Bluenose racing off Boston
Photograph by W.R. MacAskill, 1938
Nova Scotia Archives, W. R. MacAskill Collection, 20040082

The W. J. Roué Collection –
Bluenose and Beyond

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The Canadian Museum of History preserves and safeguards the William James Roué Collection, which helps tell the story of Canada’s best-known naval architect, and designer of many vessels—including the iconic schooner, Bluenose.

This online exhibition explores William Roué’s life from 1879 to 1970, and provides an overview of some of his many designs. It also offers a behind-the-scenes look at care and conservation of the William James Roué Collection at the Canadian Museum of History.

A man in a pith helmet and glasses and tie sailing a boat, with water and trees in the background.

William Roué
Photograph by Hugh Bell, around 1940
Nova Scotia Archives, Bell Family fonds, MG1, acc.1994-319, no. 346

A Halifax Childhood, 1879–1895

William Roué was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on April 27, 1879. He grew up in the city’s south end, close to its bustling harbour.

From a young age, he was fascinated by boats, building models to test his designs. As an enthusiast of boats and their design, Roué was also drawn to the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron. He frequented its boatyard and clubhouse, and crewed on members’ boats while still a teenager.

Halifax in 1879

Model Boat

A Self-Trained Naval Architect, 1895–1920

William Roué left school early, but continued to nurture his passion for sailing and designing boats. Teaching himself about naval architecture, and taking classes in drafting, he began a career as an amateur naval architect while working at the family’s soft-drink business.

His early designs were for Halifax-area sailors with the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, where Roué became a member at 18.

James Roué, Manufacturer

William Roué as a Teenager

Winifred Conrod

Wawa: An Early Design

Roué and Bluenose, 1920–1921

In October 1920, the first competition for the International Fishermen’s Trophy pitted working fishing schooners from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, against their counterparts from Gloucester, Massachusetts. The American schooner Esperanto won this initial series of races.

A committee was formed to build a challenger to bring the trophy to Nova Scotia. It included William Roué’s friends and clients. They tasked him with designing a championship vessel, which became the schooner Bluenose.

William Roué

A Hardworking Waterfront

Designing Bluenose

William Roué had never designed a fishing schooner before. He drew upon his knowledge of naval architecture, and his experience with yachts, to create a design that could not only win races but also work as a successful fishing vessel.

Bluenose Wins, 1921

The October 1921 races for the International Fishermen’s Trophy attracted attention across Canada and in the United States. Held in the waters off Halifax, the competition pitted Bluenose against the American schooner Elsie.

Bluenose won the trophy, bringing William Roué national acclaim. The schooner’s continued racing successes and publicity trips, throughout the 1920s and 1930s, made it Roué’s best-known design.

1921 International Fishermen’s Trophy Race
Length: 38 seconds
National Film Board of Canada, 1921

A Golden Thank You

“In testimony and admiration of his skill as designer of the BLUENOSE”

— Pocket Watch Inscription

Rise to Success, 1921–1929

The success of Bluenose brought William Roué greater attention in Canada, as well as in the United States. His career flourished in both countries, including a long-term association with the New York yacht designers and brokers, Ford & Payne.

These new commissions allowed Roué to devote more time to naval architecture. Many of his designs were built in the small shipyards along Nova Scotia’s coast.


Malay and Northern Light

Northern Light

Seven Bells

“The hull and sail plan are entirely attributable to Bill Roué’s genius.”

—T. F. Cooke, joint owner of Seven Bells, 1928

Professional Success, 1929–1949

In 1929, the Roué family sold its soft-drink company, and William Roué became a full-time naval architect. In 1934, he moved to New York City, where he worked with Ford & Payne before returning to his home in Dartmouth in 1936.

The Second World War brought new challenges and demands, and Roué became involved in designing vessels for wartime use.

William Roué at Work

Ford & Payne’s City Island Office

City Island

Carrying On, 1949–1960

In 1949, William Roué closed his office in Halifax, moving his business to his home across the harbour, in Dartmouth. Despite the death of his wife Winifred in 1954, he remained active as a naval architect, designing vessels for private and government clients.

Roué’s Home Office Sign

Winifred and William Roué

Bluenose II and Final Years, 1960–1970

William Roué worked as a naval architect into the early 1960s. He was involved with plans for Bluenose II, which followed the overall design of the original Bluenose.

Like its namesake, Bluenose II was built at the Smith & Rhuland shipyard in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. The schooner was launched in July 1963, with William Roué and Angus Walters—captain of the original Bluenose—among the guests of honour.

A Lasting Legacy

William James Roué died at his Dartmouth home on January 14, 1970, at the age of 90. Although he designed a wide range of vessels during his lengthy career, he remains best known for Bluenose.

The schooner’s image has appeared since 1937 on Canada’s 10-cent coin, as well as on stamps, and in many other places.

Bluenose Lines Plan

French Curve


An Interview with William Roué

In August 1962, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) aired a documentary about Bluenose. It included interviews by J. Frank Willis with Bluenose captain Angus Walters and with William Roué.

Excerpts from “The Bluenose,” 20/20
Length: 1 minute, 38 seconds
CBC TV Archives

Bluenose—From Idea to Blueprints

Bluenose was the first fishing schooner William Roué ever designed, and was built to precise specifications. International Fishermen’s Trophy regulations included limits on both length and the total area of sails.

Roué’s plans, two of which are seen here, helped detail how the ship would be built. The Smith & Rhuland shipyard in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, used these plans and Roué’s written specifications to build Bluenose.

Bluenose Sail Plan

Bluenose Keel Profile

Babette: First Design for a Client

Babette was William Roué’s first design for a client. Frank H. Bell, a long-time member of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, had encouraged and supported Roué’s interest in sailing and naval architecture.

Designed in 1908, Babette was built in 1909 by Joshua Mader in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

Blueprints and Photograph of Babette

Babette Under Sail

Charlan: A Later Design

One of William Roué’s final yacht designs was Charlan, built by Kenneth MacAlpine & Son in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, and launched in 1956. Designed for Charles Copelin, a professional merchant mariner and naval veteran, Charlan was intended for cruising rather than racing.


Charles Copelin’s son—also named Charles—made a film about the design, building and launch of Charlan. It included Copelin’s visit to Roué at the latter’s home office in Dartmouth.

Charlan (excerpts)
Length: 1 minute, 32 seconds
Produced by Charles Copelin, 1956
Original footage Directed, Written, and Produced by Charles Copelin

Charlan: Plan for Cabin Sections

A Talent for Speed

William Roué was an avid and skilled sailor who designed many racing vessels for Canadian and American clients. Some were built to meet specific rules for hull and sail measurements. Others were more individual.

He also designed the Roue 20 and the Bluenose Class sloop. These were “one-design” classes—multiple examples built to a standard design, making fair competition easier. Both of these types are still sailed today.


Designing for the War Effort

During the Second World War, Roué designed the MINCA (“Made In Canada”) barge for Britain’s Ministry of War Transport. Built to be shipped overseas in sections, the barge was assembled after delivery.

Designed to carry cargo, it could be towed by tugboats, or powered by its own large outboard engine. More than 1,300 of these barges were built at shipyards in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Plans for a MINCA Barge

MINCA Barge Under Construction

MINCA Barges in London, England

Cargo Designs

William Roué designed a range of wooden cargo vessels for commercial and government clients. Some were built for Arctic service with the Hudson’s Bay Company.

The design seen here was for the Government of Newfoundland. Ten of these vessels, called the “Splinter Fleet,” due to their wooden construction, were built at Clarenville, Newfoundland. One of them, Trepassey, supported British activities in the Antarctic between 1945 and 1947.

Plan for “Splinter Fleet” Cargo Ship

Trepassey in London, England

Trepassey in the Antarctic

Ferry Designs

An important but lesser-known part of William Roué’s career involved designing ferries. Largely used in Nova Scotia, some were small, simple vessels.

Larger, more complicated examples carried people and cars across Halifax Harbour, or across the Strait of Canso prior to construction of the causeway between mainland Nova Scotia and Cape Breton. Some of these ferries were still in use well after Roué’s death in 1970.


The First Bluenose Drawings?

This double-sided working drawing for Bluenose, likely William Roué’s first and second drafts, is unique for being the initial expressions of his vision for the schooner. It allows us a privileged look at the evolution of his design. That Roué kept it is significant, as early drafts rarely survive.

Assuming a scale of 1/8 inch to 1 foot (0.32 centimetres to 30.5 centimetres) in both drafts, the differing dimensions between the two drawings help to tell us which one came first. The second draft - the one titled “BLUENOSE” - is shorter on its water line, reflecting the committee’s revised instructions to Roué.

Design 17, Bluenose, First Draft

Design 17, Bluenose, Second Draft

The Bluenose Drawings Under a New Light

The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) is a special operating agency within the Department of Canadian Heritage, whose conservators and conservation scientists serve cultural heritage organizations across Canada. In collaboration with the CCI, state-of-the-art exploratory imaging techniques were applied to the double-sided drawing. This imaging revealed information not easily visible in normal light and helped inform the conservation treatment.

Analysing the First Bluenose Drawings

This series of images shows the results when raking light, ultraviolet light, and infrared light were applied to the double-sided working drawing for Bluenose. The captions explain what information was learned from the different imaging techniques.

The Bluenose Drawings, to Treat or Not to Treat?

Conservators propose conservation treatments for a variety of reasons and with a number of goals in mind. These can include improving aesthetics, legibility, and/or chemical and physical stability. Sometimes, however, the decision not to treat, in order to preserve evidence of manufacture or use, can be just as critical as an interventive treatment.

In this case, informed by what was shown about the process of creating the two drawings in the images taken by the CCI, the surface cleaning step was applied extensively to one side of the drawing, but not to the other. Examine this series of images to see the changes that resulted.

Treating the First Bluenose Drawings

This series of images shows different steps undertaken as part of conservation treatment of the double-sided working drawing for Bluenose.

It is important to note that the treatment steps illustrated here were designed specifically for these drawings and are not necessarily recommended for other works on paper.

Second Draft, Before and After Treatment

Compare the second draft before treatment and after treatment. Zoom in to look at specific details, such as the band of heavy grime, previous erasures and tears. Notice that the conservator has retained these features after treatment. This decision was informed by the images taken by the Canadian Conservation Institute, and reached through consultation between the curator and conservator.

First Draft, Before and After Treatment

Compare the first draft before treatment and after treatment. Zoom in to look at specific details, such as the band of surface grime, and a major tear. Notice that the conservator has repaired these elements. This decision was informed by the images taken by the Canadian Conservation Institute, and reached through consultation between the curator and conservator.

Assessing the Entire Collection

Before the Roué Collection arrived at the Museum, a team of cultural heritage professionals - including a curator, a paper conservator, and two collections managers - was sent to assess and determine its scope, material types and physical condition.

The Roué Collection contains nearly 800 plans, 30 linear centimetres of archival documents and 32 3D artifacts. Determining the scope and requirements for care of this extensive collection was necessary before subsequent steps could be planned.

Many Drawings and Prints

Roué’s Adding Machine

A Collection in Rolls

Planning Collection Storage and Conservation Treatments

The acquisition of a collection comprised of a large quantity of individual items, most of them over-sized, requires a storage plan that balances the preservation needs of different materials with facilitating access to them by researchers.

Conservation treatment plans will vary, depending on a range of factors including the characteristics of the materials used, and risks posed by those materials.

Consulting with Colleagues

Making a Determination

Conserving Tracing Cloth

These supports are most often made from cotton impregnated with starch or a synthetic material. When new and flexible, tracing cloth stood up to repetitive use (rolling and unrolling) better than common 20th century papers.

However, although impregnating the textile with starch created a suitable writing surface, it is an inherent vice when it comes to preservation, as starches are very appetizing to insect pests.

Conserving Tracing Paper

Translucent supports were an integral part of the design process, and in common use until the invention of acetate and stable, transparent polyester film. Due to their methods of manufacture, most 20th-century tracing papers are inherently weak.

Mending tears and splits in translucent papers is difficult, because the selected mending material should be weaker than the paper being mended, and can show through from verso to recto. Custom heat or solvent set tissues – or, more recently, nanocellulose films – are used to repair tears and splits and to reinforce along creases where plans have been folded.

Conserving Blueprints

"Blueprint" is the common name for documents copied using the cyanotype process. Blueprints were the chief reprographic format for almost a century, thus their ubiquity in museum and archive collections.

Blueprints are alkaline (pH 7+) sensitive in high relative humidity environments. This combination can result in the loss of their characteristic blue colour. Conventional treatment steps such as tear repair with wheat-starch paste must thus be modified to reduce the use of water and to control the pH during conservation treatment.

Digitizing for Access

After conservation treatment, the final step before storing or exhibiting a collection is digitization. Photographs of the items in a collection play an essential role in documentation, preservation (acting as a surrogate for an artifact so that it doesn’t have to be handled), and in dissemination. Online exhibitions are a perfect way to share fragile, oversized objects and collections with the public.

Photographing a Bluenose Drawing

Photographing a Construction and Cabin Plan for Wawa