The Town of Lunenburg has sold the historic home of Angus Walters, the skipper of the Bluenose, to a couple without consulting the Walters family.
The property was donated to the town in 2000 to be turned into a museum.
The iconic Bluenose racing and fishing schooner, built in Lunenburg in 1921, was captained by Angus Walters for most of its racing career. The ship has become a symbol of Nova Scotian identity.
Margaret Smith, Angus Walters’ granddaughter, hasn’t been inside the property for years.
“I remember when my grandfather lived here. And me and my brother James used to come here all the time,” she said in an interview. “A lot of memories here, that’s for sure.”
The house is a registered heritage property, and for decades it remained in the Walters family. The town sold the house to Colin Whitcomb and Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb on March 22, 2021 for $265,500.
However, Smith and her siblings said they were not consulted.
The many lives of the Angus Walters house
Bernard (Spike) Walters gained possession of the property in 1969, a year after the death of his father, Angus. Bernard Walters lived there until 2000 when he donated the property to the Town of Lunenburg.
The affidavit to the deed reads, “That the town acquired the property by gift from me for the purposes of a Museum (in honour of my late father Captain Angus Walters) but the property is not subject to a trust in relation thereto.”
The property did function as a museum for a year or two after the donation, according to Stephen Ernst, town councillor and Heritage Advisory Committee Chair. He remembers it well because he worked there himself. But problems arose with the museum’s operations.
“It came down to the location of it,” Ernst said. “It’s on the opposite side of the harbour from the main town and it just didn’t draw the people that we were hoping for, despite efforts by the other museums in town and the town itself to try and attract people there.”
The museum shut down and most of the collection was moved to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic in Lunenburg. The property was used commercially by the Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation until recently.
A surplus asset
Lunenburg’s Comprehensive Community Plan released in September 2020 assessed several municipal buildings, including the Angus Walters house. The report discusses the property as being one of “high value to the community, for their heritage significance,” and suggests it could be used as a museum, visitors centre, community building or that it could be sold.
During a series of in-camera meetings, the town decided to sell the property. In a recent interview, the town’s mayor Matt Risser said the property was deemed a surplus asset.
“A lot of these old buildings just are costing more money than they have the capacity to generate,” Risser said. “The Angus Walters house was one.”
According to Ernst, the decision to sell the property was made by the members of the previous council. The council he sits on was responsible for carrying out the sale. He said when he began working as a councillor, he was told that the city had given the Walters family first right of refusal for the property.
Bernard Walter’s family deny that they were ever consulted about the sale. Asked for proof of consultation, Risser confirmed that the family “was not consulted or offered first right of refusal on the property, which we wouldn’t do on a surplus asset.”
‘They should give it back to the family’
Bernard Walter’s closest living relatives are his niece and nephews, Smith, Wayne Walters, and James Walters. Wayne Walters followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and became captain of the Bluenose II, a replica of the original. He didn’t agree with how the town handled the sale of the home.
“When I heard that they were going to do that, then I contacted them and said you know the family gave them the house, they should give it back to the family,” he said in a recent phone interview.
Smith said she was never contacted by the town about the sale of the property.
“Me and my older brother [Wayne] always said that the house should have came back to us because we’re the grandchildren, and we could have had say over the sale of the house,” Smith said.
She said she had a difficult time retrieving family items that were found in the house. The town contacted her and James to go through the items when the town decided to sell. She described communication with the town as a taxing process.
“I would like to go in and get a few more things out. My daughter would like to have some things because it is her great grandfather, but nobody (answers) me back so I have to go through the town council.”
The Whitcombs, the couple who bought the house, say they simply purchased a home from the town.
“We’re very grateful to have it, we’re very honoured to have it, and we’re very proud of it,” MacCallum-Whitcomb said. “But in terms of why the city decided to sell it, we have no idea, all we know is we bought it.”
Smith doesn’t see a path forward for herself and her grandfather’s home.
“It’s all over and done with now and nothing we can do about it.”