The tale of a picture – and a schooner

This picture has been seen on several places on the internet, and most of them give an explanation of how a schooner is towing a house, while some discuss if it is the old Bluenose or not.

Either way it is a cool picture and really nice capture which made me interested to find out more.

The picture was taken the 19th of November 1929 in Port au Bras, Newfoundland, one day after the devastating Grand banks earthquake and tsunami, also known as the Laurentian slope earthquake and South shore disaster.
It’s epicenter was in the Atlantic Ocean off the south coast of Newfoundland in the Laurentian Slope Seismic Zone, about 250 miles south of the Newfoundland  Island and had a magnitude of 7.2.
The quake created a huge landslide which led to a tsunami that struck the Burin Peninsula with heavy impact, killing 28 people and leaving over 10 000 homeless.
This is the only recorded tsunami to have hit the east coast of Canada.

It is obvious that the schooner is not towing this house, it is in fact anchored. And it is not the famous Bluenose.
From two interviews with two men who were then school kids living in Port au Bras made by Alan Ruffman, historical expert on the earthquake, we learn that the schooner is Marian Belle Wolfe, which had taken its place in the bay for the winter, which was common for Labrador fishing vessels in this area by this time (Notice there’s no sails bent on in the picture).
The owner of the house found it floating 1-2 kilometers southeast of the mouth of the bay and towed it into the bay where he tied it temporarily to the schooner. According to one source the owner had stored a lot of dry lumber in the basement of the house, which made it float so high. Another says that another thing was that Newfoundland houses were “built double boarded, that is, they were boarded on the inside of the frame as well as the outside, on account of the severe Newfoundland winters. The concrete posts served as keels and it was almost a houseboat.”

Marion Belle Wolfe was built in Shelburne, NS in 1920, she was 126 feet (38.4m) long and had a Canadian registered tonnage of 116 tons.
In a Cape  Breton Magazine from 1989 I found letters from Charles H. Rafuse and Captain Robbie Robertson who was in the area at the time of the quake, to Alan Ruffman.

“Captain Robbie was no stranger either to the Marian Belle Wolfe, or to her one-time captain, William “Bill” Trenholm, but takes issue with the statement from the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic that the schooner was originally built for Captain Trenholm. It is more probable that she was built for Wolfe interests from Dublin Shore. Captain Trenholm of Louisbourg frequently purchased ships, which had seen their best days in fishing, and by repairing them gave them extended life. You will recall that it was he who lost the fishing schooner Joseph McGill. which he was repairing at Louisbourg, when the tidal wave swept her into the harbour. At any rate. Captain Trenholm did not purchase the Marian Belle Wolfe until she had just finished her fishing days. He purchased her at Lunenburg, and Captain Robertson joined him a few days later to take the ship to Halifax. She still had six dories left on her, and “gurry tubs” on deck that were sed in the rendering of cod livers for their oil, as well as 100 tubs of trawl gear, minus hooks, stored under her cabin floor. After Captain Trenholm had completed repairs on the Marian Belle Wolfe, he took on a cargo of salt cod, packed in boxes and drums, at Halifax and proceeded to Barbados where he sold the schooner.

In a later letter of April 8, 1987, Mr. Rafuse wrote to Alan Ruffman regarding the photograph of the schooner: Now to add a further bit of controversy re your picture of the Marian Belle Wolfe and the floating house. As far as Capt. Robertson can ascertain, the Marian Belle Wolfe was owned by the Smith Company in Lunenburg until sold to Wm. Trenholm, and therefore would never have laid over in NFLD for the winter. However, he does suggest that the schooner in the picture could easily be the Golden Glow owned by Warehams, who operated in that area, and most recently in Come-by-Chance. Lunenburg schooners, when sold to NFLD, were never repurchased by Lunenburg interests. Their bones remained in NFLD. NFLD-built schooners were sturdy and were distinguished by a heavy stem….

In Alan Ruffman ‘s letter to Cape Breton’s . Magazine. June 30, 1988, he wrote that after “a great deal of careful research on the postcard scene…(that) it was a photo? graph of a house tied up to the stern of the Marian Belle Wolfe in Little Burin Harbour on the morning of November 19, 1929….” In other words, while Mr. Ruffman apparently agrees with Capt. Robertson that the schooner in the picture is not the Ronald George. Mr. Ruffman disagrees about which vessel the house was tied to for safekeeping after it had been rescued from the open sea by its owner and his son.

"Five Saban owned schooners in a race around Barbados, early 1930's. Among them "Mona Marie", "Marion Belle Wolfe", Captain Will Leverock and "Florence M. Douglas", Captain Herbert Rexford Every of St. John's." from the book Saban Lore, by Will Johnson

Either way, Marian Belle Wolfe was sold to Barbados and ended up in the hands of Capt. Will Leverock from Saba. Even Marians sister ship Mona Marie ended up being owned by a captain from Saba.

The facebook group “Of Saban Descent (Saba, Netherlands Antilles)” has posted a few pictures of the schooner and some comments.

“A painting of the schooner “Marion Belle Wolf” which is in the home of the late James Anthony Simmons. He used to sail on the Marion with Capt. Will Leverock. My cousin Estelle Simmons told me that one of the trips she took to Barbados was …with this schooner. It got becalmed going down the islands and took them a week to get there. It was a large red schooner. Used to also sail from Barbados to the Turks and Caicos islands to get salt. As the Captain and some of the crew were from Saba they would stop here to visit their family.”

“This model was made by Capt. Will Leverock of St. John’s who was her captain for many years. There is also a painting of this lovely Saban owned schooner in the home of the late James Anthony Simmons of The Bottom who used to sail on her. M…y cousin Estelle Simmons (91) told me often about her trip to Barbados on this schooner . They sailed on the Caribbean side of the islands and it was so calm that it took them almost a week to get there. Months later when she came back they sailed on the Atlantic side of the islands and made it back much faster.

At first I could not find anything more about what happened to the ship after she went into the Caribbean trade, and the latest trace of her I found was in Barbados Advocate, December 19, 1951.

In the harbour log we find:
In Carlisle bay
Schooner Marion Bell Wolfe
74 tons net. Capt Every, from British Guiana.

But then I came across a most interesting article, written by Peter Leyel who lives in Switzerland, but sailed in Marian Belle Wolfe in 1952.
The article,
Two Beauties – A Tale of two Trading Schooners seen regularly in Barbados in the 1940s. can be found here. All the pictures are not working, but there are two nice captures of the Marian under sail.

According to Peters article, this ship was broken up after being damaged by the hurricane Janet in Barbados, September 1955.

Sources (not already listed):
Earthquake Canada

Cape Breton Magazine, 1989 issue
The Barbados Advocate, December 19, 1951


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