The grand spoof
In 1949, Russell Moore Arundel bought a three-acre island off the coast of southwest Nova Scotia called Outer Bald Island. Nothing unusual about this.
However, when he later proceeded to create his own nation — The Principality of Outer Baldonia — things got interesting.
First, a little background.
Outer Bald Island is part of the Tusket Islands. As the crow flies, this archipelago stretches about 32 kilometres from Robert’s Island off Yarmouth to Seal Island off Shag Harbour.
Local lore says there are 365 islands, one for every day of the year. That’s a tad exaggerated, but most agree that including islets and significant ledges, there are over 200 islands, each with a distinct personality.
The islands have names like Turpentine, Pease, Pumpkin, Murder Island and the Balds — Half Bald, Middle Bald, Mossy Bald, Inner Bald and Outer Bald Island.
International Tuna Cup Match unfolds
In 1935, big-game angler Michel Lerner hired a captain from Wedgeport and headed to the Tusket Islands where he landed three bluefin tuna near Outer Bald.
It didn’t take long for word to spread throughout the angling world.
Two years later, the International Tuna Cup Match was organized and would go on to attract participants from more than 25 countries annually, until 1976. An intercollegiate tournament was also established.
The lure of the mighty tuna hooked the imagination of many, including the likes of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, hockey legend Jean Béliveau, aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, and one of Al Capone’s gangsters, Tony (Big Tuna) Accardo.
Lawyer Russell Moore Arundel also visited Wedgeport and fished for tuna in the late 1940s. The president of the Long Island Pepsi-Cola Co. (and Washington lobbyist for Pepsi) loved the challenge and rewards of reeling in a tuna. When he learned that Outer Bald Island — smack in the middle of these rich fishing grounds — could be bought for $750, it didn’t take long for him to fish into his pockets and come up with the money.
Birth of a mighty micro-nation
In 1950, Arundel had a stone house constructed so tuna anglers could rest there if caught in foul weather, or if feeling poorly from “mal de mer.”
In 1953, Esquire Magazine published an article titled Mirth of a Nation, which quoted Arundel as saying, “Back in Washington, the deed in my pocket and a drink in my hand, the Principality of Outer Baldonia began to take shape.”
The self appointed “Prince” of the Principality came up with this manifesto:
Let these facts be submitted to a candid world:
That fishermen are a race alone. That fishermen are endowed with the following inalienable rights: the right to lie and be believed. The right of freedom from question, nagging, shaving, interruption, women, taxes, politics, war, monologues, cant and inhibitions. The right to applause, vanity, flattery, praise, and self-inflation. The right to swear, lie, drink, gamble, and silence. The right to be noisy, boisterous, quiet, pensive, expansive, and hilarious. The right to choose company and the right to be alone. The right to sleep all day and stay up all night.
Know ye! That these rights, being inalienable and self-evident and contrary to social customs of the world, make fishermen a race separate and apart from all other races;
Now therefore, we bond ourselves into a new nation, forever independent of all other nations, and to establish on the lands and waters of Outer Bald Island a new government which shall be forever respected and recognized as the Principality of Outer Baldonia.
After establishing this micro-nation, “Prince Arundel” wrote official letters to map makers and the National Geographic Society, stating that they should include the Principality of Outer Baldonia in future maps of North America.
Outer Baldonia was also listed as a tenant in the World Centre Building in Washington and in the Chesapeake & Potomac telephone book.
Grand scheme escalates
Local resident and researcher Donnie Jacquard, author of Lobstering Southwest Nova Scotia 1848-2009, has always been interested in this story. Jacquard says, “In Washington, Arundel made his fishing companions Knights of the Order of Blue Fin and Hereditary Princes of the Realm. All Wedgeport tuna guides were considered eight-star admirals of the Principality, and part of the Outer Baldonian Navy.”
The flagpole on Outer Bald flew the Royal Banner — a bluefin tuna in a white circular crest in a sea-green field. “There also existed a wooden ‘tunar’ considered to be the most valuable currency in the world,” says Jacquard, “since it would never be used to pay taxes.”
Eventually, this zany tale started showing up in newspapers across Canada, the U.S., and further abroad. It was picked up by the German trade journal Industriekurier and from there it seems that the story found its way to Russia.
Jacquard adds, “On October 25, 1952 L. Chernaya, in a letter written to the Literaturnaya Gazeta in Moscow, denounced the imperialist ‘Fuhrer of Baldonia’ as committing the highest degree of savagery by destroying all ethical and moral laws.”
Prince Arundel started a formal protest with the U.S.S.R., defending the rights of Outer Baldonia. He also let it be known that he was in alliance with the powerful naval forces of the Armdale Yacht Club in Halifax.
Beginning of the end
Eventually, the fabrication was uncovered. The international joke left Washington scratching its head, Russia furious and the locals laughing.
Alas, tuna stocks dwindled in the 1970s, the tuna cup matches came to an end and Arundel stopped visiting the region.
In 1973, the island was sold for $1 to the Nova Scotia Bird Society, through the United States Nature Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
Retired lobster fisherman Louis Boudreau recalls: “I was just 14 years old, but I remember putting big beach rocks into a burlap bag, slinging them over my shoulder, and carrying them up the steep bank to the site where the house was being built on Outer Bald. There was a cement mixer on the island and, somehow, the men got sand from the beach to mix the mortar to build the house.”
The biggest tuna ever landed in the tuna matches — 991 pounds — was caught by Hugh Gransaull on Boudreau’s boat in 1971. “I’ll never forget it. It took four hours and 15 minutes to reel it in,” he says with a grin.
Boudreau and lots of the oldtimers continue to recount tales over a cup of coffee around a long table at the Wedgeport Tuna Museum almost every day of the week, starting at 6 a.m. Visitors are welcome. And you’ll also hear about the “new” Wedgeport Tuna Tournament that was reinstated in 2004. The tales continue.