Whimsical history lesson

Lunchbox’s odd tale of another separatist movement

There is an oft-repeated maxim that truth is stranger than fiction — and that’s what Calgary playwright A.J. Demers discovered for himself when he wrote The Whimsy State or the Principality of Outer Baldonia .

Consider this: in 1948 three men — two Canadians and one American — buy Outer Bald Tusk Island just off the coast of Halifax. They declare independence from Canada and — as they all want to experience the royal life — establish The Principality of Outer Baldonia.

They concoct their own Charter of Rights which includes the right to “lie and be believed” and the right to be free from shaving bathing nagging and women.

They mint silver coins and print their own money attend international diplomatic functions garbed in regal gear featuring sardine-can epaulets and they’re asked to join the United Nations.

They even declare war on the USSR supported by a fleet of pleasure crafts from a local yacht club.

Though it sounds like one of the tallest tales ever invented it’s all true.

“When I first came across the story I couldn’t believe this happened that it was a Canadian story and that no one knew about it” says Demers.

“The Principality is considered the most evolved micro-nation in history” he adds explaining that another term for micro-nation is “whimsy state.” “They’re these small states that are set up on a lark and really don’t amount to a lot.”

Demers’ play recounts the story of The Principality of Outer Baldonia and the three men who spearheaded it: Russell Arundel (Graham Percy) Elson Boudreau (David LeReaney) and Ron Wallace (Sheldon Davis). Karen Johnson-Diamond rounds out the cast as Arundel’s secretary (and Baldonian princess) Florence McGinnis.

Arundel — a Washington-based lobbyist for the Pepsi-Cola Company — fronts the cash for the project paying $750 for the island. He lists his D.C. office as the embassy for the Principality of Outer Baldonia opening the door for the Principality to be invited to diplomatic functions.

While Boudreau was a fisherman who supplied the boat that they used to travel to the principality Demers says Wallace’s involvement is one of the “grey” areas in the story — some sources name him as one of the founders but others don’t.

The playwright says the dates marking the Principality’s lifespan are also up for debate — he sets its founding in 1948 and its demise in 1952 but explains that some reports suggest the Principality lasted until 1957.

“I think it was pretty much just a drunken night they bought an island set up a little fishing retreat and decided they should be their own nation. It was a bit of fun and Russell Arundel who seems to be quite the prankster just took it one step further” says Demers.

The international press may have been duped but Demers says Canadian reporters knew the real story.

“The Canadian press was sort of watching it doing news reports from Baldonia and having a good time with the whole story. The international community they had the wool pulled over their eyes” he says adding that the Baldonian epic could never happen now.

“You could not pull this prank today. I love the fact that at the time the way communications were and the way information moved around that this was something people believed.”

Demers says one of the reasons the international community did not realize the joke was because the world was in a state of semi-chaos following the Second World War. New states were being formed the League of Nations had just dissolved and the United Nations was in its earliest days.

“People had no idea who was who or who to take seriously. They just had to take everyone seriously because they assumed these were all actual nations that were showing up” says Demers.

The myth Arundel Boudreau and Wallace created started to fall apart when the Principality decided to declare war on the USSR and The Moscow Literary Gazette obtained the Baldonian Charter of Rights and used it as propaganda in the paper.

“The entire press stood up and went ‘Who just declared war on the USSR?’ and realized it was three fishermen who had been taking them for a bit of a lark and everything started to dissolve after that” says Demers.

Arundel eventually sold Outer Bald Tusket Island to the Nova Scotia Bird Sanctuary for one dollar and later became president of the Pepsi-Cola Company. Boudreau slipped from the history books and Wallace went on to be the longest-serving mayor of Halifax.

Demers says he will help revive the legend of The Principality of Outer Baldonia with a tour to Halifax.

A screenplay is also in the works.