Fern Blodgett Sunde Unveiling Redux Will be a More Public Celebration

In City Hall, Upcoming Events

By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
COVID-19 limited the scope of the unveiling ceremony for the statue of Fern Blodgett Sunde on Oct. 17, 2020.

On April 2, a sort of re-do is planned, as members of Blodgett’s family travel all the way from Norway for a celebration of the Cobourg girl who achieved her dreams at a time when being a woman might otherwise have prevented them – and who incidentally also did her bit to secure the Allied victory in World War II.

At Monday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting of council, Leona Woods extended an invitation to members of Cobourg council (and to the community at large) to be there to pay their own respects.

Woods recalled a girl who lived in Cobourg from the ages of six months to 22 years, but her dreams took shape when she was young – when she walked down to the lake from her home at 299 George St. to watch the freighters sail past and dream of becoming a sailor. After her years at Cobourg Collegiate, the start of the war spurred her to apply two schools for training to become a wireless radio operator. She was rejected because she was a woman, though the third school she approached accepted her.

Upon graduation, she tried to join the Canadian and British navies but, again, was rejected because she was a woman. The Norwegian admiralty had no official position on the matter, so she began her service on the Norwegian Merchant Ship the Mosdale.

Taking her post in a room where she did not even know the language of the signs on the wall, Sunde made 78 transatlantic crossing during the Battle of the Atlantic, braving loneliness, sea sickness and the dangers of U-boats, air strikes, mines and storms – the only woman on a ship with a crew of 36.

She married the ship’s captain, Gerner Sunde, in 1942. The following year, the King of Norway awarded her the Norwegian War Medal in recognition of her courage and service – the first woman to be accorded this honour.

Woods described how a small group of citizens, in partnership with the Cobourg Museum Foundation, undertook the project, fundraising between February 2019 and September 2020 to cover the cost of the statue (by Ontario sculptor Tyler Fauvelle), the installation, the unveiling cermeony and educational materials. They made the best of the unveiling the following month, even though it had to be on a limited scale. The Coast Guard put a ship offshore for the occasion, whose guests of honour included Fauvelle, the Norwegian ambassador, members of the military and some of Sunde’s descendants (her last immediate relative, a sister in Baltimore, died in 2018).

The statue now stands at the far east corner of Victoria Park in the rock garden overlooking the lake.

On April 2, Sunde’s daughter, granddaughter and great-grandchild are coming from Norway for the event, “to see the statue and thank the Cobourg citizens and Canada for honouring their relative.”

Skeena cadets will have their ham radio to broadcast signals across the miles, and the Concert Band of Cobourg is expected for the 1:30 p.m. ceremony.

Cecilia Nasmith
Author: Cecilia Nasmith

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