Where does a homeless museum sail to? During the final week of April, the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes in Kingston was given an eviction notice by the developer who owns the property. The museum has 120 days to vacate the premises it has occupied since 1975. The waterfront location west of the downtown was owned by the Canadian government until January of this year when it was sold to a developer. For several years now, the government has been divesting itself of harbor lands.
The museum site in Kingston is actually a designated National Historic Site. From 1910 to 1968, it was the site of the Kingston Shipyards. Dozens of warships were built there for the British Royal Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy, and the U.S. Navy. Several other vessels, mostly for use by various federal and provincial government departments were also built at the Kingston Shipyards. The site is a fitting location for a museum of marine history. Even though the Kingston Shipyards are a National Historic Site, they have never been under the ownership or control of Parks Canada—the national agency that usually oversees those places. Instead, it was under the Department of Public Works.
Museum board Chair Chris West did not want to make any further comments on the eviction notice situation beyond what was already made to local media outlets like The Whig Standard newspaper and CKWS-TV. Their reports indicate the museum is indeed going to move, but the location is still unknown. Measures have to be taken to carefully transport and store exhibit items. One report even hints the museum is in preliminary talks with officials in Hamilton about possibly moving the museum there if relocating within Kingston is not possible. Hamilton is at the western end of Lake Ontario, 205 miles/330 kilometers from Kingston and is also home to the naval destroyer HMCS Haida museum.
Relocating the marine museum in Kingston would be a challenge. The biggest attraction on site is the retired Canadian Coast Guard Ship Alexander Henry. The former icebreaker and buoy tender is moored next to the museum building and is open for visitors to board and explore. Moving it would be a huge task because it is concealed in its slip from the open lake by a concrete and iron barrier. The shipyards site is also home to monuments and memorials honoring marine heritage on Lake Ontario, including to sailors who served in World War II aboard ships built there. It isn’t clear if those objects also have to be removed from the property. Inside the main museum building, there are elaborate exhibits and unique artifacts that all need a new home. Keeping historical collections together is a big challenge museum curator’s face.
The next home port of the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes is not clear. It would be a major blow to Kingston if it were to move to another city. After all, Kingston is already a city rich in Canadian history, having a museum of Great Lakes marine heritage at the foot of Lake Ontario and head of the St. Lawrence Seaway makes sense.