BOATING & CANOEING

For those unfamiliar with it, the North West Arm is a 3.5 mile long body of salt water, an arm off Halifax Harbour.  It’s width is a half mile, more and less in places.  It is very suited to aquatic sports, canoeing, row boating, power boating, and swimming and has entertained these from the early days of Halifax. 

 

From it’s early days, there were aquatic clubs along the shores, mostly on the Halifax (eastern) side.  My association with “the Arm” was early in life.  With my brother and sister being several years older than I, I was introduced to it at an early age.  Before me however, my grandfather R. J. Anderson was an avid boating fan.  Not only did he have a sailboat named the Arab, he built canoes and small boats in his shop behind their home at 322 South Street.  He was on the executive of the popular Halifax Amateur Boating Club (HABC) in 1908.  His daughter (my mother) would have been 10 in that year. 

Below are two interesting pictures, one being the executive of the HABC in 1908, and the other is an aquatic float built by him (with help I assume) with my mother as the princess on the top. 

 

My mother’s oldest brother, Major Clarence A. Anderson was also an avid canoeist and sailing enthusiast  in his younger days. 

When I became interested in the Arm, the HABC was no longer there having burned down many years previous.  Next door to it though, was a larger club, the North West Arm Rowing Club (NWARC).  This was the club that my immediate family joined at some point in the 1940’s. Racing shells was a popular sport on the Arm, with national and international competitions. I didn’t participate in rowing.  In fact, like other post war sports and activities, the North American phenomena of the increased personal use of the automobile mitigated the interest in local activities.  People wanted to travel.  The many aquatic activities on the Arm were on their way out when I was becoming old enough to participate.  I believe it was 1949, the bicentennial celebration of Halifax that I remember the last large event on the Arm.   Boats, large and small all gaily decorated with flags and bunting, and by night thousands of multi-coloured lights participating in parades.  At the NWARC, I remember two noisy motor driven military searchlights probing the skies and stunts such as people diving into flaming waters.  It was very exciting to a kid.

The following old postcards, although in an earlier era,  give some idea of the enthusiasm for regatta sports on the Arm.

 

Here is a picture of my grandfather’s (Richard J. Anderson) boat, the Arab.  Nobody in the family seems to know how the name came about. 

 

The following are the earliest pictures of me at the NWARC.  I really liked the water and have no fear of it, but I never learned to swim well. 

 

My sister swam across the arm from the foot of South Street when she was 12, she was born in 1924.  The family didn’t belong to any boat club then she says.  Sally MacLellan a friend who lived on Murray Place swam with her.   She tells me that our father was quite annoyed that she took the chance.

I almost drowned at the NWARC one day.  I had a toy boat on a string and was running on one of the floats pulling the boat in the water.  I guess the string caught on the edge of the wood and pulled me into the water.  I can still picture to this day, the water all around me.  It took a while for somebody on the float to take action.  Somebody had to jump in and bring me up as I was almost a goner.  My late brother Jack was not far away and knew who it was.  He often told me the chap who saved me smashed his camera on the float in his hurry to react. 

Jack had a canoe as did some of his buddies, and they were “on the water” all the time.  Jack was a fan of Hank Snow, and had a wind-up phonograph in his canoe and you could often hear ole Hank singing across the water.  Most people’s canoes were bright colours, but Jack’s was black, and I followed my brother!!!

I became really interested in canoe paddling.  My late uncle Clarence Anderson (The Major!!) had a canoe sail complete with the mast, gaff and boom and leaboards left over from his canoe sailing days and gladly gave it to me.   Canoe sailing was somewhat common in his boyhood.  Except for a school chum Cameron Allen who sailed a canoe a few times, I was the sole canoe sailor on the Arm in my time.

To move forward, a sailboat must have a keel of some sort.  Since a keel is not practical on a canoe, the leaboards are like two canoe paddles with the long handles cut off.  They are fastened to the ends of a piece of wood that goes across the gunwales of the canoe about four feet back from the bow, with the leaboards down into the water.  They act like a keel. 

My world changed with those items.  I sailed that canoe many, many times out the Arm, up through the Narrows in Halifax Harbour and into Bedford Basin.  Other trips were around George’s, MacNab’s and Lawlor islands.  One interesting thing about sailing up the passage on the east side of Lawlor island was the anti-submarine nets hanging down in the water preventing subs from entering Bedford Basin where convoys of Allied ships were moored during WWII.  I always wondered if subs were around.  I’ve had that canoe in every nook and cranny along the shores of the Arm, Purcells’ Cove, Herring Cove, Deadman’s Island, alongside Pier 21 and other piers in the harbour.  When US or foreign warships visited Halifax, I was sailing underneath the overhanging decks of the aircraft carriers and all around them, something that would be cause for terrorist suspicion these days.  Sometimes, my boyhood friend, Dave Pace who lived at the Thornvale Cottage next door to the NWARC would join me for the trips. 

Sailing the canoe was a bit of a wet sport because the splashing from the leaboards bouncing up and down in the waves would blow back.  Therefore, I didn’t take my camera very often.  I had a backrest on the floor up against the stern seat.  Steering was accomplished with a canoe paddle under my right arm.  The line to control the sail (boom) was held in my left had, and I sat on the floor leaning up against the back rest.  I had to move one or two legs up and down off the gunwale to balance the canoe versus the wind on the sail.  In all the years of canoe sailing, I never capsized so to speak.  One day in 1958, I was just at the point where the Arm joins the Harbour and the wind was quite gusty.  In fact, that day I had considered not sailing because of the wind, but since the summer was coming to a close, I knew there wouldn’t be too many more days before it was finished for another year.  A gust of wind caught the sail, the canoe tilted so much I couldn’t let out the sail any more as the end of the boom was in the water.  Before I could get my weight up on the opposite gunwale, water started coming over the side and filled the canoe.  Almost immediately, I heard the roar of the Chrysler Crown CV engine about 1 ½ miles away, Captain George Perry of the Arm Patrol was on his way to my rescue.  As he approached, he said, “Rout, I’ve been waiting many years for this to happen” as he and his assistant brought my canoe and paraphernalia up on the deck of the his boat, the Dragon. 

Here are some pics of my canoe and canoe sailing days.  The one hauled up on the beach is on McNab’s Island.  That’s George’s Island in the background centre right, and the Angus L. Macdonald bridge in the distant background.  The pic with MAC K on the bow was when I told Mary MacKay from Pugwash that I named my canoe after her.  I saved the cost of 2 letters each side by that format!!!!!!!

 

 

The following are some pics of friends and myself  around the NWARC circa 1956.  We used to have “weinnie roasts” and corn boils both at the club and on the opposite shore for more privacy!!!

 

Periodically we had dances at the NWARC.  Sometimes we used to DJ them ourselves, or have a live band.  The first picture below is the band of school chums Tommy & Don Vickery with Dave Caldwell and Pearson “Skip” Beckwith.  The second picture is a general view of the swimming area and diving tower at the NWARC. 

 

Along with canoeing, I was also interested in power boating and spent a lot of time with my close friend Bob Zinck who joined the club circa mid 50’s and bought a 41 foot Cape Island style towboat from Atlantic Marine for $300.  It was named the Vikki.  Being a towboat, it had two motors, one was a 35 Ford V8, the other a 37 Pontiac straight 8, both of which used No. 50 oil!!! We took out the two motors and used them as the mooring anchor at the NWARC.  In those days, you could purchase a rebuilt car engine from Simpsons’ (department store), and we bought a Plymouth motor for $100.  We purchased motor mounts from Bar Marine in Maine and did all the work ourselves, Bob being the knowledgeable person he is.  I learned a lot about engines during this time.  Reverse gear on a car transmission is very low, too low to be of any use on a boat, especially one of 4 or 5 tons.  So, we replaced the reverse gear with the 2nd gear and had what was termed a “high speed reverse”!!!!!  The cabin was basically an open area and we changed that with a bar (the first important item) and a galley and head, and several bunks making it a party boat.  The name Vikki was changed to the more suitable name ‘SEIGRO’. 

Below are several pictures of the boat in and out of the water, its crew and friends. 

INSERT HERE “SEIGRO PICS 1 TO 8” FROM THE CANOEING AND BOATING PICTURES FOLDER.

 

 

In 1960, life became a more serious matter, and I moved to Montreal ending one of the most enjoyable parts of my life, that being the time I spent on the North West Arm.

To end this section of my interest in canoeing & boating, I thought it would be appropriate to have the following two pictures.  In 1966, my favourite uncle gave a book to me.  The book is titled “Sketches & Traditions of the Northwest Arm, Halifax NS”.  Inside, he wrote the following meaningful inscription:  “To George Rout from his uncle Major C. A. Anderson RCE Rtd, with happy recollections of your boyhood playground and mine, July 27, 1966, Halifax, NS”.   How true!!!

 

P.S. you’ll see some pictures of my Uncle Clarence in the Rout Family section.