In anticipation of Canada’s sesquicentennial (150th) celebrations this year, the Royal Canadian Mint launched a national “My Canada, My Inspiration” coin design contest in March 2015, inviting the public to create new designs for a commemorative 2017 circulation coin series.
Entries represented one of five theme perspectives: Our Wonders, Our Character, Our Achievements, Our Passions and Canada’s Future. Finalists in each category were selected by the Royal Canadian Mint and a panel of notable Canadians. The public were then invited to vote for their favorites online, which took place in Sept. 2015. Each 2017-dated circulation coin denomination will feature one of the winning designs and Canadians will be able to find these coins in their change this spring.
After the public cast over one million online votes, the winning design from among five finalists in the Our Achievements category is by Ontario artist Wesley Klassen.
“I chose images that are in one way or another connected to the railroad, for which all Canadians can be forever grateful. I’m touched my design appealed to so many of them,” Klassen said in a press release.
Klassen also told the press a childhood family visit to Peggy’s Cove during an east coast vacation swing also partly inspired his coin design, saying, “That trip always stood out for me.”
Klassen chose to depict a variety of Canadian engineering achievements that are part of the Canadian landscape from coast to coast to coast — two of which are connected by railroad and two more with deep Atlantic provinces associations. His design for the 2017 commemorative $1 circulation coin features images of both steam and diesel rail locomotives, an East Coast lighthouse, Quebec City’s Chateau Frontenac Hotel, Toronto’s CN Tower, a prairie grain elevator, Vancouver’s Lion’s Gate Bridge, and front and centre: a Cape Islander inshore commercial fishing vessel.
The Cape Islander, which has been around for more than two-thirds of Canada’s first century-and-a-half, examples of which can be found in every fishing harbour on Nova Scotia’s southern, western and eastern shores (and many other Atlantic Canadian ports as well), is a highly appropriate symbol to represent Atlantic Canada’s engineering heritage achievements.
According to several sources, including the Canadian Museum of History, the original Cape Islander is believed to have been built in the middle of the 20th century’s first decade at Clark’s Harbour, Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia. The original design is credited variously to two local boatbuilders:Ephraim Atkinson, whose descendants still build fishing vessels in the community; orWilliam A. Kenney, for a customer who may have had a hand in the design or provided a set of plans. However, Atkinson proponents maintain a second motor fishing boat built by him actually should be considered the first Cape Islander boat.
The waters are further muddied by the fact the designation “Cape Islander” didn’t become general usage until after World War II some 40 years later and other Nova Scotia boatbuilders around the province were also creating new powered fishing boat models around that same time. The Stevens, Langille, Levy, Heisler and Frost families are all prominent pioneers in the industry.
Whoever was first, the classic Cape Islander’s distinctive characteristics include a high bow and a long wide open and low to the sea work deck aft for carrying and hauling lobster traps. Cape Islanders have been constructed in many different sizes, mostly in the range between 30 and 50 feet in length, but in some instances smaller and larger.
The Cape Islander design has also spawned or inspired derivatives, notable examples being the Northumberland Strait boat and the Maine Jonesport boat.
The former was developed and is constructed mainly by boatbuilders in the counties of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia bordering the Northumberland Strait in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Although superficially resembling the Cape Islander somewhat to the untrained eye, the Northumberland boat is actually a different design in everything but general layout. It’s typically longer and narrower than the Cape boat, with a finer entry and full-length keel in aid of efficiently punching through the sharp steep chop characteristic in the shallow waters of the Strait. A pronounced flare in its high bow helps the crew stay dry while doing so.
The first Cape Islanders back in 1905 and for the next 70 years or so were of wood construction, typically with pine planking over steam-bent oak timbers fastened with square galvanized clench boat nails. Toward the end of the wooden boat era stainless steel wood screws, a much better and longer-lived fastener, were also used. The best quality boats would have grown knees and stem posts. A high degree of customization in terms of superstructure and below decks prevailed.
In the 1970s, fiberglass had begun to displace traditional wood construction with the shift nearly complete by the 1990s. Fiberglass hulls are often modeled on successful wooden designs used as plugs for creating moulds. There’s a trend in recent years to aid operational efficiency by widening and lengthening the Cape Islander model to allow it to carry more traps, other gear and larger catches.
Traditionally, the Northumberland boatbuilders favoured a different type of wood construction than the caulked wide planks of most wooden Cape Islanders. Instead they used an edge-nailed and uncaulked narrow plank construction (sometimes referred to as strip plank). Of course today, Northumberland and Cape boats are both built in fiberglass.
The Jonesport boat is said to have been developed based on Nova Scotia type boats built in the eponymous Maine port, introduced there by builder William “Pappy” Frost, a Canadian emigre originally from Long Island, Digby County, N.S. Wooden Jonesport boats were typically planked with light, durable Maine cedar over oak timbers.
Today, many Cape Islanders are also in use in Newfoundland, but the province has its own distinct heritage of fishing vessel design and evolution, often distinguishable from one outport community to another. They’re probably derived from English or Irish-built craft brought to the island by settlers and developed over centuries of outport boatbuilding influenced by local sea conditions and available timber. An example is the model traditionally built at Winterton on the south shore of Trinity Bay, where traditional wooden boatbuilding techniques are being revived and preserved.
A wide variety of engine types have powered these vessels, including the “make-and-break” or “one-lunger” single-cylinder units of the early days, used in some localities into the 1960s. Automobile engines, four, six or occasionally eight-cylinder marine conversions, were widely adopted by boatbuilders after World War I. Various types of purpose-built multi-cylinder marine gasoline engines were also sometimes used. Today there’s almost universal adoption of marine diesel engines.
Will Cape Islanders will still be in use at Canada’s bicentennial in 2067? That’s an imponderable. But if commercial fishing in Atlantic Canada survives the ravages of climate change and remains responsibly managed, I believe there’s a good chance vessels tracing their lineage to those pioneering designs will continue to exist. Perhaps construction techniques, materials and powerplants that haven’t been discovered yet will sustain the Cape Islander tradition.