Launched in 1945, the schooner Norma & Gladys illustrates the best qualities of Newfoundland and Labrador’s industries of shipbuilding, the Labrador fishery, the Grand Banks fishery, and coasting freight to remote seaside towns. Her story also illustrates the worst examples of the province’s favourite bloodsport: partisan politics.
In 1973, she was purchased by the provincial government and refitted as a floating maritime museum; her political legacy soon included innumerable blunders and cover-ups, mutiny, a stowaway, and perhaps the ghost of a sealing captain.
In 1975, Canada’s External Affairs appointed Norma & Gladys as a roving ambassador to promote fisheries management within a 200-mile coastal limit. But she was unseaworthy; Clarenville Shipyard had installed the wrong masts, and her itinerary to sail around the world was scrapped. After a frontal assault by the media and political partisans, she nevertheless promoted the province to 78,900 visitors in nineteen European ports. She returned with her reputation restored, her signal flags flapping like a hundred gypsy scarves on the breeze.
“On Friday, January 16, 1976, at nine o’clock in the evening, Liliana Wagner stowed away under the canvas of one of the port dories.”
“Eight pumps could not keep her afloat. Norma & Gladys had sprung a perfect leak.”
Of her coasting years: “You’d know when Norma & Gladys was in port. Every man would be dodging up the road with a bologna on his back.” Alan Hillier
On the world tour: “I was in Captain Jack’s bad books. . . . I had to put in the pigs. It was the worst day of my life.” Charlie Parsons
“In the face of critics and storms, Norma & Gladys does represent something romantic, something glamorous, and it’s been a job well done.” Premier Frank Moores, August, 1976