In a 2005 interview at Keith Hall, the late Bruce Oland told me why his father commissioned the building of Bluenose II.
“In those days, and I don’t want to mention names, the Upper Canadian breweries were all down here and people were all interested in Upper Canadian beer. And they were allowed to advertise down here, but we weren’t allowed to advertise up there.”
In retaliation, the Oland’s Halifax brewery fired a glorious shot across the Upper Canadian’s bow—a shot that still reverberates today.
“When we built the Bluenose we had far more advertising than the Upper Canadians could ever have, because everybody was interested in the Bluenose – like the ten cent piece,” gloated Mr. Oland.
No time was wasted in promoting beer with Bluenose II. The 1960’s magazines and newspapers were soon filled with beer ads featuring the schooner.
A scheme to deliver beer with the vessel was planned but ultimately abandoned. Instead, the schooner became a major tourist attraction in Halifax Harbour.
Then a script for a television commercial called for the Oland’s brewmaster to appear on the deck of Bluenose II.
That brewmaster was my grandfather, Alan “Bim” Coolen, who met Bruce Oland and his brother Victor during World War Two.
“We were in the army together. Bim was in the heavy ack-ack (anti-aircraft artillery) and that’s where he went deaf,” explained Bruce Oland.
The Olands hired my grandfather in 1945 after he famously told Victor Oland that his beer wasn’t as good as it used to be.
Bruce Oland told me his family had some concerns about their new employee. “We were very worried because he couldn’t hear. When you are working in a brewery you’ve got machinery and lift trucks and this and that and the other thing.” But then he added, “All the time he was with us it wasn’t a problem.”
Bim Coolen served an apprenticeship at the Agricola Street brewery then attended the United States Brewers’ Academy. After two years running the Red Ball brewery in Saint John, he was appointed brewmaster of the Halifax brewery.
In the 1960s, he was asked to appear in the Bluenose II commercial. But there was a problem.
“Dad was told that he didn’t look enough like the public’s idea of a brewmaster,” said his daughter Pat Coolen-Mulatz.
Consequently, the director hired an actor to play the role of brewmaster. Sporting a handlebar mustache, this fellow looked suspiciously similar to another 1960’s seafaring pitchman—cereal mascot, Cap’n Crunch.
The fake brewmaster appeared in at least one commercial filmed aboard the gleaming new Bluenose II.
The ad was widely viewed in the Maritimes. It also aired in Boston when Schooner lager and Schooner ale were introduced to the New England market. Unfortunately, no copies of the commercial are known to survive.
Coolen-Mulatz doesn’t recall much about the advertisement. “Just the mustachioed gentleman at the big wheel, and maybe Captain Angus Walters was in there too?”
But even now, more than half a century later, there is one thing she remembers about the commercial. “I always resented that it wasn’t dad in the ad.”
For more Bluenose II details, read What’s Brewing: Oland 1867-1971 by G. Brenton Haliburton