reported that "the suggested race was the talk of the town. [...] Mayor Duff, M.P., says that the idea is an excellent one,” and “he suggests that a special Lunenburg designed craft should be built to represent Nova Scotia fishermen." And we're off!

The Mayor of Lunenburg, William Duff, M.P. (Canadian Fisherman  1922) Duff was an early driving force behind the push for a fishermen's race, as so named in the Montreal Gazette "A Race for Real Sailors" letter-to-the-editor.

In Sydney, locals also took to the new idea: an August 13 Halifax Herald headline declared, "Cape Breton Ready to Build Vessel to Enter Fishermen's Contest." The article went on, "Old timers along the waterfront, as well as citizens generally express keen interest in the Halifax Herald and the Evening Mail's suggestion to inaugurate a fishermen's racing classic between boats representing the seamen of Nova Scotia and the New England states.

"Nowhere in Canada was keener interest taken in the America's Cup series than in this city, and nowhere was there keener disgust over the puny nature of the so-called contest and the frailty of craft engaged." Even Ross' hometown, the town where he'd pledged his Maple Leaf schooner would be built, was coming down on the other side of the line.

Part 4: The Tide Turns

   On August 12th, 1920, seven-time Royal Canadian Yacht Club Commodore Aemilius Jarvis finally broke his silence, his take on A.C. Ross' America's Cup challenge appearing in newspapers on the 13th: As per the reporter, "[Jarvis] said that before making his first announcement of a proposal for a challenge, Mr. Ross had a talk with Mr. Jarvis on the matter. At that time Mr. Jarvis told Mr. Ross he thought he was foolish to go ahead with such plans." (The Globe – Aug. 13, 1920) Jarvis was certain that the New York Yacht Club would reject Ross' public subscription fundraising method, requiring rather that the funding be guaranteed before moving ahead with their own expenditures for a defense of their cup.

Aemilius Jarvis, ca. 1913. British Columbia Packers was a salmon-canning conglomerate which he co-founded, and of which he later became President and then Chairman. B.C. Packers sold under the enduring brand name, Clover Leaf. (Canadian Courier  1913) 

Aemilius knew first-hand what it took to raise $1 million in Canada, having been one of the leaders in a massive campaign to raise that amount in support of Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Navy WWI sailors and their families in 1918. It involved giving speeches, holding rallies, and pitting town against town in friendly competition to see who could raise the most. The goal was ultimately reached, and Jarvis personally delivered the $1 million cheque to England.

Ross was indignant: "The statement given out by the Queen City yachtsman is exactly the agency required to give a feeling to the projected campaign. The Toronto Commodore hints that this thing may fall flat if carried out through the popular subscription plan. Can it be that so prominent and successful a Canadian has such a small idea of Canadian pride and self-respect? For my own part I have an unbounded conceit of Canadian patriotism and Canadian steadfastness." (The Globe – Aug. 14, 1920)

Jarvis' words would've carried much weight in the Canadian yachting world, and Ross must've known all too well that Aemilius' take could mark the end of the project. And indeed, it did – the jig was up. But that wasn't going to stop Ross from trying.

Speaking to the state of affairs back in Sydney, in an article titled “As Chances of Challenge for the America's Cup Dwindle, Sportsmen Turn to New Scheme,” it was written, "As the difficulties of a Canadian challenge for the America's Cup grow, more apparent day by day, the excellence of the Halifax Herald and Evening Mail's proposal for a deep sea race between vessels representing Nova Scotia and the United States, is brought home more strongly to the seafaring and sporting people of Cape Breton. [...] (T)he subject is a leading topic of conversation in the hotels, trains, trams, and wherever the people gather, and there is nothing more certain that an appeal for active assistance will meet a ready response." (Halifax Herald – Aug. 14, 1920)

Meanwhile, a current existed in Halifax very much in favour of Ross' challenge. An August 13 Herald article bemoaned the fact that the R.N.S.Y.S. had not yet stepped up to the plate to officially support the challenge and highlighted the invaluable publicity for Halifax that would ensue, submitting that such a contest would put “the Old City by the Sea very much on the map.”

Halifax Herald  Oct. 29, 1920.

Ross' bid remained in the news through the final two weeks of August, but much less so than during the first two weeks of the month. Renowned British yacht designer Charles G. Nicholson -who'd designed Shamrock IV- confirmed a willingness to design Ross' Maple Leaf. Nicholson's involvement spawned conjecture as to whether the yacht would be a “real ship,” or rather a “mere racing machine” and a “freak.” Due to timeline constraints, however, it was soon determined that the Maple Leaf would need to be effectively built in the U.K. and then merely assembled in Canada, significantly watering down Ross' initial vision for a purely Canadian-built yacht.

On August 23rd, an article appeared in the Herald specifically comparing the two competing proposals, using Ross' challenge as a pushing off point to contrast with the opposing fishermen's race idea, highlighting the pitfalls of the former, and the virtues of the latter by comparison.

A revival of the legendary 1871 Halifax Aquatic Carnival -which brought much pride and attention to the city- was an idea that the conversation around Ross' challenge had stirred up. The 50th anniversary of the carnival was coming up the following year, but excitement around the general idea was such that it was decided not to wait. On September 2nd a headline announced, "The Herald and The Mail to Stage Great Commercial and Sports Carnival in Halifax in Early Part of October." The article continued, "At the request of a group of prominent Halifax business men, The Halifax Herald and the Evening Mail have agreed to conduct a Commercial and Sports Carnival Week in Halifax during the early part of October." In the last line of the article, without emphasis listed amongst a hoard of other sporting events to be staged, is the mention of “a schooner race for fishermen.” (Halifax Herald – Sept. 2, 1920)

Halifax Herald  Sept. 23, 1920.

Quickly though, on September 3rd, the fishermen's race took center stage with the announcement of a trophy for the contest: "The Halifax Herald and The Evening Mail will donate a handsome trophy for a fishermen's race from Lunenburg to Halifax during the Commercial and Sports Carnival." (Halifax Herald – Sept. 3, 1920) (The race would ultimately be held on a standard triangular course off Halifax, and further it was officiated by the R.N.S.Y.S.)

In launching what would become the International Fishermen's Cup, Herald publisher William Henry Dennis may have been partly motivated by a desire to win back readers in Lunenburg, after his paper had cast the predominantly German-ethnic town as sympathetic to the enemy during WWI.* This fealty question wasn't unique to Lunenburg  just ask Kitchener, Ont., previously - until 1916 - named Berlin. (The internal tension there led to riots in the streets.) Regardless, to Dennis goes the great credit of initiating the fishermen's schooner races, and for dedicating the iconic trophy (which, early on, was commonly referred to as the Dennis Cup). (*"Witch In The Wind" – Marq de Villiers, 2007)

Senator William H. Dennis (1887-1954), ca. 1926; not to be confused with his uncle - a different Sen. William Dennis (1856-1920) - who was head of the Halifax Herald through WWI (and up to July 1920). (Macleans  Nov. 1, 1926)

On September 6th, Ross announced a fundraising campaign very much in the mould of Jarvis' 1918 campaign in support of navy sailors and their families: he stated, "We expect to go from Sydney to Vancouver with a propaganda committee, by way of Canadian Pacific Railways, and return by Canadian National Railways, stopping at all suitable places and organizing Maple Leaf clubs wherever possible, the members of these clubs to take charge of the big drive for funds on Maple Leaf... The transcontinental trip will start in about a week, and at it's conclusion the day set aside as Maple Leaf day will be announced." (The Globe – Sept. 6, 1920) This fundraising tour, alas, never materialized.

Ross updated further, "The yacht we shall challenge with is to be schooner-rigged and of the fisherman type. She will be entirely of Canadian design and construction, manned by Canadian fishermen, and with a Canadian fisherman in command. She will be able to go offshore in any weather." When asked about the change in designer from Charles Nicholson, Ross replied that "the English designer had insisted upon too much of the work being done in England." (The Globe – Sept. 6, 1920)

On September 10th, he trumpeted that $75,000 had been raised to date. (Vancouver Sun – Sept. 12, 1920) It was a long way from the $1 million required for his Maple Leaf, although more than enough to have built two Bluenoses.

Alexander C. Ross, Halifax Herald (front page)  Sept. 13, 1920.

Meanwhile, on September 28th the Halifax Herald happily reported that it had rapidly raised $2200 in prize money for their schooner race, with more expected, and boldly declared, "No event in the annals of sport on land or sea in Nova Scotia has created the same amount of interest as this race which was first suggested by The Herald and The Mail as a preliminary race [ahead of that ostensibly] to be held next year between Nova Scotia and New England fishermen." They were receiving a ton of mail on the subject from which they could easily see the high level of interest and enthusiasm – they'd hit a home run.

And as the fishermen's race concept rose, so Ross' America's Cup challenge proposal fell, being overtaken. The two were inextricably intertwined, and yet after the dedicated fishermen's race concept eventually won the contest, Ross' bid -inherently foundational to the process that led to the fishermen's races, and by extension to the Bluenose- was swiftly forgotten.

Part 5: Fishermen's Cup

   On October 1st, 1920, with the race between Nova Scotia schooners quickly approaching, the Herald trumpeted, “No race in Canadian waters has created the same amount of interest as has been aroused by this schooner race." And Ross, as you would expect, was well-aware of the upcoming contest: "Word was received from Montreal yesterday that A.C. Ross, the yachtsman who plans to enter a challenger for the America's Cup next year, is taking a keen interest in the race.(Halifax Herald – Oct. 1, 1920) Hopefully Ross recognized, and could take pride in, the enormous contribution he made towards this fishermen's race, and all the excitement it created.

On the eve of the scheduled race day, amidst the full-blown exuberance already manifesting, in came a challenge from the U.S.: "If interest was keen in this event all along, it reached a point of fever pitch last night when the announcement of an international challenge came. It is doubtful if ever in the history of Halifax there was such animated discussion in so many public places. Wherever one went, there were enthusiastic groups talking race–race–race. The event has caught on, that is sure. Today will mark the beginning of a series of similar events that will become institutional in Nova Scotia life." (Halifax Herald – Oct. 8, 1920)

The Bluenose on her way to her first Fishermen's Cup in 1921. (Canadian Fisherman  Nov. 1921)

It took a few days before there was adequate wind to successfully run the race, but at last, on October 11th, the Delawana took the Herald and Mail trophy. It was a dramatic finish, with future Bluenose Captain Angus Walters -piloting the schooner Gilbert B. Walters- losing a topmast approaching the last leg and subsequently finishing a close 2nd.

On October 20th, after Canadian and U.S. sailing officials had met to hammer out details, it was announced that the international fishermen's race was to become an annual affair, with the inaugural event taking place October 30th to November 2nd, 1920. (The first running ultimately concluded on November 1st, with the American Esperanto winning the first two races vs. Delawana in the best-of-three, clinching the championship.) The Herald reported, ""There'll be sailing rules," said the committee tonight, "but not the new-fangled regulations of International Cup Races. We'll use the rules of the road that seamen know, and let the best boat win."" (Halifax Herald – Oct. 20, 1920)

Halifax Herald  Oct. 28, 1920.

In a funding drive to raise money for that inaugural race, Halifax Sailing Committee Treasurer R.A. Corbett invoked Ross' bid: "They talked about $1,000,000 as a fund to be subscribed by Canadians for the "challenger" for the America cup. The great International race between the pick of the Nova Scotia fleet and the pick of the Gloucester fleet will be as exciting, more exciting if anything and far greater sport, and the total expenses in connection with this great event will be less than $10,000." (Halifax Herald – Oct. 23, 1920)

(The Halifax Sailing Committee, largely comprised of R.N.S.Y.S. officials, also included at any one time; Commodore H.G. DeWolf, W.J. Roué, W.H. Dennis, H.R. Silver [Chairman], Andrew Merkle, H.G. Laurence, R.U. Parker, Halifax Mayor J.S. Parker, and Capt. [J.E.?] Zinck of Lunenburg.* Further were F.H. Bell, F.W. Baldwin, and Capt. V.C. Johnson. [*Canadian Fisherman – Nov. 1920])

William Dennis himself also cited the $1 million figure in his speech presenting the inaugural international cup to the victorious crew of Esperanto, belying a sense of competition he evidently felt with Ross' challenge.

The concluding status of A.C. Ross' America's Cup bid was summed up on October 21st in a regular column entitled “A Man Can But Do His Best”: “What has become of A.C. Ross and his plan to build a Canadian challenger for the America's Cup by popular subscription? Overshadowed by the forthcoming international race between real boats?” (The Globe – Oct. 21, 1920)

Therein, Ross and his bid were written off. However, without Ross' challenge setting the stage and providing a repeatedly employed pushing off point, it's entirely conceivable there would have been no International Fishermen's Cup Races, and no Bluenose.

The Esperanto having won in 1920, it was quickly determined that a better-suited schooner should be built to top the Yankees. On November 15th, a meeting was held in Halifax between the Halifax Sailing Committee, and a delegation from Lunenburg including Angus Walters, G.C. Walters, G.A. Rhuland (who'd designed the Delawana), and C. Iverson. At that meeting, the decision was officially taken to build the Bluenose. William J. Roué was elected to design, and she would be built in the yards of Smith and Rhuland. "She will beat any fishing schooner ever to sail in salt water," it was boldly - and correctly - declared. (Halifax Herald – Nov. 16, 1920)

Schooner Bluenose crossing the finish line, 1921. (Library & Archives Canada)

Work on the Bluenose began in Lunenburg on December 6th, 1920, and she was launched on March 26th, 1921. The iconic schooner proceeded to go on her undefeated run in the International Fishermen's Cup over a 17-year period, landing on a Canadian postage stamp in 1929, and being stamped on the Canadian dime in 1937. Had things turned out differently, it could've been Ross' Maple Leaf that took the glory. Regardless, A.C. Ross' patriotic dream was indeed realized, simply not as he'd imagined.

Written by Ashley Newall

Popular Posts