Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Home from the sea

Years ago, I attended a party at the home of my Friend of the Right Hand. My clearest memory of the gathering was a conversation with a violinist from the Victoria Symphony who told me a number of creepy Victoria ghost stories, including his own weird experience while working at the Maritime Museum. There's an old-fashioned cage elevator there and he said he was working it one night, glanced up through the mesh and saw someone peering down the shaft at him.

I thought of that today as I returned to the museum for the first time in years. I don't even know when I last visited; I remembered it as being a rather small, dark, and unexciting place.

It certainly has changed! There are several exhibits, most in large well-lit rooms. I took away four things from today's visit.

1) The Jolly Roger flag had many variations, depending on which pirate was after you.

2) The courtroom three flights up (you could take the haunted elevator -- we walked) has been restored.
I think this is a later courtroom from the 1890s and not the one associated with death sentences and hence, the ghosts. No one was around when younger daughter and I came upon it, so I mounted the prisoner's box and faced the bench. I trust this will be the only time I do this.

3) We were lucky enough to be in town for an exhibit commemorating the centenary of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, commonly called "Canada's Titanic". She went down in the St Laurence Seaway within 14 minutes on May 29th, 1914. A sign near the end of the exhibit goes over reasons why this disaster, which resulted in the deaths of more than a thousand people, is not well-remembered. One possible reason is that her passengers were not as famous -- although Henry Irving's son Laurence died with his wife, also an actor. The most likely reason is that Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo one month less a day later, and the world slid into war.

4) I was puzzled by a number of packsacks dotting the exhibits, usually brightly coloured with things pasted to them. It wasn't until I reached the second floor that I realized they were part of the Field Trip Project, a collaboration between children and artists in both Japan and British Columbia. British Columbia, of course, shares the spectres of tsunamis and earthquakes, but there is a special connection with the Japanese tsunami of 2011 and British Columbians, who began finding debris from the disaster on their shorelines as the ocean currents swept it across the Pacific.

The packsacks are the kind worn by Japanese schoolchildren. Some of the art on the packsacks is about the results of the tsunami, and others have chosen to address personal or political issues. This exhibit was unexpected and moving.

As we left, I managed one more furtive glance up the elevator shaft which was glowing with midday summer sunshine from the offices above. To my relief, no one was there.

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