The Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic had its beginning in the mid-1960's, as the Centennial Project of the Town of Lunenburg. Originally called the Lunenburg Fisheries Museum, the goal of the volunteers who supervised the project was the formation of a museum which would recognize the historic importance of the fishing industry of the Canadian east coast.
In 1966, the last salt-bank schooner to fish from the port of Lunenburg, Theresa E. Connor, was purchased by the Lunenburg Marine Museum Society. The inspiration for this purchase came from Canada's Centennial Commissioner, John Fisher. He suggested that the preservation of a fishing schooner would be a fitting tribute to the many generations of fishermen who had sailed from Canadian ports.
Several schooners were available at that point in time. The Lunenburg Marine Museum Society entered into discussions with the owners of these schooners, but quickly realized the historic significance of the Theresa E. Connor. In addition to being one of only a few remaining schooners, the appearance of the Theresa E. Connor had not been altered. The vessel was the same as the day it was launched, in 1938. The owners, Zwicker and Company Limited, offered the schooner to the Society at a reduced price of $30,000 and the Theresa E. Connor became the flagship of the Museum. Exhibits were installed in the hold of the vessel, and thousands of visitors were welcomed aboard in the first summer of operation, in 1967.
The Museum developed rapidly. Many volunteer hours were spent by men who had made their living in the fishing industry. Captain Angus Tanner was one of the earliest supporters of the Lunenburg Fisheries Museum. He devoted himself to the collection of artifacts pertaining to the fishing industry.
Many family treasurers found their way to the Museum through his efforts. Sea chests, navigational instruments, charts and other old-time items were gathered and brought in to the Theresa E. Connor. Exhibits were developed based on these donations, arranged by individuals who had first-hand experience in the fishing industry.
By 1975 the Lunenburg Fisheries Museum had found a permanent home at the site of W. C. Smith and Company, a predecessor of National Sea Products Limited. The property had most recently housed the old Lunenburg Sea Products plant. Two other vessels had joined the Theresa E. Connor. They were the Cape North, one of the first wooden side trawlers to successfully fish from the port of Lunenburg, and the rum runner Reo II. Visitor attendance was nearing 50,000 people per season, and plans were well underway for expansion into the adjacent buildings of the old fish plant.
It was during this time period that the Lunenburg Marine Museum Society entered into discussions with the Nova Scotia Museum. The Provincial Museum recognized the importance of the fishing industry in the history of Nova Scotia, and agreed to add the Lunenburg Fisheries Museum to the Nova Scotia Museum system of branch museums. Mr. Ainsley Fralick, Chairman of the Board of the Lunenburg Marine Museum Society, was instrumental in establishing contact with the National Museum of Canada Corporation. As a result, by 1977 the Museum had become part of the Specialized Museums Programme of National Museums of Canada. The name of the Museum was changed to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic. The Museum received its official mandate from the Federal Government, to focus on the history of the fishing industry for the entire eastern coast of Canada.
Expansion quickly followed with the addition of Federal and Provincial funds. The old fish plant wharves were in need of major repairs. In 1978-79 the wharves were re-built. With this construction, visitors were able to gain safe access to the buildings, which were also under development.
Parks Canada, a federal agency, expressed interest in arranging a permanent exhibit for the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, detailing the age of sail on the Grand Banks fishing grounds. Several years were spent researching the topic, and the final exhibit covers the years from the late 1400's to the 1930's. Detailed models of representative fishing vessels and informative panels were installed. Several works of art were also commissioned for this exhibit, to help in the interpretive study of the Grand Banks fishery. These include silk-screened banners, and a life-sized wooden model of a 211 pound cod, the largest recorded cod ever caught.
The Museum Today
Since the early 1980's, many exhibit and research programmes have been implemented at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic. More than 25 exhibits and displays are currently open to the public, including a large video and film theatre. Exhibits include an extensive aquarium, with fish that are important to the fishing industry; the famous schooner Bluenose; the tragic August Gales of 1926 and 1927; Rum Runners; Life in Fishing Communities; and Shipbuilding.
The Museum fleet has changed during the years. The schooner Theresa E. Connor is still the flagship of the Museum, having undergone an extensive restoration project, amounting to a sum of more than $750,000. In 1988, for a period of seven months, the Theresa E. Connor was located at the Scotia Trawler Shipyard, in Lunenburg, undergoing carefully supervised restorative work. As is always the case with wooden vessels, maintenance and restoration projects will continue.
The Theresa E. Connor is now partnered with the side trawler Cape Sable. This steel side trawler became part of the Museum in 1984. Built in 1962, Cape Sable fished for National Sea Products Limited until the early 1980's.
The exhibits at the Museum are only one part of the public programs. School groups are encouraged to participate in special projects which high-light aspects of the inshore and off-shore fishing industry. Current school programmes focus on dories, lobsters, life aboard a fishing schooner and the Bluenose. Each program can be adapted to suit various grade levels, and lasts approximately one hour.
The Documentation Centre at the Fisheries Museum includes a photographic collection of several thousand items, archives, a non-lending library, and microfilmed records. All of these research materials are available to students and researchers.
The Education Centre is used by school groups for Museum programs, and by many organizations for meetings and training seminars.