I love summer as much as the next person, yet there is always that day when going outside simply isn’t feasible. Yet when I really need to get out of the house, I suddenly look for the best indoor options available. One such option is hitting up local museums. It’s a great way to see something amazing (and get some cardio in), without having to deal with our unpredictable weather. One of my favorite places is the Manitoba Museum. It has a great layout and covers a large swath of history. Yet, like anything else, the museum is constantly revamping both its exhibits and its history as new interpretations about the past appear.
One such change is the recently reopened Nonsuch gallery on June 8th. It was 350 years ago this year that this great ship (known as a ketch because the mizzenmast is smaller than the foremast,) travelled across the Atlantic to Hudson’s Bay to participate in the Fur Trade and begin laying the groundwork for what would be the Hudson’s Bay Company a year later. Anyone who has ever visited the museum would know that the Nonsuch on display is a replica of the original ketch. Yet there is almost as much history behind the replica as there was for the original vessel. The Hudson’s Bay Company wanted to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the voyage with the construction of the replica.
After ten months of labour, on August 26, 1968, the Nonsuch set sail from Devon with a few modern aids (such as an engine and working toilets). She would spend the next six years successfully travelling 14,000 km of ocean around Europe and North American until her final voyage where she would land at the Manitoba Museum (Nov. 19, 1973, CBC). (Incidentally, once the Nonsuch arrived at the museum, the gallery had to be built around her because of her great size. This renovation would also include the addition of the sub-arctic gallery, woodland gallery and the forest gallery that opened in 1975.)
Since 1973, the Nonsuch display has been about her voyage from England to Canada. Now the exhibit will switch to her journey from Canada back to England in 1669 and contain her new cargo of trade goods and stories from the crew about their amazing voyage. It’s definitely something to check out during those hot and humid summer days. But, for those who prefer a more literary exploration, by all means check out these books on the Nonsuch and other fantastic museums.
The Nonsuch By Laird Rankin, gives an in-depth view on the history of the Nonsuch, her construction, launch and journey to Hudson’s Bay in 1668. What I find most fascinating though, is the fact that Rankin was more than just a historian, but also the man responsible for bringing the Nonsuch to Winnipeg in the first place. He worked for HBC in the late 1960s and was part of the 300th year celebrations. When she “docked”, he would later be responsible for the tours aboard her. Rankin would later revise his book and republish it as Return of the Nonsuch in 2004. The reprint includes more photographs then the original edition.
Empire of the Bay: An Illustrated History of the Hudson’s Bay Company by Peter C. Newman is one of many books written on the subject of the Hudson’s Bay Company. While Newman does relate the history of the company by presenting an entertaining read through the use of facts and narrative, he goes further by exploring how the history of Western Canada is intertwined with the expansion of Hudson’s Bay. A fantastic read that is more like an adventure novel then a history book.
For those of you more interested in maritime history, I would recommend Sail & Steam: A Century of Maritime Enterprise, 1840-1935: photographs from the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich by John Falconer. Filled with photo reproductions from the National Maritime Museum, Falconer utilizes the photos as a basis for historical essays that bring to life 19th century Britain’s trade, naval supremacy, fisheries and daily life. There is also A Maritime Album: 100 Photographs and their Stories if you wish to see more photographs on the subject or The Habit of Victory: the story of the Royal Navy 1545 to 1945, Naval War of 1812 and Nelson, An Illustrated History if a deep delving into naval history catches your fancy.
After charting the waters through artifacts, prehistory and dioramas (where we are one of six museums who still have dioramas), you might want to take a look at the Canadian Human Rights Museum for a more interactive perspective of history. Or at the very least take a look at a few books below on the subject. Happy reading and exploration!
- Miracle at the Forks : the museum that dares make a difference: the Canadian Museum for Human Rights by Peter C. Newman
- From Darkness to Light : the building of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
- The Idea of a Human Rights Museum by Karen Busby