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.