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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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)
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,
|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)
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.
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)
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
|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)
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)
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.
“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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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,
|Halifax Herald – Sept. 23, 1920.
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
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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