Thanks to Family Day, we currently have a long weekend in British Columbia, which coincided with my husband’s parents visiting. As my father-in-law has an interest in military and maritime history, for my new thing this week we visited the Vancouver Maritime Museum.
The museum is only a stone’s throw away from our apartment, but, as with most things that are just around the corner, I’d never built up the impetus to actually visit it. Now, with the threat of snow looming over us, it was time.
The museum’s main exhibit is the restored RCMP schooner, the St. Roch (pronounced ‘Rock’). Under Sergeant Henry A. Larsen, she was the first arctic explorer vessel to circumnavigate North America, and to sail the Northwest Passage from west to east. She was also the second vessel to sail through the Passage from east to west, but you can’t have everything, can you?
As well as the RCMP crew, the vessel housed Inuit guide, interpreter and hunter, Joe Panipakoocho and his family of seven. Of course, when I say ‘housed’, I mean the Panipakoochos lived out the deck in a tent. For a month. In the Arctic. Despite being instrumental to the mission, a Google image search brings up literally no photos or artist renditions of this brave man, or his family. But the museum does have a stuffed replica of one of the seventeen sled dogs that roamed the ship. So… Here’s a picture of that;
Under the supervision of the museum curators, you can actually go aboard the St. Roch and have a nose around. There are a couple of ladders which you will need to traverse to get up to the bridge. The usual safety warnings are liberally scattered around the ladders by the museum, however I would like to add my own. Before climbing a ladder, please secure all unattached items to your person. Otherwise you may, for example, end up dropping your complimentary guide book on the head of the very small child who is climbing up behind you. (If perchance his mother is reading this, once again my profuse apologies. I’m almost 100% positive that the dent in his crown will even out eventually.)
Once on the bridge, you can look out over the whole boat, and indulge your fantasies of being an intrepid sea captain by messing around in the wheelhouse.
Surrounding the Roch are some interesting exhibits on Inuit culture and arctic life in general. For example, did you know that the average thickness of polar bear fat is 10cm? Try to remember that when you’re having a heavy day.
Other highlights included Nelson’s letters from the Battle of Trafalgar, the Arnold 176 chronometer, an exhibit showcasing the discrimination faced by Indian immigrants who arrived on the Komagata Maru in 1914, and of course everyone’s favourite: Pirates.
Lastly there was the Children’s Maritime Discovery Centre, an interactive section where children can dress up and learn more about life at sea.
Perhaps to assuage my guilt over causing a child possible brain damage earlier in the day, I decided that to do a full, comprehensive review of the museum, I really needed to evaluate the educational value of the exhibit. That meant discarding my dignity, and clambering into waders built for small people. Also sticking my head in a deep sea diver’s helmet, and having an amusing conversation with a lobster puppet. For science.
What can I say? I’m just public spirited like that.
VERDICT: The Vancouver Maritime Museum is a fun little museum, which packs a lot into a small space and has a nice balance of interactive exhibits to keep (big) kids amused. Although not a maritime history buff, there were enough human interest exhibits to keep me entertained, and it’s easily ‘doable’ in a couple of hours. Although you may need to factor in more time if, like me, you enjoy playing with puppets.