The Maritime Museum
By Rita Button
In a small space on Humboldt Street, the Maritime Museum continues to create new exhibits and programs in spite of their challenging circumstances. Moving to the space that is 11½% of the space they occupied in the Bastion Square historic law courts building has had its challenges, but the staff have risen above what might have been a depressing time for them and are a living example of any cliché you know about making the best of a bad situation. They decided to believe that their cup was half full.
The space has been divided into three main areas—transitional, permanent and art. Walking into the museum these days, you’ll find an installation on whales of the West Coast, including Canada’s part in the whaling industry. Ship logs, charts showing the areas the whales inhabited, and the story of Moby Doll illustrate British Columbia’s part in the harvesting of whales.
David Leverton, the executive director of the museum, told me that steam and gunpowder were game changers in the whale harvest. That’s when the decimation began in earnest. Whaling on the West Coast ended in 1967, a result of public outcry against the whale hunt and the understanding that the continued harvest would result in the extinction of several coastal whale species.
The section at the back of the museum is occupied by west coast artists. At this time (June), Mark Hobson, a Tofino artist, and Esther Sample, a Comox artist, have their paintings displayed showing the wildness and beauty of the sea. The paintings illustrate various truths and experiences about the relationship of the land, the water and people.
As a part of its mission to educate us about our past, the museum would love to showcase more about the important history of Victoria’s maritime shipping activities, but there’s not enough space. Victoria was Canada’s west coast hub for travel to the region from all over the world until the completion of the national railway at the Port of Vancouver in the early 1900s. The large ship models on display are from a bygone era when shipbuilders created working models. It’s interesting, but I can understand the desire to add the broader story to the display.
At the very back of the space, is a sand and gravel display table festooned with a number of different kinds of miniature anchors. Here is a space where people can learn about the characteristics of various anchors, practice setting them, as well as figuring out the rode (length of chain or line) needed to make sure the anchor is secure. David Leverton pointed out that experiential learning is his favourite form of teaching. He finds that visitors will never forget how an anchor operates when they get to try out this type of interactive display. And I learned that the perfect ratio for an anchor’s holding power is seven to one!
In spite of the small space, the museum has added to its offerings. Instead of staying home and having the public come to them, they have gone out to the public with their outreach programs. They go to schools to show artifacts and tell the stories around them. Also, their outreach extends to seniors’ residences where they find many people in the audience who, with the help of seeing the objects from the past, remember parts of the historic events being re-explored.
The Humboldt space motivated the museum staff to think about ways to interact with the public. On Victoria Day, they sponsor a block party that celebrates our marine heritage. A family friendly event, it adds a new dimension to the Victoria Day celebrations. At the end of the summer, the Maritime Museum hosts the Classic Boat Festival. Last year, the Museum’s first full year of running it, was the Classic Boat Festival’s fortieth anniversary. During the spring, the Massive Marine Garage Sale invites people to explore and purchase various pieces of equipment for their own marine adventures. It’s a day when many stories are told, with the artifacts again creating a blossoming of memory. During the summer, Museum volunteers operate their All Things Marine store at Canoe Cove Marina that is an opportunity to reuse and recycle marine items for the greater good of the community.
This September, the Museum continues with its Nautical Nights program. One evening of each month, a speaker reveals a facet of the marine environment. It’s been a popular program featuring all manner of people and details of the nautical world.
All of these initiatives suggest that The Maritime Museum is a strong force, waiting to tell its story on a larger stage. David would like to tell Canada’s marine story to the whole world by creating a museum of national interest or even a National Maritime Museum in Victoria. No national museum exists west of Winnipeg. Victoria, with its strong marine history is ready to tell the story. The staff and volunteers at the Maritime Museum are excited to connect the people to the history written on water and make it real for everyone. As a national museum, they would make sure to collaborate with their colleagues on the east coast. It would be appropriate to have this in place by 2021, B.C.’s 150th anniversary into confederation.
The Maritime Museum at 634 Humboldt Street is totally accessible. Not only can wheelchairs navigate the one floor space easily, but it’s also possible to use the Greater Victoria Public Library Pass Program to gain entry.
It’s a great place, but don’t take my word for it—take a walk down Humboldt Street and see for yourself!