Dr Bob Gardiner donates to Phase II of the Museum’s Restoration Work and Move-Back.
It is a rare opportunity indeed to explore a national historic site with a visitor who experienced it in action. During that time long before the thought of designation was an idea, when the site was a place of work and industry. The context and environment of these sites are mostly reconstructed through letters, sketches and photographs, but for the Marine Museum, the opportunity arose to tour our Kingston Dry Dock National Historic Site with one such individual.
On a sunny and surprisingly warm winter afternoon, Marine Museum Chair, Chris West, and Programs and Communications Manager, Dr Michelle Clarabut, welcomed neighbours Dr Bob Gardiner and his wife Connie for a special tour of the 55 Ontario St property. Now retired and a watchful neighbour of the Museum’s historic property, Bob recounted the adventures of two 6-year old boys along Kingston’s former industrial waterfront. Standing at the centre point of the former shipyard, Bob can still visualise the yard at the height of production.
Growing up, Bob and his boyhood friend David were regular visitors to the Kingston Shipyards where David’s father Don Page was General Manager (and of whom the Page Gallery is named after). As Bob tells it, you could walk all along the waterfront from MacDonald Park – or at least the boys knew the location of a trail, the knowledge of which, like a torch, passed from one child to another. Walking around the site, Bob recalled the Second World War flower-class corvettes built on the shipyard’s west pier, feeling a special connection to a wartime vessel while his father fought overseas in the Canadian Army.
The tour began, however, with a memory neither Chris nor Michelle were expecting when Bob asked if we recalled a time when Kingston’s harbour welcomed paddlewheel passenger steamers from Montreal and Toronto. He went on to explain that when the harbour was so congested, the ships would anchor off shore and passengers were rowed across to shore. We admit it left us stunned to realise we were speaking with someone who remembered this time in Kingston’s history so vividly.
More fondly, are the memories of sailing along the ice in Kingston’s harbour aboard his Uncle Howard’s ice boat, Snowcloud. We dared not believe the speeds they would reach skating along in a lightweight boat – aboard Snowcloud, a 19th century ice yacht, speeds reached 100kph!
As a boy looking for adventure, he would not be deterred; seeking the thrill of racing along the ice with his only care being ensuring his tuque was well tucked on his head! We asked, ‘what was it like?’ to which Bob replied, ‘it was great!’; ‘we’re you terrified?’ – a very earnest ‘No’.
Given Bob’s close connection to the water in the winter, we expected the same would be said of the summer. However, we were to receive a quick history lesson when we asked why he and his friends were not allowed to swim in the lake. Bob replied, ‘people were worried about polio.’ It was certainly a surprise to us both and had us reflecting for a time on the developments of medicine and the work to create safe spaces for water-based activities.
At the Museum, Bob’s visits were less frequent – living outside of Kingston for most of his adult life. But, when Bob and Connie did move back in 2004, they were regular attendees at Museum events and special exhibits – ‘you had a couple of good shows here’. Of those that were ‘so well done’, Bob recalls the 2010 Master In Our Midst exhibit on Grant Macdonald. Informing us that Grant was known for the neck detail in his subjects – they consistently had long necks.
A long-standing supporter, neighbour and maritime enthusiast, Bob was delighted to hear the news of the Museum’s move back and came forward with a wish to contribute to the restoration of the Marine Museum’s buildings at the Kingston Dry Dock national historic site.
‘Having moved in to where we moved and having spent some time in this building – 5 and 6 years old – I want to contribute to its development. I’m proud of Kingston’s history and the role it has played in Canada and the world with its war time contributions.’
Walking through the buildings, Bob was quick to point out a strategic restoration plan that echoed that of the Museum, focusing on one room at a time beginning with the Victorian era Engine House with its unaltered Pump Room.
Bob is generously donating $150,000 for a matched giving campaign. He invites the public to join him in supporting the Museum and seeing the impact of their gift doubled. Bob’s gift and all those who take advantage of the matched giving opportunity will support Phase II of the restoration project and the Museum’s move-back to 55 Ontario St. To join Bob, donate online here.
‘We left Kingston in 1952, but got a cottage north of here later in life… there was always something bringing me back.’ Bob’s life comes full circle now as a neighbour once again of the former Kingston Shipyards and it is clear that his love for the city and history of these shores never ceased. ‘This is my opportunity to give back to Kingston, and I hope you will join me’.
Thank you Bob for helping to get us on our way with restoration work to the Marine Museum’s national historic site and for your generous support over these many years.
Programs and Communications Manager