Monday 30 December 2013

Tired of Ice and Snow?

Photograph by Frederick William Wallace, WPA H25, MMA MP400.109.2

Those wearied by this winter's ice and snow might want to look into the eyes of Monty Muise, photographed by Frederick William Wallace aboard the schooner Dorothy G. Snow in March 1916. The schooner was on a fishing voyage from Digby to Browns Bank in what Wallace called "a rough, dirty trip".

Titled "Iced Up", the photograph shows how freezing spray can coat a ship with a thick layer of ice. This can make a ship dangerously top-heavy, so the ice has to be smashed off with wooden mallets.

In his book, A Camera on the Banks: Frederick William Wallace and the Fishermen of Nova Scotia, the historian Brook Taylor recounts a grueling winter survival story about Monty Muise.  On a previous voyage, Muise became separated from his schooner in a thick snow storm. His dory contained no food and only a little water. He had no choice but to row towards the distant coastline, far over the horizon. "It was awful rough at times and I'd have to knock off pullin' and git to bailin' the water out of the dory. It was freezing cold  too, and the dory was icing up, and I'd have to knock the ice off of her." Muise was rescued by a passing three masted schooner on the third day. After some soup and coffee in the galley, Muise noticed that they were passing near Shelburne, so he asked to be put over the side with his dory. He rowed over ten miles up Shelburne Harbour and walked into town to get "fixed up" with friends. He was, in Wallace's words, "as tough in physical fibre as they make 'em".

This photograph is from the Museum's Frederick William Wallace Collection, a remarkable assembly of meticulously documented photographs of schooners and their men made by Wallace as he sailed and worked with them in the early 20th century.

Closer to home, some more remarkable winter images can be seen on the blog of Martin Hubley, the Curator of History at the Nova Scotia Museum.  He has assembled some rare and odd shoots of snowy sidewalks from years past from the NSM History Collection.

Thursday 19 December 2013

A Holiday Message: Using a ship model to teach children a life lesson

MMA, M2004.52.1&2, Gift of Evelyn Campbell, photo by Gerry Lunn
As Registrar, I have the pleasure of collecting and handling all kinds of artifacts: from small to large, fragile to robust, and from inexpensive to one-of-a-kind items.
At this time of the year, it is always fun to go into the museum’s storage rooms, like elves in a toy room, searching for items that convey the holiday spirit to share with the world. This year we have selected some nautical Christmas cards and two ship models with a heart-warming Christmas story.
A couple of these ship models are quite different in comparison to the hundreds of others in our collection.  These are the “Gursky models” which are so unique that, when I was cataloguing them, members of the Ship Model Guild asked me whether we should collect such models for our maritime collection.
My answer was: “These are indeed unique models, they are not replicas of a typical Nova Scotian ship or made by a Nova Scotian shipbuilder, ship owner or a professional ship modeler, but they were built by a young Nova Scotian lady and her father, and the purpose was to tell a family story.  I felt that an exception should be made and that we add these to our collection.
You see, once upon a time, a father, Mr. Campbell, felt his two young daughters were becoming too materialistic and so he wanted to teach them a lesson.   One Christmas, more than thirty years ago, Mr. Campbell wrapped two very big presents and placed them under the Christmas tree with the tag addressed to his daughters from a “Mr Gursky ” a ficticious name he made up.
On Christmas morning, the children rushed in delight, to open the big box and found: a cabbage and a turnip.  They weren’t disappointed though - they thought it was very funny.  The next year, Mr. Gursky gave the children an old dirty sock.  Not only did the tradition continue, but it became more joyous as the two sisters started making their own gifts to return to Mr Gursky, silly things, like an empty box, etc.  Then, one of the daughters built the large schooner model. 
The model was brought out at Christmas time, year after year and once even accompanied the family to Florida.   Then, the Florida trips became more regular and  Mr. Campbell was not pleased with the hassles involved in taking the model back and forth from Florida, through customs, etc.  As a result, the smaller model, Gursky II was built. 
For some 30 plus years, this tradition continued in the Campbell family and now we are fortunate enough to have these models as part of our collection.
This sweet, inspiring story of the Gursky tradition is rooted in the deeper meaning of Christmas. These ship models were chosen to relay this message.
I hope this helps readers to see that artifacts are not just things, that most of them have a story to tell, and that this story is one to warm our hearts at Christmas ….. and maybe  everyday of our lives.
Please come down to the Museum to see the Gursky models and our wonderful Christmas card exhibit which will be on display until the end of January.
On behalf of all the collections staff at the Maritime Museum, Happy Holidays to one and all.
Lynn-Marie Richard, Registrar, Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

                                                 Photo: Courtesy of Gerry Lunn, Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

Monday 16 December 2013

Museum Silent Night

A winter moonrise over CSS Acadia and the Museum wharves.

Sharp lookouts will spot the Woodside ferry moving right with her red portside running light. As peaceful as can be, the image was actually taken just as I wrapped up a workday at 5:30 pm this evening.

Let this calm and bright image be a wish for a happy holiday from the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

Friday 6 December 2013

Halifax Harbour Remembers the Halifax Explosion

On December 6, our Museum participated in an evocative tribute to the Halifax Explosion, the disaster that struck Halifax in 1917 when the ammunition ship Mont-Blanc blew up and killed nearly 2,000 people. Haligonian Fred Honsberger worked with the Royal Canadian Navy and the Waterfront Development Corporation to have ships sound their horns all around the harbour at 9:05 am, the moment of the explosion.

Randal Tomada, of our Visitor Service Staff, captured the sight and sounds in this evocative pan of the wharves around the museum beside our 100-year-old steamship CSS Acadia.You can hear Acadia's original ship's bell tolling away as the chorus builds.

(You can also watch Randal's video and visitor comments on the Museum's Facebook page.) 

The sounds from the ships could be heard across downtown Halifax where they blended with church bells. The sound-scape was preceded by the boom of the signal cannon at the Halifax Citadel. From the waterfront, the cacophonous fugue underscored an eerie scene. The harbour was cloaked in mist, reminiscent of the smoke that shrouded the port immediately after the explosion. Even the black steel masts of the harbour tour schooner Silva reminded us of the masts of SS Imo which loomed over the shattered shoreline after the blast.

The Harbour after the explosion in a detail from a panoramic photograph by Maclaughlin with SS Imo to left and HMS Highflyer to right. MMA, MP207.1.184/1b
The flags that you can see flying from Acadia in the video have a special meaning. Acadia was in Halifax Harbour on the morning of the Halifax Explosion. Normally a research ship, wartime needs had drafted her into the Royal Canadian Navy as HMCS Acadia. That day, she was serving as the Bedford Basin guard ship with the job of controlling the movement of neutral ships like SS Imo. The Navy informed Acadia that Imo was cleared to leave, so Acadia hoisted a fateful message at 7:30 am which spelled out, in the International Code of Signals, this message:

 J      The signal flag call sign for 
G             "Steamship Imo"
T      The signal flag shorthand for:
X  "You may proceed to sea when ready"

We know these were the exact flags flown by Acadia on that morning because the Inquiry into the collision grilled Acadia's officer on duty about exactly what flags he used. Although Acadia was blameless for the departure that had been approved by the Navy, circumstance put her in the centre of the tragic movements leading to the disaster. Minutes after she steamed past Acadia, the outgoing Imo collided with the incoming Mont-Blanc in the narrowest part of the harbour, triggering the deadly explosion. Shielded by a ridge of land, Acadia received only minor damage but the blast and tidal wave leveled the north end of Halifax and Dartmouth on a day that the city will never forget.

Imo on the blasted Dartmouth side of the harbour after the explosion. MMA,MP207.1.184/270

Thursday 5 December 2013

Pennies From Hell

This pile of pennies was melted together by the fires of the Halifax Explosion. On December 6, 1917 the French ammunition ship Mont-Blanc exploded in Halifax Harbour after a collision with the Norwegian ship Imo. Nearly 2,000 people were killed in the largest man-made explosion prior to the  Atomic Age.

MMA M2013.32.1, Gift of Stephen Innocent in memory of Tom Rodgers
Our Museum tells this story with our web pages about the Halifax Explosion, but most powerfully with objects like these. This stack of melted and fused coins was found on the street somewhere in Halifax's Richmond District by Tom Rodgers, an 18-year-old milk deliveryman. He was not injured by the explosion and used his horse and cart to take wounded people to hospitals and later to collect bodies of victims. His was one of many delivery wagons and slovens (the low heavy cargo wagons commonly used on the Halifax waterfront) which were enlisted in this way by the police and army. For many years Tom Rodgers would tell his family that he could still hear the sound his wagon wheels made as they crunched over the broken glass which covered the streets of Halifax.

These are the large 2.5 mm wide old-style pennies which were often called "coppers". (Canada switched to the smaller 1.9 cm pennies in 1920.) The 1907 penny at the top of the melted stack was minted in Britain for Canada as the Royal Canadian Mint did not open until 1908.

A detail of the top penny, MMA M2013.32.1, photo by Gerry Lunn

The Museum's conservator Chris Lavergne explored how the pennies could have reached this state. These pennies were 95% copper which begins to melt at 1,084 degrees Celcius. House fires reach 1,100 degrees, easily enough to soften and fuse copper coins. The stack was perhaps in a coin holder which held them together. They may have been strewn into the street by the collapse of a burning building.

The pennies would have come from burned-out ruins such as these in Richmond, seen in this photograph looking down from Fort Needham Hill towards the Halifax drydock. Note SS Imo beached on the Dartmouth shore.
Martin Hubley at the Nova Scotia Museum History Collection arranged for Stephen Innocent, the step-grandson of Tom Rodgers, to donate the pennies to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic .  This object joins thousands of other Halifax Explosion artifacts at the Maritime Museum, which has preserved Canada's largest collection of objects from this terrible day in our history.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Christmas Shoebox Program

Museum interpreter Matthew Hughson with his annual Christmas shoebox display
Mariners often find themselves far from family and friends on the holidays; frequently living in isolated and austere shipboard quarters where everyday comforts and luxuries are in short supply.  To help remember mariners in this season, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic was pleased to partner with the Halifax Mission to Seafarers during the annual Christmas shoebox program.

Each December shoeboxes are filled with items bound for the crews of visiting ships in Halifax Harbour.

A typical Christmas shoebox - we supply the box if you can supply some of the content.

We welcome your donations of:
  • Hats, Scarfs, Gloves & Socks
  • Tooth Paste, Tooth Brush, Soap, Shampoo, Deodorant, Shaving Cream & Disposable Razors
  • Note Paper, Envelopes, Postcards, Pen & Hard Candy
  • Signed greeting cards along with small mementos  
  • (Please note we cannot accept cookies or chocolate.)

 We take care of the box but welcome your donation of any of the above. 
 And as a special thank you, we'll give a museum family day pass to anyone bringing in a Christmas donation. (Only one pass per donation per visit, please)

Donations were accepted at the museum until Wednesday, December 18.
Thanks to generous gifts, we filled a record 49 shoe boxes this year!
The shoebox tradition harkens back to wartime tradition of sending gift bags to sailors. In World War II, it was organized by the Navy League of Canada for Canadian naval and merchant sailors. The gift bags were called "Ditty Bags", after the small bags used by sailors for centuries to hold personal belongings

World War II ditty bag in the Museum's Convoy Exhibit. Courtesy the Navy League of Canada

Back in World War II, the ditty gift bags contained contents that were very similar to the Christmas shoeboxes,but slightly different:

  • Soap
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • A flat of 50 "smokes"
  • Writing paper, pen, pencil and envelopes
  • Reading material such as a Canadian magazine
  • And knitted socks and scarves

Knitting warm comforts like socks scarves and hats was a big part of the effort behind these wartime gifts. Similar programs also helped Canadians in the Army and Air Force as well as to prisoners of war and wartime refugees such as British families made homeless by bombing during the "Blitz". The Canadian Red Cross was a key organizer of many of these programs and in 1940 published a much used booklet called "Red Cross Knitting Instructions for War Work". Here is a charming pair of photographs from the Nova Scotia Archives virtual exhibit An East Coast Port : Halifax in Wartime 1939-1945 entitled "Harriet knitting Mittens for Britons".

E.A. Bollinger NSARM accession no. 1975-305 1942 no. 655-14f

The posed but charming photograph show Harriot Spurr puzzling her way through the detailed instructions in the Red Cross booklet.

 A page from the same booklet is shown on the right, from a well-used copy of "Red Cross Knitting Instructions for War Work" in the Museum's research files.

(Don't feel you have to knit your own gloves or socks for the Museum's Christmas shoebox!)

These charitable wartime efforts were promoted not only by the Navy League and the Red Cross but also by textile companies who saw a good way to enhance their wartime image - and sell more wool.

Below is a detail from a booklet by the Monarch Knitting Company of Dunnville, Ontario showing how gift gloves were supposed to look, with a happy sailor and two soldiers giving the knitter thumbs- up from what looks to be the deck of a troop ship.

And it wasn't just knitting - groups of volunteer women also got together to make warm work clothes. The vest below may look like a piece of cool hippy fashion from the 1960s, but it is a piece of World War II charitable work. Volunteers with the IODE, the Imperial Order of Daughters of the Empire, had cut up their leather purses and lady's gloves into small squares to make this leather vest for a merchant mariner.

 MMA, M2001.58.1

So like this woman in the Monarch booklet, in the spirit of thinking of those in need far from home, if you could spare any Christmas shoebox items, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and the Halifax Mission to Seafarers would welcome your contribution.

 For additional information:
Richard MacMichael

Thursday 7 November 2013

What do CSS Acadia and the Rock Star Sting have in Common? Part 2

The Museum's steamship CSS Acadia and the musician Sting share the same birthplace: Wallsend, a neighbourhood of Newcastle-on-Tyne in Northern England. Acadia was built in 1913 at the Swan Hunter Shipyard in Wallsend, at the time, the world's largest shipyard. Sting was born in Wallsend in 1951. His latest album, The Last Ship, explores growing up in the shadow of this giant shipyard.

 1) CSS Acadia at the outfitting wharf at Swan Hunter with one of the yard's floating dry docks looming behind. Just built, she has been temporarily registered to the port of Newcastle. After delivery to the Canadian government, she was registered in Ottawa but her crew would never paint Ottawa on her stern.
MMA, MP28.36.27 Courtesy Vancouver Maritime Museum

CBC Television recently discovered that Acadia is the last Swan Hunter-built ship in Canada. (A few other Swan Hunter ships like the cable ship Intrepid visit Canada regularly, but research by Halifax ship watcher Mac Mackay indicates that Acadia is the last ship from Swan Hunter under a Canadian flag.)  Here is a link to Susan Ormiston's story on the CBC's National about Sting's musical exploration of his industrial roots.


2) Looking from the bow of the newly launched Acadia. The frames of yet another Swan Hunter ship can be seen rising from one of the shipyard's many building slips in the background.
MMA, MP28.36.28 Courtesy Vancouver Maritime Museum

Swan Hunter, or to use their full name Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson was launching new ships almost weekly at their height but you can see in these carefully composed builder's photographs that they were very proud of this state-of-the-art research ship. Acadia changed little in 100 years that followed. This makes her a remarkable time capsule of life at sea in 1913 as well as an enduring example of Swan Hunter's work in their glory years. 

3) Acadia at Newcastle in 1913, left, with the Swan Hunter Wallsend yard stretching off into the distance and Acadia as she looks today, right, in her permanent home at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. MMA, Media Mechanics Photo 

Acadia left Newcastle in June 1913 and arrived at Halifax on July 8, 1913. She was soon off to her first expedition, charting Hudson Bay. It was the beginning of a research career that would last until 1969, exploring almost every part of the coastline of Eastern Canada and far into the North. She also served the Royal Canadian Navy in both world wars, protecting Canadian waters as HMCS Acadia.

4) Acadia steams along on her trials at the mouth of the Tyne River in 1913, just before she headed off to her new home in Nova Scotia.
 MMA, MP28.36.35 Courtesy Vancouver Maritime Museum 

5) The beautiful builder's plaque from Swan Hunter as seen today bolted above Acadia's engine.
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Gerry Lunn photo

Seeking the birthplace of our ship in 2008, I made a pilgrimage to Wallsend in Newcastle to see the Swan Hunter shipyard. I knew the yard was no longer building ships as the troubled naval contract for their last ship, Lyme Bay spelled the end of shipbuilding at Swan Hunter in 2005.  However, I wasn't prepared when I arrived to find the yard was actually being demolished. Half of the yard was a wilderness of weed-choked rubble. In the other half, the cranes were being dismantled to ship to a new shipyard in India.

6) The centre of the Swan Hunter shipyard at Wallsend, Newcastle in 2008 as cranes take apart other cranes, including the big red hammerhead crane on the right which has been decapitated.
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Dan Conlin photo

7) The already demolished portion of the yard. Near as I can tell, the 1913 builder's photographs of Acadia were taken at the centre of this view where a group of people can be seen watching the empty river.
 Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Dan Conlin photo

8) Looking farther south at the completely leveled Neptune Yard of Swan Hunter. You can see on the right the beginning of the classic rows of terraced worker's housing which bordered the yard. Some locals told me how the massive hulls of ships under construction would block the sunlight for entire streets, so much that the shipyard would pay for home electric bills since the lights had to be on all day long.
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Dan Conlin photo

Tuesday 5 November 2013

What do CSS Acadia and the Rock Star Sting have in Common? Part 1

CBC Radio and television broadcast a story on November 5 about the famous British musician Sting and his new album, The Last Ship. The report features Sting's first Canadian interview about his new album. The story by Susan Ormiston explores a surprising connection between our museum’s largest artifact, CSS Acadia and the British superstar who was very interested to hear about our 100-year-old ship.


1)       CSS Acadia's stern, just after she was built and outfitted at the Swan Hunter Yard, 1913.
MMA, MP28.36.27, Courtesy Vancouver Maritime Museum

Learn more about the connection in What do CSS Acadia and Rock Star Sting Have in Common Part 2

Thursday 31 October 2013

Halifax Halloween Survey - Where Have All the Pirates Gone?

Halloween from my window on Duncan Street in Halifax, Nova Scotia

For the last 17 years I have conducted a census of Halloween costumes that come to my doorstep on Duncan Street in West End Halifax. This year the good news is: numbers are up, after a long-term decline. We had a total of 80 costumed trick-or-treaters, up from an abysmal 50 last year, but sill a far cry from 215 when I started my count in 1996.

However as a marine historian, especially one who wrote book on piracy in Atlantic Canada, I was mortified by this development:

No pirates!
Pretty much every year there have been pirate costumes with a peak in 2008 when they were the number one costume. No doubt the fading cycle of Pirates of the Caribbean films has much to do with this. (At least there were two sea monsters, a new category this year and a classic mermaid, reassuring in a port city whose connection to the sea grows ever more symbolic.)

Pirates joined a number of classics this year that were missing entirely. There were no witches, no ghosts, no clowns and no fire fighters. There was one fire fighter outfit but the little girl in it had converted it to a SWAT team policeman, part of new trend of 3 SWAT police officers. I am not sure where that is coming from - perhaps the influence of some of the recent television series featuring SWAT teams.

The Best Overall Costume was: A Ritz Cracker: an 8-year-old walking box of Ritz Crackers, English in front, French in back & nutritional information on the side.

Here were some other trends:

1. A dead tie between Vampires and Princesses and Ninjas for the most popular costumes. (6 of each)
2. Zombies were up with 5.
3. Batman is doing well, but no spidermen.
4. Not one, but 2 Medusas!
5. Quite a number of food costumes: a pear, crackers, cereal, banana

You may find it interesting to compare these results with a nicely illustrated infographic display about Halloween costumes elsewhere by graphic designer Kinnon Elliot. 

It was good to see the numbers up a bit. I enjoy the doorstep theatre represented by Halloween trick-or-treaters and what it tells us about kids and our communities. I grew interested in counting costumes when I did my History Masters and read about civic parades in Renaissance France where guilds, clerics, professions and the nobility all paraded in formal costume to represent their roles in society and the order of the parade telegraphed changes. While children at Halloween are a far cry from civic elites, it is still fun to speculate what they represent.

I did a CBC Radio interview with Bill Roach on "Mainstreet" about the survey, the day after Halloween which you can listen to here: Conlin's Costume Count.

In any case, here is the full data for your own interest and reflection:

Past Totals
2012: 50! 
2011: 80
2010: 88
2009: 99
2008: 103
2007: 125
2006: 168 
2005: 187
2004: 184
2003: 187
2002: 193
2001: 152
2000: 171

The journalist Parker Donham has kindly put my annual numbers in a graph on his Contrarian blog.

Angel: 1
Baby: 2
Banana: 1
Barney Dinosaur: 2
Batman: 3
Batgirl: 1
Bobba Fett: 1 (Star Wars)
Cat: 1
Cat in the Hat: 1
Cereal Killer  (Cereal boxed stabbed with knives): 1
Evil Cook: 1
Dead  Cheerleader: 1
Dead Doctor: 1
Evil Doctor: 1
Devil: 1
Dragon: 1
Football Players: 2  (One who was Michael Vick!)
Frankenstein: 1  (Good homemade green make-up)
Gangster: 1
Goalie: 1  (Fully equipped)
Goth: 1
Goth Bride: 2  (Beautiful costume with black bouquet)
Hulk: 1
Ironman: 1
Karate Guy: 1
Little Red Riding Hood: 1
Lizard: 1
Lion: 1
Mermaid: 1
Medusa: 1
Monkey: 1
Monster, misc : 1
No discernible costume: 1
Ninja: 6
Owl: 1
Pear: 1
Pirates: NONE!
Platypus: 1
Princesses: 6  (Including 1 Fairy Princess)
Puss & Boots: 1  (A very nice costume and keen to demonstrate his swordsmanship.)
Ritz Cracker Box: 1
Scream/Ghouls masks:1
Sea Monsters: 2
Skeleton: 1
A Shadow: 1  (The concept, not the crime fighter)
Storm trooper: 1  (Star Wars)
Swat Team policemen: 3
Unicorn: 1  (Very Young Baby)
Vampires: 6
Werewolf: 1
First Caller:  5:35 p.m.
Peak Traffic: 7 p.m.
Last Caller:  8:15 p.m.

Happy Halloween from Duncan Street! (The blue column in the window is a set of real chest and leg X-Rays that I use to give the sidewalk view a spooky blue glow.)