The novel, ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho, is for many a modern classic. Combining, as it does, a wonderful array of mystery, wisdom, wonder and magic. Few things amidst the commonplaces of what we term ‘real life’ can be so beautifully wistful or invoke such a sense of appreciation at the idea of life’s joys not being as ephemeral as we can often mistakenly suppose. At the heart of the book is the sentiment expressed within it that, “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting”.
On 13th may 1982 the foundations of a dream were laid when the Maritime Professional Football Club Ltd. were granted a conditional CFL expansion team to begin playing in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia when the 1984 season kicked off. Thus were born the Atlantic Schooners, named following a fan competition. They were to play in silver, ‘maritime blue’, ‘nautical brass’ and white. A brief glance at the historical records of the CFL however will tell you that no such team ever made it to the playing field.
This could have been a run of the mill failed sporting franchise story. Remember that the franchise offer had been conditional. Those conditions included having a financing plan in place for a new stadium by the June of 1983. That was never to materialise, the Maritime Professional Football Club Ltd. withdrew their application for a franchise one day before the deadline hoping that re-application may come at a later date. No re-application has ever been made and it most cases that would have been that.
It is from the ashes of this dream however that the wistful joys of the human condition come to play a part. Businessman John Ryerson will tell you no matter what great claims you make for your CFL team, he has them beaten. His team, the Atlantic Schooners are now unbeaten in 32 years and counting. Not a difficult claim to make you may think, if your team never made the field.
Can you really count the team as existing if they never fully moved through the franchise process and onto the field? Well here we are back to the wistfulness of humanity. The Schooners still have a presence in the CFL, holding annually one of the biggest parties of Grey Cup week. That presence has been around Grey Cup week for the past nine years now, with Ryerson funding lobster-themed food festivals for a team that never was.
The Down East Kitchen Party is something of an annual event now, with funds raised from it going to a food bank whilst Ryerson and his crew stick to their mission statement of Atlantic Canada wanting to be in the CFL. Off the field at least they are, as they say themselves, they may not have a team, but they do, “provide a good off field performance..with our music, food and ambassadorship”.
They may very well be the only professional sports team to be awarded a franchise and never make it to as much as a first game. Yet despite that, due to the sheer humanity of Ryerson and others like him wanting to continue their sense of belonging for their team, in their league this is not a typical story of lost opportunity. Rather it is one of something heartening being borne out of circumstance. Thus their motto – ‘Still Un-Defeated’.
Having started this article quoting literary fiction it seems somehow apposite to end it in the same vein. In Jane Austen’s timeless ‘Pride and Prejudice’ we encounter the thought, “I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” One suspects that Mr Darcy’s attempts to recall the process of falling in love would not be that dissimilar to the feelings of Mr Ryerson and the Atlantic Schooner’s supporters in trying to define when and why they decided to stick with their never playing team.