It’s difficult to imagine some 5,000 people crowded around a tiny shipyard by the Kingsport wharf 110 years ago to witness the launching of a ship. Yet in 1891 when the partnership of Ebenezar Cox and C. Rufus Burgess completed “Nova Scotia’s finest square-rigger,” Canada, at least 5,000 men, women and children came from all over the province to attend the launching ceremonies.
Writing in her 1980 Kingsport history (Kingsport By The Sea) Cora Atkinson described the launching of Canada as a great social event. The ladies of the Congregational Church of Kingsport and area were kept busy providing dinner and tea for the occasion, Atkinson said. The Cornwallis Valley Railway had been operating between Kingsport and Kentville for about a year when Canada was launched, explaining why in pre-automobile days so many people were able to reach Kingsport for this special event.
Atkinson gives the year of the launching of Canada as 1890 but this is an error. Two other sources, Frederick William Wallace in his book, In the Wake of the Wind-Ships, and Stanley Spicer in Masters of Sail give the year of the launching as 1891. References to Canada at the Old Kings Courthouse Museum in Kentville also establish the year of the launching as 1891. Except for this minuscule slip, Atkinson’s chatty book records what Kingsport was like in the era of sailing ships and is a valuable contribution to the area’s history.
Several books tell the story of master shipbuilder Ebenezar Cox. As mentioned in last week’s column, the definitive In the Wake of the Wind-Ships is one of the best sources of information on Nova Scotia sailing ships and shipbuilders. Stanley Spicer and several other authors draw heavily on Wallace in some of their works.
Few history books are totally error free, however, and the Wallace book is no exception. On Ebenezar Cox, Wallace writes that he “passed away in 1916 at the ripe old age of ninety-five years.” Cox was 88 when he died. He is buried in the older section of the Habitant Cemetery near Canning and according to Leon Barron, his headstone shows that he was born on December 18, 1828 and died September 8, 1916. As further confirmation of his age, we have the 1871 census, on file at the Kings Courthouse Museum, which shows that Cox was 42 at the time.
In one of the books I treasure most, Blomidon Rose, Esther Clarke Wright draws on the writing of William Frederick Wallace to pay tribute to the shipbuilding skills of Ebenezar Cox. It is an excellent tribute running to nearly three pages; unfortunately Wright repeats Wallace’s error on Cox being 95 at the time of his death. Reaching such a grand old age, Wright says erroneously, is typical of people who lived beside the Habitant River.
The Canada was one of the finest sailing ships built by Cox and his partners; Stanley Spicer writes that it was one of Canada’s largest square-rigged vessels. William Frederick Wallace notes that with the launching of Canada wooden shipbuilding had “reached its latter day apex” in this country. Steel ships were rapidly replacing wooden vessels at the time Canada was launched and Wallace suggests that it was built “rather late in the day.”
After the Canada Cox built several more smaller sailing ships, the last according to Wallace in 1893. Cox would have been in his 65th year and Wallace intimates that he retired from shipbuilding at this time. However, future research may show that while Cox was not involved in day-to-day shipbuilding after 1893, he was consulted on the design of later ships to come out of Kingsport, Canning and other Minas Basin yards.