Nova Scotia is a far away, alabaster land where everybody says it isn't snowing that much as you peel the top layer of crust from your eyelids and hire a bulldozer to resurrect your car from the drifts, and where the man on the radio announces that the weather tomorrow will "taper off" to snow flurries. Water nearly surrounds the Nova Scotia peninsula, and in winter the winds roar and the snows blow in from the frigid north, battering and blanketing the capital city, Halifax, and numbing one's awareness of the significant role the area has played in history.
Halifax was called "The Warden of the Honour of the North" in the 1890s by Rudyard Kipling, in tribute to its military guardianship of the continent. The city has been involved in nearly every major war of the last 200 years and, though Kipling missed a couple of battles and Halifax has passed up one conflict, the oversight in no way diminishes the historical standing of the community. Halifax was the first English-speaking city in Canada, had the first Protestant church in the provinces and the first dissenting church, led by Cotton Mather, the first printing press, the first dockyard, the first skating rink and the first free school system.
And it was here last week that a visitor, peering out the windshield through a blizzard along a lonely highway, heard a broadcast of the Canadian-Russian hockey game on every station of the car radio save one. That dissenter, scorning tradition, had Johnny Cash and The Carter Family direct from Nashville doing Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?
After the new year's first snowstorm in Halifax last week, the rains came, then the snows again and then calm. This was fortunate, for it permitted all the planes to land and the trains to arrive and the cars and buses, too, so everyone could see the Bluenose Classic, tournament basketball's last fearless stand of the holiday season. The first thing to know about the Bluenose Classic is that, though Nova Scotian faces do appear to take on a sapphire tinge as the cold sea breezes gather momentum, the name of the tournament does not derive from the color of the citizens' wintertime noses. Instead, it takes its title from Canada's most famous sailing vessel, the Bluenose, Angus Walters, captain, which came out of Lunenburg, N.S. in 1921 and, in the words of its press agent, "carved an unprecedented niche in the maritime lore of the nation." The Bluenose was a racing schooner of imposing size and beauty which, with Captain Walters at the helm, commanded the seas for 18 years, never losing a race for the International Fishermen's Trophy. A likeness of the Bluenose is on the Canadian 10¢ piece and on the country's 50¢ postage stamp, so it was practically an act of treason when she was sold to traders and had to end her days as a lowly freighter among the islands of the West Indies.
The Bluenose lives on, however, in the name of the basketball tournament, which, though lacking in skills and stature, is filled with excitement and surprises when four teams come by dogsled and snowshoes to play at St. Patrick's gymnasium in midtown Halifax. St. Patrick's answers the question "Where did all the half-moon backboards go?" and this is just one of the problems that tournament directors are trying to solve for the future.
The Bluenose was started in 1959 by Claude MacLachlan, a 6'4" Canadian, and Stu Aberdeen, a 5'6" American, who met at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S. Both were addicted to basketball, and one day they decided to invite two Canadian teams and two American teams to a tournament. They came up one team short the first time but have filled the field every year since, luring such schools as Vermont, New Hampshire, Williams and Brandeis to play against local teams.
Aberdeen left his coaching job at Acadia two years ago and is now an assistant at Tennessee, but MacLachlan still runs the show. Claude played "centre" for Acadia during the mid-1950s and was a member of a Canadian AAU team until last season.
MacLachlan not only loves basketball, but also hates hockey, which helps strengthen his desire to make the Blue-nose a success even if it hardly endears him to fellow Canadians. "I get quite hyper when people tell me how great hockey is," he says. "Hockey requires very little thought and intelligence. You can't bring those hockey people with their fifth-grade educations to a basketball game and expect them to understand it. It is too deep and complicated."
The snow and the half-moons aside, running the Bluenose can be a harrowing job. Rothmans Cigarettes wanted to send over one of their little honeys to play cigarette girl at the tournament but MacLachlan pointed out that the school board doesn't allow smoking in the gym. Then the Bluenose programs came back from the printers with a page upside down and had to be returned for another try. MacLachlan and the other directors thought they had everything working well until the tape-recorder boys, snipping away at the music to eliminate a long silence between the U.S. national anthem and O Canada, chopped out the tournament theme song entirely. The theme song is entitled The Bluenose Is Sailing Once Again.
MacLachlan has yet to manage what he feels would be his biggest coup. He would love to hold the Bluenose press reception belowdecks of the Bluenose II, a replica of the original ship that was built in 1963 by Oland's Brewery. Unfortunately, the Bluenose II is never around at tournament time. Businesses and pleasure groups charter the ship at $3,000 a week for cruises and treasure hunts to such distant locales as Cocos Island in the Pacific. Last week Bluenose II was sailing off the shores of Antigua, 1,600 miles away from Halifax, as the tape recorder blasted out a hacked-up version of the theme song in St. Patrick's gym.
This year's tournament featured two home-town teams, Dalhousie and St. Mary's of the Maritime Intercollegiate Conference, McGill from Montreal and Harvard from the United States. Canadian basketball often is agonizing to watch. But, though McGill and St. Mary's were inept at times, the Tigers of Dalhousie gave a good account of themselves. Harvard, a weak Ivy team, won the championship but had a hard time getting by Dalhousie in the opening game. Unlike St. Mary's, which has four starters from New Jersey, the Dais are all Canadian and are a well-disciplined team which gets excellent coaching from Al Yarr. Two of Dalhousie's big men were killed in an automobile accident last month, but the Canadian team, scoring with one-hand push shots, stayed with Harvard until the last few minutes before losing 83-75. In the final Harvard played better, crushing a no-defense St. Mary's team 92-65.
Dalhousie and St. Mary's took their defeats with equanimity, matching the composure of the crowd, which, throughout the tournament, seemed uninformed and confused. There were extended stretches of silence, only the echo of the bouncing ball reverberating eerily off the walls. One would have thought the seats were filled with Newfoundlanders, those isolated islanders whose alleged ignorance is exaggerated by all of their Maritime neighbors.
"The Newfoundlanders are way, way up there and so much out of it," said one man from Halifax. "Why, just the other day a man from Newfoundland was asked to go ice fishing. He said yes, and so he came back with 150 pounds of ice."