In 2017, Mi’kmaq Elder Todd Labrador came to Lunenburg to give a class on drum making at the invitation of Wilfred Moore, a retired Liberal senator who established the Bluenose II Preservation Trust.
Moore did not know then that one of Labrador’s ancestors had a hand in the construction of the pride of Lunenburg, the Bluenose, the Grand Banks schooner that brought enduring fame and pride to this fishing town on Nova Scotia’s south shore. He merely enjoyed watching the drum come together, marvelling as Labrador stretched wet skins over yellow cedar hoops he’d harvested and tied them with sinew he’d brought with him.
Later, Moore learned that Labrador’s great-grandfather, Joe Jeremy, made similar, sturdier hoops—these ones out of oak—that once attached the enormous sails to the towering masts of the Bluenose, the fishing vessel launched here in 1921. “It’s like, from drum hoops to mast hoops, it continues, right?” says the former senator. “It’s working with the craft and knowing what materials to harvest, and how to treat them and steam them and round them.”
Labrador was in Lunenburg on March 26 for the 100th anniversary of the launch, a tiny, unofficial gathering in the Grand Banker Bar & Grill, overlooking the harbour that is still home to the Bluenose II and other wooden sailing vessels. Because of COVID, organizers did a virtual event, with a video featuring the Prime Minister and other dignitaries, along with Labrador, who spoke about his great-grandfather, highlighting for the first time the Mi’kmaq role in the story.
“He would make birchbark canoes, baskets, axe handles, but he also made mast hoops,” Labrador said in an interview after the event. “He would cut big oak trees out with an axe and a neighbour would haul them out with his ox team. Great-grandfather would cut them apart and my father would help them steam them.”