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