Michelle Clarabut, Ph.D, Programs and Communications Manager, Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston
John Farrow introduced our guest speaker. Inspired by a recent TV news segment on the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes and the news that Brett Smith has helped to “repurchase” the building that used to house the Museum, he contacted Michelle Clarabut, Programming and Communications, to talk about its Memory Project, commemorating the Battle of the Atlantic.
Michelle - It’s great to be out in community. I’m the Programs and Communications Manager, in a full-time staff of two. We will have two summer students, one of which has started just last week. Two years ago, we had to leave our 55 Ontario Street location. We leased the building from the Government, which sold it, but we now own the building. The Museum has been temporarilyhoused at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour and hope to get back to our original location some time this year. We are closed to the public right now, but hope to open soon.
A lot is happening behind the scenes. We have recently completed our 2020-2025 Strategic Plan, Steering into the Future, which emphasizes our mission to create an inclusive space that inspires the enduring connection with the maritime heritage of Kingston and the Great Lakes, including social, economic, and environmental history of our area. The plan provides an overview of our own history and outlines our thee priorities for the next five years. We are re-imagining what the Marine Museum will look like, and are also working on our business plan, including our 5-year capital and operational budget. We are researching the acquisition of a new historic ship. The Alexander Henry was returned to Thunder Bay a while back, where it was built.
Last summer, we were given by a former museum member, the Red Jacket, a very well-known Canadian racing yacht. It was designed by George Cuthbertson and George Casisan and built by Erich Bruckmann. It was the first Canadian and non-American boat to win the overall title at the Southern Ocean Racing Conference in 1968 in her second year.  This vessel will be a great addition to our exhibits.
Typically, we have summer camps and educational programs at local school. Last summer we reached over 578 Kingston youth. We also have Nautical Nights, a winter speaker series, January to March. This year it was cut short because of COVID in March We also do public tours, including in local retirement homes. We’re very active in the community, trying to engage people with maritime history.
After the March break, we started Virtual Challenges to take the place of cancelled live events.. The first was a one-week boat building challenge—build it, name it, see how many marbles are needed to sink it; a lot of fun—open to everyone. We have had others in the past, including environmental challenges (building water filters, talking about pollution in the Great Lakes) and art-related projects (designing a Great Lakes cruise ship). These provide opportunity for youth, families, and groups, to be creative.
This Thursday, June 18th is our first Virtual Talk, “Turtle Talks,” by Mabyn Armstrong. This talk is about local ecosystems and invasive species. Join us on the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes Youtube channel. Information is on our Facebook page.
Forged in Fire: Kingston Goes to Sea was a project I put together, with a personal and community story. To commemorate 75th Anniversary of the end of World War II and the Battle of the Atlantic. Kingston a had huge role in the Battle of the Atlantic and the Second World War through ship-building. Twelve ships built here served as convoy escorts in the North Atlantic. Two didn’t make it home. The huge contribution of Kingston is a story that doesn’t often get told. The project is about the ships, the people who built them, and the men and women who served including Wrens, volunteer reserve, and Merchant Navy. The project is about community engagement. Many veterans are unfortunately deceased, but we would love to have stories by the second and later generation about a loved one who served—people from the Kingston area and involved in either ship-building or having served in another maritime capacity. It could be about how they met their husband or wife during the war, funny anecdotes about their training experience, personal stories and anecdotes that were passed on. The project Web space is a place where people can come and share their stories including pictures or artifacts. mareinemuseum.ca/forgedinfire  . Once a story is submitted, it becomes available to the public. A few have been submitted so far. We are especially interested in those who built the ships, often forgotten and also those who served on the ships built in Kingston. We are collaborating with RMC Museum. We intended to create a 2020 pop-up exhibit, but COVID-19 has prevented that (so far). We are discussing making it a virtual exhibit and feeding into a blog series to bring stories together. We are looking for commonalities or links across the stories; e.g., people who were on the same ship at the same time, unknown to their families. We are also hoping to share hidden stories, e.g., community gatherings for launches - we have some amazing pictures of that. We are also developing educational program, for schools and local community groups. Now after three months that we’re going to be opening up, it will be interesting to see how that will work out.
Bill Egnatoff mentioned how much he appreciated the opportunity of having Adventures in History work in the Museum and visit its archives. One student said, “This smells like history.”
John Farrow: Have you reached out to the Genealogical Society? He will connect the Museum through his wife, a member. A call could go out through all Ontario branches.
John Gale: Will you be able to give sense of how many women were employed in the shipyards?
Michelle: Unfortunately, a lot of records have disappeared. WWII years are a gap in the records. I would love to find information on that. I would like stories of women serving as “Wrens,” (WRCNS, Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service), and stories from Indigenous communities. I am reaching out to Prince Edward County, and Gananoque (part of the Kingston area). Individual stories are not being told; I want to find them. They deserve to be told.
Murray Cotton: I loved the first photo of the Canada Steamship Lines. My father worked for them for over 50 years. He wanted to serve, but was deemed an essential worker so had to go back to the docks. I refer you to Terry Hicks.
Robert Reid thanked Michelle. He is pro-development downtown, but was very concerned to learn about the sale of the property where the museum was housed. He was very happy to learn of the recent purchase of the property so the Museum could move back in. He visited with his children, and was also there for the funeral held there. He acknowledged the very aggressive plan and budget. Robert thanked Michelle with a virtual loaf of bread.