Theresa E. Connor
Canada’s Oldest Banks Schooner
On December 14th, 1938, a crowd formed on the Lunenburg waterfront. It was launching day, and hundreds of spectators had gathered to witness the unveiling of the latest addition to Nova Scotia's offshore fishing fleet. As the new vessel slid into the harbour, she was christened Theresa E. Connor. The 139-foot knockabout schooner was designed by George Rhuland and was the 181st vessel constructed by the Smith and Rhuland Shipyard, famous for building Bluenose, and later Bluenose II and Bounty. She was commissioned for the Maritime National Fish Company in Halifax, and was named after the wife of the firm's president, H.G. Connor.
Theresa E. Connor was a traditional dory schooner that integrated cutting-edge technology intended for 20th century needs. The wooden vessel was equipped with a diesel engine that allowed for the speed necessary to transport fresh fish to market. She also had a ship-to-shore telephone, a depth finder, a radio, and all the latest in navigational equipment. Nevertheless, she was a dory fisher at heart and in practice. Those who worked aboard her fished in an old-fashioned manner. Teams of two set trawl lines using double dories lowered over the sides of the vessel. Her crews were typically composed of a captain, mate, cook, engineer, flunky, and up to twenty-four fishermen. For weeks at a time she was a home away from home for those who manned her decks. Over the course of 25 years, hundreds of men worked aboard her under the commands of Capt. Clarence Knickle, Capt. Jack Mills, and Capt. Harry Oxner. Many of her crew hailed from small communities that surrounded Lunenburg such as Blue Rocks and Bayport, as well was as from Newfoundland outports including Beaumont, Pool's Cove, and St. Bernard's.
Theresa E. Connor fished for National Fish Co. until 1952 when she was sold to the Lunenburg firm Zwicker and Company Limited. She was built at the crossroads of a changing industry. By the 1960s large steel hulled side trawlers had all but replaced the dory fishery. Given these developments, few workers were willing to risk their lives – nor sacrifice their comforts – to fish from small dories in the open sea while living in the cramped and damp quarters of a wooden schooner. This was starkly evident in the spring of 1963 when Theresa E. Connor was readied for one final voyage to the offshore fishing grounds of the Grand Banks. Her captain at the time, Harry Oxner, was unable to locate enough hands from the local area, despite his best efforts. In an attempt to secure the necessary crew, Captain Oxner set his sails for Newfoundland in hopes of recruiting enough dory fishermen. He found only a handful of men willing to sign on, and as a result the voyage was called off. Theresa E. Connor’s tenure as a banks schooner came to an end. More significantly, the cancelled trip signaled the end of the Lunenburg dory fishery – an industry that had sustained the town for almost a hundred years.
Theresa E. Connor continued to fish for Zwicker and Company in a limited capacity until 1966, though she never returned to dory fishing. Instead, the vessel supported inshore cod traps along the Labrador coast. In the summer of 1967 the Lunenburg Marine Museum Society acquired the vessel, and today she is the flagship of the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic. While Theresa E. Connor was never the fastest schooner or the most successful fisher of her era, at 80 years of age she is Canada’s oldest banks schooner, and among the most intact and authentic vessels of her kind left in existence.