A National Symbol of Canada

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The philatelic art of stamp engraving being one of my main collecting areas, the beauty of the engraved stamp depicting "Bluenose"  has always fascinated me profoundly.  I am happy to present here the story and some facts about this famous schooner built 1921 in Lunenburg in Nova Scotia, and which has become a national symbol of Canada to appear on both postage stamps and coins.  

  • Canada 1929.  The schooner "Bluenose". 

  • Canada 1998.  10c coin, depicting "Bluenose" on the reverse side.

In 1928-1929, the Dominion of Canada issued an impressive set of postage stamps.  The 50-cent value is commonly known as the "Bluenose" (Scott # 158), and has been referred to as the most beautiful stamp in the world.  

There is an old adage that an ill wind blows no good -- but this is not always true.  For it was just such an ill wind off Sandy Hook one summer's day in 1920 that is credited with motivating a group of Nova Scotia deep sea fishermen to plan and build a schooner that would achieve world fame. 

  • Canada 1929.  Bluenose.  

It all began during the series of races held in that year to determine the winner of the America's Cup.  On one of the race days a very stiff breeze was whipping up the whitecaps, and the judges decided to postpone the contest until better weather prevailed.  The disappointed crowd of spectators who had come to watch the race turned, instead, to discussions of the wisdom of the judges.  The attitude of the deep sea fishermen who were following the races with keen interest, was somewhat scornful.  "Call that a breeze?  They ought to see what we can do."

An opportunity was soon to come.  Plans were made to hold an annual international race for deep sea fishing schooners, and the first of these was held off the Nova Scotia coast later that same year. 

 It proved a decisive victory for the American schooner "Esperance", of Gloucester, which took two successive races from the Delawana, of Lunenburg, representing the Nova Scotian fleet.

  • Map of Nova Scotia with Lunenburg encircled.  (Photograph scanned from "Insight Guides Canada").  

This was a bitter pill for the Canadian fishermen to swallow.  Immediately plans were laid to build a ship that would bring the coveted trophy back to Nova Scotia.  Angus Walters of Lunenburg was the driving force behind the fund-raising efforts, and no doubt he also offered much good advice to the designers, and to the builders as well.  
  • Canada 1988.  Captain Angus Walters (1882-1962) was the owner and captain of "Bluenose", and the driving force behind the fund-raising.  
The young Halifax designer, William J. Roue (1880-1970) was hired to design the ship, and so in March 1921 "Bluenose" was launched with Angus Walters as captain and owner of the ship.  He, in fact, owned the ship.  Roue was a self-taught naval architect who designed over 100 ships in his lifetime, and who became the greatest designer of wooden vessels in Canadian history.  

Seventy years after the first stamp bearing the "Bluenose" was issued, Canada Post honoured her designer with a stamp of his own.    

  • Canada 1998.  William J. Roue.  The stamp is printed in part from the original engraving of "Bluenose".  

In October 1921, after a season fishing on the Grand Banks, "Bluenose" brought the trophy home, and in an 18-year racing career "Bluenose" did not give up the trophy.  In 1946 she was lost off the shores of Tahiti.  

It has often been disputed whether Bluenose exists on cover -- or perhaps rather on piece, or whether used Bluenoses might be favour cancelled.  An assumed favour cancel is shown below left, and a Bluenose "on piece" on the right.  Roy Lingen (Canada), has given the following information:  

There are two common sources for used Bluenoses:  bank money parcels and bulk mail receipts.  Please read below for more information. 

  • Canada 1929.  Bluenose used, with a light corner CDS-cancel.  (Stamp-owner: Bob Ingraham (Canada)).   

  • Canada 1929.  Bulk mail receipt.  Scan from Charles G. Firby auction catalogue, June 29, 2003.  The text on the card reads:  "50 circulars for distribution to every Boxholder and Householder at: - Alderson, Alta." (from a mens store in Medicine Hat, Alta).  (Scan submitted from the said auction catalogue by Roy Lingen).  

1) Bank money parcels -- the banks at the time moved currency from bank to bank, using registered mail, fully insured. The insurance fees added up! Most of the Bluenoses I have seen "on cover" are on tags that were attached to bags of money. 

2) Much attention has been drawn to the "CTO" look of corner cancels on many Bluenoses.  No question, many of these stamps were "favour cancelled" long after they went out of use. The stamp was only current for a little under two years  (Jan 8, 1929 until the Grand Pre was issued Dec 4, 1930).  It was readily available at face value in collector circles until well into the 1940s.  Many nicely cancelled copies will have the year conveniently just off the stamp, or will show a date in the late 30's or early 40's.  Collectors would have done this to get a nice used copy because most of the legitimately used ones would have had the ugly, heavy roller cancels.  Purists will look long for a CDS-cancelled copy with the date in the period of use. That finally leads me to the other place they got used -- as receipts for bulk mailings.  A newspaper might deliver hundreds of newspapers to the post office for bulk mailing.  They would often receive a receipt with many copies of high value stamps attached and cancelled as a receipt for the bulk postage. These are the source of many legitimately cancelled CDS-copies available.  

Roy Lingen has further added:  There may well exist fully legitimate covers carrying a single Bluenose.  Imagine this (fictitious) cover:

9oz (255gm) registered to a non-British Empire UPU country (i.e. almost any country in Europe, South America, Asia etc).  This could easily be a larger envelope carrying legal papers. 

Postage rate:
1st oz -- 8c
each additional oz 4c/ oz  -- +32c
registration -- 10c
Total postage 50c 

Such a cover might reasonably have carried a Bluenose single, and would be an extremely valuable cover today (since single usages of high value stamps, paying exactly the correct rate are very rare and desired by postal historians). 

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The shipyard in Lunenburg later built the ship that was used for staging the movie "The Mutiny on Bounty", which became decisive for building "Bluenose II", a true copy of the first vessel, and open to visitors when in harbour.  

In 1982 Canada held the International Philatelic Youth Exhibition in Toronto.  A set of five stamps was issued, among those a stamp featuring the original stamp of "Bluenose".   Scott # 913.  

The cover to the left shows two of these stamps, "Bluenose", and a stamp featuring the original very first Canadian stamp, "The Beaver".  Scott # 909. Also the beaver is featured as a national symbol of Canada.  

  • Canada 1982.  "Bluenose" in 1982-version, Scott # 913, and the Beaver in 1982-version, 

The harbour of Luenenburg has also appeared on a Canadian 100 dollars banknote (1975).

  • Bank of Canada 1975. The reverse of a 100-dollars banknote, showing the Harbour of Lunenburg. Click on the banknote to see the obverse side.  The link will open in a new window. 

Sources and links:

Many thanks to Rob McGuinness, Bob Ingraham, and Roy Lingen (all Canada) for all help, research and advice.  

Revised 13 maj 2007 
Copyright © by Ann Mette Heindorff
All Rights Reserved 

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