Rededication Address

Text of this address:


Ladies and Gentlemen :

It is a singular honour for me to share this plinth … even for such a short time … with a man the stature of Sir Samuel Cunard.


These words, inscribed in stone on the base of this statue are descriptive, but tell us precious little about the man. In fact, as a Cunard historian, every now and then I have to stop and remind myself that not many people know a lot about the man whose name has been associated with ships and shipping over the course of three centuries! So, with that in mind, please indulge me for a few moments as I recount a little about the character of this maritime ‘entrepreneur extraordinaire’.

Five years ago, on October 7, 2006 a large crowd gathered here on this waterfront to witness the unveiling of a monument to one of Halifax’s greatest native sons – Samuel Cunard.

Although Cunard was never one to seek the limelight, the original placement of this monument just north of here was always intended to be temporary in order to allow time for construction of this more prominent site. Since then the Halifax Port Authority has followed through with its plans to relocate him to this completely accessible and truly spectacular location overlooking Halifax harbour. I think Cunard would have approved … after all, he never was one to stand still too long!

Today we are gathered together to re-dedicate this monument to a Haligonian whose story … the ‘Cunard Story’ is truly universal, transcending borders and uniting countries and indeed continents by means of ships which still proudly carry the name of the company founder … an enduring legacy evidenced here today with the inaugural visit to Halifax of Queen Elizabeth, the newest of the Cunard vessels.

Halifax … Samuel Cunard … And the Queen Elizabeth … this city, the man and this ship are inextricably linked by history … a history like none other … a proud, incomparable history spanning 171 incredible years.

During this time the name ‘Cunard’ would become associated with some of the world’s great cities. Liverpool – for many of these years the homeport to Cunard ships in the UK, and often now referred to as the ‘spiritual home’ of Cunard Line. Southampton – a port which has borne witness to so many ocean liners … and today the proud port of registry of the Cunard fleet. And, of course, New York, which for almost 150 years was the western terminus of Cunard Line in America.

However … let no one forget that HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA is, and always will be the ‘ancestral home’ of all that is Cunard … past, present and future. For it was this place that produced the man whose vision of spanning the Atlantic with steamships would give rise to a company which has no equal in the annals of ocean liner history.

Cunard Line – a name synonymous with the greatest ocean liners ever built has its roots right here in Halifax – a short walk from this very site.

On November 21, 1787 in a modest cottage off Brunswick Street in the north end of Halifax, Margaret Cunard gave birth to a son who she and her husband Abraham named ‘Samuel’ after the boy’s paternal grandfather. At the time, neither father nor mother could know, nor would they live to see their son Samuel become the ‘Steam Lion’ – the man who would revolutionize commerce between continents when he successfully introduced steam to the North Atlantic.

Samuel Cunard grew up on this Halifax waterfront. It was quite a different place back then in the 19th century. The harbour bristled with wharves which served sailing vessels from all over the world … many engaged in trade with the West Indies. The air was pungent with the smells of hemp, and tar, and oakum…perhaps even a little rum. It rung with sounds of block and tackle, wind in rigging… of the mallet and adze employed by those engaged in ship-building … an industry in which Nova Scotia was among world leaders during this time. Indeed, Halifax harbour as first a play-ground, and then a workplace was instrumental in moulding the character of Samuel Cunard.

The boy grew to become a man … he was mature for his years, and had a head for business … born for it in fact. The man soon became a merchant … and in short order, hailed by his peers throughout the Maritimes as a ‘merchant prince’ … a title given to one who was uncommonly successful in his business endeavours. All this happened in and around this very site which we share today with Peter Bustin’s marvellous bronze rendition of Sir Samuel Cunard.

Cunard’s training ground was the Halifax waterfront. It was in and about the docks and waterfront warehouses that he learned the tools of his trade … always anchored by ships and shipping … beginning first in partnership with his father Abraham in the firm A. Cunard & Son which established a niche in the West Indies trade, and later in Sam’s own firm of S.Cunard & Company where he prospered and quickly came into prominence as a maritime entrepreneur par excellence.

Cunard’s business empire grew in size and stature from his wharves and warehouse located off Upper Water Street, just north of here, near the first of two bridges spanning Halifax harbour, adjacent to the naval dockyard. The ‘Cunard wharves’ so called, were the busiest on the Halifax waterfront during this time. The Cunard warehouse, a magnificent four storey structure constructed of ironstone from the quarries at Purcell’s cove across the Northwest Arm would become the scene of auctions of tea which arrived in Halifax aboard gargantuan tea clipper ships all the way from China … their sole cargo being tea consigned to Samuel Cunard to sell off as agent of the venerable East India Company.

The Cunard fleet numbered in excess of seventy-five sailing vessels, making Cunard for a time the largest owner of sailing ships in the Maritime Provinces. Quite a credit to the man who perhaps is best remembered for initiating the transition from sail to steam with the introduction of his steamships to the North Atlantic. That would come much later though, for during the early part of the 19th century Cunard ships plied the West Indies and were also employed in delivering the mails to places like Bermuda and Newfoundland. Very soon the names ‘Cunard’ and ‘Halifax’ became synonymous. By his early thirties, Samuel Cunard was deemed to be one of the most successful and influential businessmen in Nova Scotia … and indeed all of the Maritime Provinces.

It was against this background, while pursuing his many and varied business interests in Halifax and beyond that Samuel Cunard first conceived of the idea of an ‘ocean railway’.  Although his early business success with S. Cunard & Company was entirely attributable to vessels of sail, Cunard had a strong conviction that the future of commerce … certainly ocean commerce … lay in steam. He became convinced that steamships, properly built and manned might start and arrive at their destination with the same punctuality as railway trains on land. Little would he know of just how prophetic his vision for an ‘ocean railway’ spanning the North Atlantic would become.

One of the best examples of just how successful Sam’s dream of regularly scheduled transatlantic travel became in practice was underscored in the memoirs of a former Commodore of Cunard Line. Sir Arthur Rostron, while captain of the incomparable Mauretania logged three consecutive crossings of the North Atlantic … the harshest ocean in the world … in which the recorded crossing times varied by no more than ten minutes! Now that is punctuality!

Samuel Cunard’s dream for an ‘Atlantic Ferry’…an ‘Ocean Railway’ came to fruition in 1840 when on July 17, 1840, his first regular mail steamship … and first flagship …  RMS Britannia arrived here in Halifax on her maiden voyage from Liverpool, England with Samuel Cunard aboard, thus inaugurating Cunard Line.

The rest they say is history. And indeed it is. The history of this company, founded by this ‘Haligonian’ … this ‘man from Halifax’, in fact reflects the evolution of the ocean liner from 1840 to the present day. The Queen Elizabeth is the newest of Cunard line’s fleet of three ships … now the youngest fleet in the world … and part of a renaissance which will carry the Cunard name well into the 21st century.

This then is the legacy of the man whose memory and accomplishments we celebrate today in this re-dedication ceremony. Cunard made every day count … giving new meaning to the family motto ‘by perseverance’ …  a life well lived, one to be revered and remembered. And so we do – today and forever.


And now it is my honour and pleasure to introduce you to the master of the newest ship to carry the Cunard name. Captain Christopher Wells is a veteran Cunarder who today, as master of the Queen Elizabeth, carries the mantle of Cunard’s great history and heritage to the far corners of the world.

Captain Wells … to you, your fine new vessel, the ship’s company – and your passengers – many of whom may be unaware of the historical significance of this day … welcome to Samuel Cunard’s hometown – HALIFAX – the ‘ancestral home’ of Cunard Line.