In The News

Summer 2021 update from the Chair of the Museum, Chris West.

Word from the Chair - Summer 2021
20 September 2021

Summer 2021 update from the Chair of the Museum, Chris West.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of any successful not-for-profit enterprise like the Marine Museum.  We have lost a couple of great ones in Meg d’Esterre and Bob Brown, and they are duly remembered in this issue.  They also are remembered in spirit, in the ongoing transformation of our National Historic Site at 55 Ontario Street.

The trades professionals have just about wound up their essential restoration of the electrical, gas, plumbing, HVAC, and fire and safety systems – and yes, there are now functioning men’s and women’s washrooms!  But it is an extremely dedicated team of volunteers that since the beginning of the summer has been labouring with Herculean zeal on the cosmetic work to make our premises, a least a part of them, inhabitable and hospitable again. 


If you have strolled down to the Museum of late, you can’t have failed to notice, thanks to volunteer Judy Gay, that our sadly neglected gardens alongside the Dry Dock, are a lush treat to the eye again.  Bob Brown, who volunteered in the same capacity, would be immensely pleased and proud. 

Untitled design If you continue down the walkway towards the lake, you will be struck by how tidy everything else is.  Thanks to the leadership and shoulder-to-the-wheel efforts of Director Serge Labbé and a team of volunteers, our lawns have been tamed again, the weeds whacked, and even more miraculously, our completely overgrown and condemned pier has been reclaimed and is serviceable again!  It is a beautiful sight to behold, and shone like a waterside jewel when we played host to Theodore Too and 2,000 plus visitors.

Soon, very soon I hope, you will be able to enter the Museum by way of the vestibule and see the Phoenix that has arisen in the interior of our property.  Serge and his team of volunteers (the youngest 16, the eldest in their 80s) have cleared out wagon loads of detritus and wielded their mops and pails, sanders, paint brushes and rollers for week after week. And the payoff is nigh.  Meg d’Esterre, wherever she is, would be thrilled to gaze down from the second-floor gallery upon the reception lobby where she used to rule the roost.  And I am sure she would love the new aqua-inspired colour scheme. 

Hidden from view, but essential for moving back in, the volunteers have finished repainting and restoring the offices upstairs that will house Doug and Michelle and their team.  The hideous, decrepit carpet has been ripped up and replaced! 

Last, but far from least, the three fans suspended 30 feet up in the reception lobby, are filthy and black with the grime of 45 years no more.  Serge, ever the perfectionist, couldn’t live with this impairment to the sparkling new look.  With scaffolding and ladders and a retired brigadier general’s attitude that no mission is impossible, the eyesore of those fan blades is no more!

As you will read elsewhere, the work and the transformation I have alluded to here, is but Phase One of a multi-phase Museum reclamation job that is ongoing.  It would not have been possible without the volunteers, and equally without the generous financial support of our donors.  Thank you, donors, for believing in the cause and inspiring us to continue to rebuild and reanimate our priceless Museum. 

As many of you will know, this summer we launched our 2021 fundraising campaign, with a goal of securing another $500,000 to go in part towards Phase Two essential repairs and restoration work, particularly the Engine House.  We are extremely fortunate that long-standing Museum friend and neighbour Dr Bob Gardiner has pitched in a $150,000 matching donation.  If you have not yet responded to this appeal, and are inspired by the progress we are making at the Museum, please consider making a donation now and seeing it matched. 

I have nothing to report on the SS Keewatin for this issue, other than to say that she remains of great interest to us at the Museum and the process to acquire her, as I have written about and spoken about in media interviews, remains the same. 

There is so much more going on at the Marine Museum that I would love to tell you about.  But I risk over-staying my welcome, so will close with this quick account:  Last week I attended an Interpretative Planning Committee meeting.  This is the committee, chaired by our Director John Summers (renowned teacher of Museum Studies at U of T and former Curator at maritime museums in both the U.S. and Canada) that is tasked with defining the experiences we want visitors to our Museum to have, and how we are going to deliver those experiences.  The Interpretative Plan, due to be presented to the Board for approval next January, is as essential to achieving our Mission and Vision as is the Business Plan.  In fact, they fit together hand in glove. 

At our meeting last week, under John’s guidance, we conducted a fascinating exercise.  Having constructed four composite Museum visitor types (the 28-year old who works at Shopify and is looking for something “cool”; the granny with a feisty knowledge-seeking streak; the mom in her 30s seeking diversions for three kids; the older nautical “expert” with a consuming interest in “boats, boats, boats”), we “journey mapped” their visits to the Museum, cataloguing their pleasure and pain points from the moment they pulled into the parking lot, through the entrance, to the ticket wicket, to the orientation they were given, to the exhibits and facilities and programs that either met or did not meet their expectations.  Lastly, we accompanied them through the washrooms – with or without baby changing tables – a possible microbrewery and/or café, and the gift shop. 

I promise you, it was an utterly inspiring, and enlightening exercise.  We have promised you that the new Marine Museum of the Great Lakes will not be the old one.  We mean it!    


chris west
Christopher West

Chair of the Board