William James Roué has been widely recognized as Canada’s first naval architect and is still appreciated as one of the best ever. His masterpiece, the legendary schooner Bluenose, has been globally recognized since 1921 as a symbol of excellence – hailed as a perfect blend of art and engineering.
Roué was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1879. As a young school boy, he was more interested in drawing yachts than paying attention to his teachers. As a teenager, when he was still too young to become a member of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, he spent hours on the water studying every nuance, every secret the boats and the water could teach him until he could handle a tiller “like a fine violinist handled his bow.”
When he was 17 he got into a dispute with his school teacher over the pronunciation of a nautical term. He never went back, deciding to turn his focus to learning what he needed to know in order to pursue his dream of becoming a naval architect.
And so he enrolled in night classes in Halifax’s Victoria School of Art & Design to learn the skills of mechanical drafting. Now 18 he worked as a junior clerk at a wholesale grocery company and from his annual salary of $100 spent his first $10 on a junior membership at the Squadron and another $16 to replace the Dixon-Kemp design manuals at the Squadron he had worn to shreds as he taught himself the science of naval architecture.
His talent was recognized almost immediately but it would take years of perseverance before he actually made a living doing what he loved to do – designing boats.