Hometown travel: Halifax’s Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

Nova Scotia’s provincial museum system seemed to come of age when I was in elementary school in the 1980s. Every year, school trips took us to a fantastic new museum or cultural experience that exposed me to a Nova Scotia I found endless fascinating. Then, I grew up and just kind of got away from Nova Scotia’s museums, though I do credit my early experiences with them for giving me a life-long love of museums, exhibits, and, basically any collection of things with descriptive tags. I’m glad to report I’m reacquainting myself with the province’s museums as part of Operation Hometown Traveler, and I’m liking what I have found.

The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in downtown Halifax had an open museum day on Friday, June 2, 2012 as part of World Oceans Day, and I couldn’t resist a quick pop-in after work.

The Museum is a modern showcase of Nova Scotia’s long, complicated, and often sad relationship with the sea. The province is a peninsula, mostly surrounded by water. This means a good deal of our history, and our future, is shaped by the sea.

War propaganda Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
Technically war propaganda, but also good advice.

The exhibits are both educational and fun. The Museum’s newest addition is a parrot named Merlin, a nod to the historic, though likely fictional, relationship between pirates and their feathered friends.

Merlin parrot Maritime Museum of the Atlantic Halifax Nova Scotia

The Museum’s permanent and temporary exhibits show visitors the first-hand impact of that relationship. Since its founding, Halifax has played a critical role in world sea trade, during times of war, and terrible events with a wide impact.

Halifax’s sad history with the sea has regained a certain level of fame this year, with the commemoration of 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titantic in April 1912. Halifax, a cable ship base, saw many ships from the city engaged in grim search-and-recovery work.

Titanic graves Halifax Nova Scotia Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
Rubbings of many of the Titanic graves found in Halifax.

The Museum is home to a fascinating collection of Titanic items, including a deck chair recovered from the wreckage, and a large section illustrating daily life on the ship, and the vast difference in experiences among the classes.

Titanic deck chair Maritime Museum of the Atlantic Halifax Nova Scotia
The authentic Titanic deck chair is out of reach, but sit in this replica and imagine life on the First Class deck.

Some of the Titanic items are downright bizarre, including this Titanic board game which looks like a cross between Battleship and Clue.

Titanic game Maritime Museum of the Atlantic Halifax Nova Scotia
A Titanic board game. Shockingly real.

A busy seaport during wartime, a good deal of North End Halifax was flattened in December 1917 when a munitions ship collided with a cargo ship. The Halifax Explosion was the largest man-made explosion until Hiroshima. If you’re unfamiliar with the history of the Halifax Explosion, take a minute and get caught up with this legendary Canadian Heritage Minute.

Halifax Explosion Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

Part of the Museum’s upper level is dedicated to a ship chandler, the stocks and supplies required by ships at sea. There’s an interesting display in progress highlighting ship figureheads. Delightful to me as an adult, but inexplicably terrifying as a child.

Figureheads Maritime Museum of the Atlantic Halifax Nova Scotia

I also discovered a full-size Kraken terrorizing one of the displays. He was squishy.

Kraken Maritime Museum of the Atlantic Halifax Nova Scotia
Release the Kraken!

There’s also a visual storage area, where you can wander among the Museum’s permanent collection that’s not currently part of any interpretive displays. Like this bottle of navy rum, for example.

Navy rum Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

Avast ye mateys! There is tons to see at the Museum, but I honestly didn’t want to spoil the experience for others by posting all of my pictures from this visit. That said, I’m looking forward to many return visits and to getting reacquainted with many more of Nova Scotia’s museum and heritage experiences.




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