Designer of the Bluenose
July 18, 2012


William Roué, designer of the Bluenose.


When Joan Roué was a little girl starting school, she soon came to realize her last name had caché.

“’Are you related to William Roué?’ people would ask. And that’s when I came to realize maybe my great grandfather was different from my friends’ relatives … no one else would get that reaction.”

William James Roué (1879-1970) is famous as the designer of the Bluenose and Bluenose II schooners, although he designed many other commercial and recreational vessels.

As a young man, he got his start studying mechanical drafting and design at the Victoria School of Art and Design (now NSCAD University). He worked for the family’s pop factory (Roué’s Carbonated Waters) and designed yachts for members of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron in his spare time. It wasn’t until he was in well into his 40s that the success that came with the Bluenose’s wake allowed him to pursue design full-time. 

He was a savvy businessman, soft-spoken and firm. And while he is best known for the Bluenose—“so perfectly designed it doesn’t leave a ripple in the water” —it is not his greatest accomplishment, argues his great granddaughter. He also invented the sectional barge, which was used by the Allies during the Second World War for landing troops and supplies—and famously delivered the troops to the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. In the early 1940s, the contract to build the barges and accompanying tugs was worth an estimated $29 million and put more than 1,000 people to work at five Maritime shipyards.

But the genius designer was not the W.J. Roué that his great granddaughter knew. Joan, who was nine when he passed away at the age of 90, remembers curling up with him as he sat in his rocking chair on the sun porch of his house. With or without a child in his lap, he liked to sit and bask in the sunshine, rubbing the arms of the chair as he rocked.

The rocking chair—the finish is worn smooth on the arms—now has a place of honor in Joan’s living room. She also possesses his drafting table—complete with pinholes and ink stains—tools, half hulls, the sign to his office door and a portfolio of drawings—“absolute works of art,” says Joan.

She wrote a biography of W.J. Roué called A Spirit Deep Within, published in 1995 and reissued in 2003. An author, publicist and marketer in the field of motorsports promotions, Joan would like to next write a coffee table book that would contain some of his blueprints and drawings along with some of the stories she collected since the release of A Spirit Deep Within.

“I see that rocking chair and it takes me right back to those moments I had with him,” she says. “I’m so proud to be his great granddaughter and to talk about him and all he accomplished.”