On Saturday, October 17, Cobourg will commemorate Fern Blodgett Sunde, the first woman wireless radio operator to go deep sea. Dignitaries and guests will unveil Fern’s bronze statue in the east end of Victoria Park– honouring her service and sacrifice during the Battle of the Atlantic and the Second World War.
The community is invited to watch the ceremony live on Cobourg Media. “Fern Blodgett Sunde, The First Woman Wireless Radio Operator At Sea” Special Presentation, will begin at 1:15 p.m. ET on Saturday, October 17. The Cobourg Media pre-show will be followed by the ceremony at 1:30 p.m. ET. The live stream will be available via Facebook and YouTube or by accessing the links at cobourgmedia.ca/fernblodgettsunde.
The statue unveiling ceremony will include remarks from H.Col. Helen Vari, Honorary Chair of the Fern Blodgett Sunde Commemorative Statue Committee, Mr. Jon Elvedal Fredriksen, Ambassador of Norway to Canada, Rear Admiral Jennifer Bennett, Major-General Guy Chapdelaine, Canadian Armed Forces Chaplain, Naval Commander Stephanie Belanger and Naval Historian Dr. Richard Gimblett among other local guests and committee members.
“We are so excited to be able to recognize the courage and determination of Fern Blodgett Sunde,” said Leona Woods, Chair of the Fern Blodgett Sunde Commemorative Statue Committee. “We are grateful to our donors who made this statue possible and encourage everyone to visit her in Cobourg, on the shores of the lake that she loved. The ceremony gives pride of place to our nation, to our military and to our ally Norway.”
Fern Blodgett was born on July 6, 1918, and grew up in Cobourg, Ontario. She often would admire the ships and Great Lake steamers that passed by the shores of Lake Ontario. Fern dreamt of a career at sea although knowing that naval adventures were reserved for boys.
During the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Wireless Radio Operators or “Sparks” were urgently needed to send and decode messages onboard Allied merchant vessels. Fern went on to study nursing and commerce in Toronto but knew she wanted to work at sea. Two radio schools turned her down, but Fern persisted and became the first Canadian woman to earn a Second Class Wireless Operator’s certificate.
On June 13, 1941, Fern graduated and answered an urgent call that would forever change her life. Gerner Sunde, a Norwegian Captain of the M/S Mosdale desperately needed a radio operator in order to disembark from a Montreal port. Captain Sunde was shocked to see that his applicant was a woman. Neither Canada nor Britain permitted women to work aboard ships at sea. Luckily, Norway had no rule against it and Fern stepped into the role.
Despite seasickness and the Battle of the Atlantic’s grim events, Fern stayed at her post, carrying out her duties bravely during 78 Atlantic crossings from Canada to Britain. The Norwegian M/S Mosdale would make 96 transatlantic voyages– more than any other Allied ship.
The Battle of the Atlantic (1939-1945) was a torturous power struggle between the Allied and Axis powers. The ocean battlefield held all kinds of danger, including German U-boats, enemy aircraft, harsh storms, and at risk of hitting floating mines in uncharted waters. During the Battle of the Atlantic, 3500 Allied vessels sank, and 40,000 seamen died.
A year after joining the Mosdale’s crew, Fern married Captain Sunde and had two children after the war. Their wartime efforts were recognized in July 1943, when King Haakon of Norway presented them both with the Norwegian War Medal. Fern Blodgett Sunde, the Canadian “Sparks,” was the first woman to receive that honour. Fern was a trailblazer for her time and opened the door for many other women to join her in the radio operator’s room.
The Fern Blodgett Sunde monument was created by Tyler Fauvelle, a Canadian professional sculptor. The life-sized cast bronze statue represents Fern’s life at sea and symbolizes her determination and resiliency at war. The statue also recognizes the courage of all veterans who served in the Battle of the Atlantic.
This October marks the 75th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the Battle of the Atlantic and Women’s History Month in Canada. The commemorative events will remember her bravery and her service while inspiring future generations to make waves just like Fern.
For more information on the Fern Blodgett Sunde commemoration and live broadcast, visit cobourgmedia.ca/fernblodgettsunde.
Cobourg Media is proudly a Silver Donor in support of the Fern Blodgett Sunde Commemorations.