James Creaser of LaHave got up early that morning.
He grabbed his bicycle, coasted down to the local ferry and caught a ride across the LaHave River. Once on the other side, the young man started pedalling toward Lunenburg, more than 30 kilometres away.
Others headed to Lunenburg by foot, by horse and wagon or by car. Some came aboard vessels, of all sizes. Some hopped steamers picking up people from ports along the South Shore. Some came on a special train from Halifax.
They arrived to find the entire town, end to end, decked out with flags, ribbons and bunting.
For early spring, the sun was bright and warm that March 26, 1921, exactly 100 years ago today. The water was calm.
By 9 a.m. on a picture-perfect Saturday morning, hundreds of visitors and thousands of townsfolk were swarming Lunenburg’s lower Shipyard Hill, near Smith & Rhuland’s waterfront yard.
People normally worked half a day Saturdays, but this had been made a holiday.
Hundreds more watched from ships, many also colourfully decorated, dotting the harbour.
The object of this excitement was an elegantly shaped new schooner lying in a Smith & Rhuland cradle.
Everyone in town, the province and arguably the country knew why she’d been built — to reclaim the International Fishermen’s Trophy from the Americans, who’d bruised Nova Scotian pride by winning the inaugural competition the previous November.
Sloped gangplanks rose from the ground to allow any who wished to climb to the crowded deck some seven metres above.
At 9:50 a.m., the public was asked to clear the ship, to leave just Capt. Angus Walters and a designated party aboard. But two young boys hid and managed to stay on board for the ride.
At 9:54 a.m., on a sharp command from the master shipwright, a row of men on either side of the schooner began hammering wedges beneath her massive hull. The gangplank disconnected, the blocks and timber logs holding the cradle in place on the inclined slip were knocked away.
At 10 a.m., the vessel began to move, eliciting a roar from the crowd. As the schooner slid gently into the water, the sole woman on board, 19-year-old Audrey Smith — Capt. Walter’s niece and daughter of shipbuilder Richard W. Smith — leaned over the starboard side and smashed a bottle of champagne against the hull, christening her Bluenose.
The sight prompted deafening cheers and blasts from countless steam engine sirens. The din was so loud, few heard the 1st Battalion Lunenburg Regiment band strike up O Canada.
A christening during prohibition
That the christening involved champagne at all had been a major issue. These were the days of Prohibition, after all.
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, then a powerful force in society, led a determined campaign demanding grape juice, or perhaps flowers, be substituted.
Lunenburg’s shipbuilders, however, would have none of it. Champagne it was.
As Bluenose floated freely in the harbour before being corralled by the tug Mascot, her bow swung eastward — a good omen.
Watching from the hillside was five-year-old Fred Spindler, standing holding his mother’s hand. Afterwards, at their Shipyard Hill home, she wrote out “Bluenose” on the boy’s chalkboard, to show him how the word looked.
Meanwhile, up on Northwest Road leading into Lunenburg, young Olin Spindle began to wonder where his parents were.
The Spindle adults took horse and buggy into town every Saturday morning to run errands, leaving their children at home. Always punctual, on this Saturday they were late. When they finally returned, they explained they had stayed to watch the launch of the new schooner Bluenose.
That made an impression on young Olin, who never forgot that day. That schooner must be important.
And so, a century ago today, Nova Scotia’s legendary racing and fishing schooner Bluenose touched water for the first time.
But she was far from ready to go to sea.
After the christening
Her mast, rigging, sails and other gear had to be installed. That would be done far more easily docked at Zwicker’s Wharf than sitting atop a shipbuilding cradle.
Ballast would be loaded Monday, March 28. Riggers were to get started Thursday, March 31.
They worked fast. The schooner left on her first fishing trip April 15, less than three weeks after launch. She fished until late summer.
In early October, Bluenose defeated seven rivals in two straight races to become Canada’s challenger for the International Fishermen’s Trophy.
Later that month, she defeated the American challenger, Elsie, two races to none, to claim the cup — one she never relinquished.
See the full story: https://www.saltwire.com/atlantic-canada/opinion/regional-perspectives/paul-schneidereit-the-bluenoses-birth-a-christening-during-prohibition-566823/