On July 23 2018, Leona Woods made a presentation to Cobourg Council about a proposed statue of Fern Blodgett Sunde. Her project has been successful and on Monday there was a groundbreaking ceremony. Fern Blodgett was the first Canadian female wireless radio operator and the first to serve at sea. She served on the Norwegian merchant ship the Mosdale because the Canadian and British navies did not hire women radio operators. Fern made 78 successful crossings of the Atlantic before the war ended. Although she did not live all her life in Cobourg, she spent 20 formative years here – from infancy onwards. For years, she watched the ships from the shore of Lake Ontario at Cobourg, dreaming of becoming a sailor, even though she knew that only boys could crew ships at sea.
As well as serving during a war and at sea, I have to add some notes on her skills. In those days, a radio operator had to be proficient in Morse code at 20 words per minute. Not everyone is able to master that skill. Plus she had to be able to maintain the radio gear – that means she had to be technically competent and make repairs at sea. Fern Blodgett graduated June 13, 1941 and joined the Mosdale shortly after.
Then in 1942, after the Mosdale’s sister ship was sunk off the coast of Ireland and her chances of surviving the war appeared to be slim, Fern married the captain of the Mosdale, Gerner Sunde – hence the full name Fern Blodgett Sunde. In July 1943, Fern was awarded the Norwegian War Medal by the King of Norway, the first Canadian and first female to be so honoured, recognized for her courage and contribution to the allied war effort. The Mosdale survived the war, and Fern lived to be 73.
The statue will be located in the garden at the East End of Victoria Park, clearly visible from both the beach and visitors to that section of the Park.
Original costs estimates were as high as $160,000 but organizers were hopeful for a $50,000 grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage. This did not happen but an application to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for $25,000 was successful so the sculptor (Tyler Fauvelle) modified the design to reduce the cost to bring the total to approx. $90,000. This covers everything that needs to be paid for (sculpture, plaques, etc). Fundraising has been successful – bringing in a total of $85,000 so far.
Although the Town was asked for (and is providing) an in-kind donation, in the end they simply said that any costs would be part of the regular Parks budget. The base will be provided by Delren, a local contractor, and Delren President Matt James was at the groundbreaking staking out the location – see video below.
Present at the ceremony were the Town Parks Manager Jason Johns (who helped identify the location and made it available), the organizing committee led by Leona Woods and Peter Delanty (photo above), several of the donors, one local Blodgett relative, members of the public but no Councillors.
One of the supporters of the project is the Sifton-Cook Museum (represented by Stanley Isherwood). They host a web page that accepts donations and provides more information – go here.
Fern’s story is remarkable – I highly recommend you download at least one of the links below for details.
The unveiling of the statue itself will be October 17, 2020 and will be live streamed for the benefit of those who cannot attend because of limits to large gatherings. This would include some who made donations as well as Fern’s daughters and grandchildren in Norway. The date has been chosen because it’s the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII.
The major donors for this project to date include the Department of Veterans Affairs $25,000
- Gold: W. Garfield Weston Foundation, June Mackenzie, Leona Woods,
- Silver: Dalglish Family Foundation, Dunkley Charitable Foundation, J.P. Bickell Foundation, Dalren Construction, Graham Beer
- Bronze: Naval Association of Canada, Cobourg and District Historical Society, Town of Cobourg (in kind), Maurice Rollins, Jennifer Darrell, Laura Ebbrell, Lynn Hardy, Virginia McLaughlin, Kym Read, Catriona Wood.
- Friends of Fern who have also made donations include Northumberland residents, people from Ontario and several other provinces including some of the Sparks inspired by Fern, and several Americans inspired by the project.
- Presentation to Council 26 November 2019 – Power Point presentation, pdf format.
- Sifton-Cook special page – Includes donation facility
- Statue of Wartime Female Sparks Planned – 24 July 2018 – Cobourg Blog Article; includes photo of original model of statue. The full size statue will not include the waves at the base.
- Presentation to Council – 24 July 2018 – Text of request to Council
- The Fern Blodgett Story – one page pdf