What an inspiring time it is to be associated with the Marine Museum! If you haven’t been down to 55 Ontario Street lately, you have so many reasons to do so now. Thanks to funding from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the William James Henderson Foundation, all the rotting heritage doors and windows in the Engine House, the Dynamo Room and Page Gallery have been replaced. Coupled with the extraordinary interior restoration work of the volunteers, the result is absolutely stunning. No one I have spoken to can recall a time when the Museum has been so clean and bright, gleaming and proud.
There was an enthusiastic response. We formed a committee, and in the fall of 2010 held the grand opening of “A Master in Our Midst, Grant Macdonald’s Kingston Portraits”. It was a huge hit. Thousands came to see the show. There were well-attended corollary events. And we even made money. Where did we hold the exhibit? In the temporary gallery (the one adjacent to the lobby) of the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes! Where did we direct our financial surplus? To the Museum.
So now you know why I was approached shortly thereafter to join the board of the Museum. For better or worse, I am still here.
But why bring up this curious history now? Because, the Museum has just opened a fabulous new exhibit – our first since returning to our site in 2019 – and (insert drumroll) it features the WWII portraits of Canadian sailors by Grant Macdonald produced during his service in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve! It’s a marvelous exhibit, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Canada's Naval Reserve. At the time, it was customary for war artists to be commissioned to portray heroic and pivotal events, often of grand combat. Macdonald’s remit was different. He was instructed to capture the routine and the rituals of everyday life at sea, without a romantic or propagandistic framework. The resulting portraits, often produced quickly, are superb studies in candour and fellow feeling. They are drawn from the Museum’s collection of over 300 Macdonald works.
The Macdonald exhibit is rounded out with fascinating pictorial, photographic and audio-visual elements, as well as artefacts, drawing attention to among other things, the 12 Flower class Navy corvettes that the Kingston Shipyard (the site of the Museum) contributed to the war effort. Most importantly, there is a tickle trunk! Come take in the exhibit, then dress up in the uniform of your choice and take your recruitment poster selfie! Stay tuned for related programming, and kudos to our amazing Staff and Volunteers who made this exhibit possible. You have done an outstanding job.
Another great reason to pay the Marine Museum a visit: our National Historic Site Tours. You can book these online or in person. I took the tour again last week, and even though I know much of the lore like the back of my hand, I was delighted to learn much that was new to me. Book a tour and learn how the history of our maritime site is a window onto the formation of Kingston and beyond it, the nation. Dropping the Dry Dock on Kingston was Sir John A. Macdonald’s last act of patronage in his home riding and it was extremely significant, at least the equivalent of showering billions of dollars on a lithium battery plant today, and probably more so.
A word about the SS Keewatin. The public reaction, overwhelmingly positive both locally and from very far afield, has been beyond our wildest imaginings. We are delighted. We are also exceedingly grateful to Skyline Investments for donating the ship, and to the anonymous philanthropist whose funding has made it possible to address the immediate repairs that are essential before the ship can be in touring condition. She is currently at a shipyard in Hamilton, receiving those repairs. More will continue when she gets here. Her target date for arrival in the Museum Dry Dock is September 15th, 2023. We will have her open for tours in the spring of 2024. She will be a major responsibility, and we are preparing for that. She will also be a major tourist attraction, among the top three in Kingston. We are preparing for that. Hang on for the ride (and volunteers welcome!).
Thank you to all – members, volunteers, Staff, our Board, the summer students, our grantors, donors and partners – who make it such a privilege to serve the rebirth of this institution.
Chair of the Board