We’ve all heard the same stories about why we’re called Bluenosers: One legend has it that Nova Scotia fishermen wore hand dyed sweaters and mittens that left a blue stain on the nose when it was wiped with a sleeve or hand. Another legend connects the famous racing schooner, Bluenose, with our sobriquet; other stories says we’re so named because of our cold climate or because of an old potato variety.
In 1930 this newspaper reprinted an article from a Boston daily by a Valley native, John F. Masters, who says our nickname did indeed come from a potato. “Why Are We Bluenoses?”, was written by Masters in his capacity as historian of the Canadian Club of Boston.
In 1844 New England crops were hit by a disease that destroyed most of the potatoes. “The people here were in desperate straits,” Masters wrote, “and as a consequence… every available potato that could be shipped from Nova Scotia was brought to Boston.
“When I was a boy in the Annapolis Valley years ago, some men were called ‘potato kings’ (Jacob Walton in particular) owing to the great quantity of potatoes they handled. Now, some of you may say, ‘What have potatoes to do with Bluenose?’ Well, this is the answer:
“The varieties of potatoes grown in Nova Scotia 75 and more years ago were Early Rose, Breezes Prolific and varieties of Calicoes. A peculiar feature about them being that they were streaked through with blue or calico color. A popular variety of the latter was called the Bluenose potato.
“The Bluenose was the best seller for it was a long, large potato, deep set eyes, with one end blue or calico coloured. Consequently, when it was found that the Boston dealers preferred the Bluenose potato, everyone began to raise it. Sailing vessels for many years came here loaded down with this succulent viand and in such quantities that as a result… the name Bluenose became attached to the people who brought them.
Of course, this was before the large migration of Nova Scotians to New England, but the name has somehow stuck, although it’s not as commonly used as it used to be.
“The Dominion Atlantic Railway many years ago put on a new train between Halifax and Yarmouth and called it the Flying Bluenose (and it is still running every summer) so as to perpetuate and preserve the popular name. And as Nova Scotians as a rule… do not mind the term at all but rather take pride in it, somewhat as the average New Englander likes to be called a Yankee.
“Judge Haliburton, who by the way was the original American literary humorist and a Nova Scotian, used the word often in his inimitable style, so it was in vogue 100 years ago.
“Just where the Bluenose potato originated no one exactly knows, but no doubt it was first raised in New England and the seed taken to Nova Scotia by the New England Planters. One thing is certain: It was raised very generally in Nova Scotia 100 years ago and if you, gentle reader, happen to be travelling any summer through the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, pause to view the scenery and visit the farms on top of the North Mountain; you will find the Bluenose potato still being grown.”
A great tale with one flaw. Nova Scotia was hit with a potato blight the same time as New England and potatoes were extremely scarce here in the year Masters mentions – 1844.