“The Story of the I’m Alone” is an animated short created on Prince Edward Island. The short retells the story of the I’m Alone, a Canadian schooner built in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, in the 1920s and used in the illicit trade of contraband (rum-running) during Prohibition. The animated short plays to the song “The Story of the I’m Alone” by iconic Canadian folksinger Wade Hemsworth, who created some of the most classic Canadian folk songs such as “The Blackfly Song” ( ) and “The Log Driver’s Waltz.” ( ) Both of these songs were also produced as animations by the National Film Board; “The Blackfly Song” was nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the 64th Academy Awards in 1992. “The Story of the I’m Alone” animation is produced by Penumbra Press, publisher of The Songs of Wade Hemsworth, Ed. Hugh Verrier (1990), and includes Wade Hemsworth’s original song with back-up vocals by Anna McGarrigle and The Mountain City Four, recorded in 1969 by Peter Weldon in Montreal.
The “hero” of our story is Jack Randell, a wild Newfoundlander and veteran of World War 1 (and recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross and the French Croix de Guerre), Captain of the I’m Alone; his antithesis is Alfred Powell, also a decorated veteran of WW1, Captain of the Dexter. In just over seven minutes, the song and video illustrate how the Dexter, an American Coast Guard cutter, attacked and sank the I’m Alone in the Gulf of Mexico outside of treaty waters in March 1929, sparking an international crisis that took six years to resolve. In the end, the US was required to issue a formal apology to Canada and pay Canada $25,000 for insult and loss of property in addition to $25,000 to Captain Randell and his crew. Since 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of Prohibition in the United States, the video is a subtle nod to the “unspoken war” between Canada and the United States during this time.
The original storyboard for the animation was created by award-winning cartoonist Peter Whalley, who illustrated for Maclean’s and the Weekend Magazine in the 1950s and 1960s and is in the Canadian Cartoonist Hall of Fame. For this project, Whalley’s storyboard has been rendered into a digital animated short by Allison Wolvers of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, recreating all of the artwork and animating it to breathe life into the idea that was never fully realized. The video is now ready to take its place alongside its predecessors and thereby complete the trio of Canadian classic animated shorts.
“The Story of the I’m Alone” chronicles those events from 100 years ago. Rum-running between Atlantic Canada and the United States is a significant part of our shared history and spreading stories in what Edith Fowke calls Wade Hemsworth’s “folk idiom” through the medium of animation will help to bring these tales to the rest of the world. As Pete Seeger has said Wade Hemsworth … “The humour and wisdom of Wade’s songs are unbeatable.”