Ships Ahoy!

By Bob Turner

To say that our two oldest grandsons are interesting young fellows is an understatement. Elliot and Luke are an unusual mixture: both are into science and technology, and both love history (and not just the war part, although that is a large part of it). So it shouldn’t have surprised us when we asked them if they would like to go to The Marine Museum of Manitoba last summer on one of their visits here to Selkirk, they were eager to do so.

Marine Museum of Manitoba

So with their then four year-old sister in tow, Grandma, Grandpa, an eleven year-old and an eight year-old began the tour, on one of the hottest days of last summer.

A marine museum on the prairies is a unique concept. It consists of six ships, with connecting walkways that depict the colourful past of Manitoba’s waterways, when the only way to transport freight and large numbers of passengers from the south of the province to Lake Winnipeg and beyond was by boat.

Established in 1972 The Marine Museum of Manitoba provides visitors with a hands-on heritage experience and tells the story of the development and the operation of marine life on Lake Winnipeg and the Red River circa 1850 to present day. Visitors get to board the very ships that navigated the waters and learn how the Port of Selkirk played a vital role in the development of Manitoba.Many of us don’t realize that Lake Winnipeg is Canada’s sixth largest freshwater lake (exceeding even Lake Ontario), and the world’s tenth largest.

The museum’s oldest ship is the S. S. Keenora, built in 1897, was a passenger and freight steamship on Lake of the Woods, the Red River and Lake Winnipeg.The Keenora accommodated 65 passenger cabins in her 48 meters length and travelled up to 15 knots, or nearly 28 kmh. After coming to Winnipeg in 1917, a syndicate of Winnipeg lawyers used her for a season as a floating dance hall!

Marine Museum of Manitoba

The next oldest ship is the C. G. S. Bradbury. Prefabricated in Sorel, Quebec, it was assembled on the bank of the Selkirk slough in 1915. During her career she served the Federal Government as fishing patrol vessel, a lighthouse tender and an icebreaker until she was forced to retire in 1973. Among the Bradbury’s exploits was the 1917 journey through half a foot of ice, taking doctors and medicine to a northern settlement struck by the flu epidemic.

TheChickama II was built in 1942 by the Purvis Company of Selkirk, and operated as a passenger and freight vessel on Play Green Lake. Every spring she travelled north to Warren’s Landing to make regular trips through the shallow rocky waters to Norway House. She took the cargo from the S.S. Keenora, who was unable to navigate the waters of the smaller lake.
The LadyCanadian was a fish freighter built in 1944, also by the Purvis Company and was later rebuilt by Riverton Boat works in 1963. Originally, she was owned by Canadian Fish Products and was also used by Manitoba Hydro as a survey ship.

Peguis II was a Government tug built for Public Works in 1955. It operated on Lake Winnipeg from 1955 to 1974 as a dredge tender. It assisted in the movement of barges loaded with sand, silt and mud from the dredging of harbours and channels.
The Joe Simpson is the most recent addition to the museum, donated in 1994.

In a city with a long history of outstanding hockey teams, it should come as no surprise that one of the ships would bear the name of a hockey player. Outstanding teams include The Selkirk Fishermen Junior B franchise, which was founded in 1917, and is the longest running junior hockey team in Canada, and the Selkirk Steelers, who won the 1974 Centennial Cup, becoming Canadian Junior A hockey champs.
The Joe Simpson wasnamed after the famous hockey player, “Bullet Joe” Simpson, who was originally from Selkirk. In addition to playing with the Selkirk Fishermen junior hockey club, he served in the Canadian Army during World War I, and captained the Winnipeg 61stBattalion team, the 1916 Allan Cup Champions. He also played and coached in the NHL.

Built in 1963, the Joe Simpson was installed with the original diesel engines from the S.S. Keenora. As the Joe Simpson was a flat bottomed vessel and could navigate shallow waters, it took over the duties of the Chickama II as a freighter travelling from Warren’s Landing to Norway House.

Various smaller boats and ship parts are displayed around the grounds, as well as an 1898 lighthouse relocated from Black Bear Island, a hundred miles from Selkirk.

The Marine Museum of Manitoba is open from May long-weekend to September long-weekend each year, seven days a week,
There are many interesting marine-related items displayed throughout, including pictures, newspaper articles, an old riverboat rudder, original life preservers on each ship, and a diver behind glass wearing century-old equipment.

My grandkids tried their hand at the wheel of several ships, and enjoyed playing with the buttons on an old radar unit among other things. Mostly, they just seemed tickled to be on genuine old ships – not replicas – that had sailed the waters of their province.
If you are brave and adventurous, check out the “very scary” Halloween tour, which is a favourite with many each October.
Proof for us that the museum was a hit with the grandkids was the fact that they have reminded us over the winter that it will be one of the highlights of their stay-overs this summer!

The Marine Museum of Manitoba in Selkirk – Another Red River North Reason!