It was the perfect summer day; the sun was shining, the sky was the purest blue and the view of the ocean and cliffs was spectacular as we drove into St. Martins, New Brunswick. And then I saw the name on the side of the building…
“Quaco Museum! I want to go there!”
In the summer of 2017, my boyfriend and I went on a road trip from Ontario to Prince Edward Island, and the village of St. Martins was one of our first stops. Though I thoroughly wanted to see this small museum, I had something else to do first: lunch! Whether you go before or after your visit to Quaco Museum, I recommend Coastal Tides Family Restaurant as a great choice. We left our car in the parking lot, and after getting our fill of battered scallops (mine) and lobster roll (his), we walked next door to the museum.
Upon entering we were greeted by one of the two summer students, who informed us that her colleague had just started a tour that we were welcome to join. The group was small and our guide was enthusiastic, exhibiting an obvious knowledge in and pride for the history of his town. Indeed, the Quaco museum may be small but the history and the stories are not.
St. Martins was founded in 1783 by a detachment unit of the disbanding King’s Orange Rangers, a loyalist militia from Orange and Duchess Counties, New York. St. Martins boasted several shipyards along its shores that built and launched over 500 sailing vessels during the Golden Age of Sail between 1803 and 1900. The village was the second largest producer of wooden sailing vessels in New Brunswick and the third largest in the Maritimes. The lumber industry also played an important part of the local economy at that time, a great deal of lumber being needed to build the immense vessels that the local shipyards produced.
The exhibits were incredibly well done and serve to outline the narrative as you move through the gallery, highlighting specific people or families in the area, examples of ship building and models of the ships that were built in the village. The most popular and most famous of their artifacts is a figurehead with an amazing history all of its own. Our guide recounted to us that children love this figurehead and often come up and hug it, an anecdote that gets chuckles and smiles from all of us, before he launches into a story that seems unreal at first. The tale is the reason why this museum has stuck with me over a year since I visited.
The Moran family was one of the most well-known shipyard owners during this Golden Age. One of the ships they built was named Prince Victor. There has been some debate about it, but the figurehead for this ship is most likely a representation of Queen Victoria’s grandson, Albert Victor Christian Edward, Duke of Clarence and Avondale.
The 1221 ton ship was launched into the Bay of Fundy at high tide on May 17th, 1870. From St. Martins it sailed 12 times to various ports around the world, never returning to New Brunswick, ending its travels when wrecked sailing into the Severn River south of Wales on Good Friday 1887. The vessel was lost, but the figurehead was rescued.
Once rescued the figurehead spent nearly 90 years chained to a plum tree in the garden of a secluded cottage, disappearing into the bush and overgrowth that surrounded it. Years later the garden growth was cleared away and the figurehead was found (again) and restored in the 1960s. Prince Victor’s figurehead then ended up in the Gloucester Folk Museum for over 30 years until they reached out to The Hunter Figurehead Archives.
Richard Hunter and his partners began working on the restoration of the figurehead which led to Hunter to reach out to the Quaco Museum curator, looking for information on the ship. His most important question was finding out who had carved the figurehead. The email from Hunter made its way to the desk of Robert A. Moran, a descendant of those who built the Prince Victor. Being interested in family history and history in general, this set him off on a quest to bring a piece of the Prince Victor, a significant piece of local history, back home.
Robert A. Moran worked alongside the Quaco Museum and the Quaco Historical and Library Society to raise the money needed to purchase the figurehead and bring it home to St. Martins. They succeeded in doing so and the Prince Victor figurehead was brought into the museum in August 2016. It officially went on display in May 2017, just a couple short months before I was to visit it, where I found myself in awe of its size, regal splendor and restoration to its former grandeur. There are more details to the story – best heard on your future visit to the museum.
After this enchanting story there was only a short stint of tour left, leading us from the main gallery space into a short hallway with display cases filled with the kinds of gifts that sailors would have picked up along their travels and brought home to their loved ones. The end of the tour allowed us to continue to the gift shop or take a closer look at things we had only glanced at during the tour. I did go back to take a look a few things of interest, and then on to the gift shop (which is always a must visit for me, I love to poke around in a museum gift shop).
I picked up a copy of Robert A. Moran’s book, “Hope Restored: The Ship Prince Victor, its Iconic Figurehead and the Maritime Heritage of St. Martins, New Brunswick” as I was very interested in learning more about the restoration work done on the figurehead. Moran’s book details how he first learned about the figurehead, visiting it, wanting to bring it home, as well as various ship logs and maps for the twelve voyages of the Prince Victor and other Moran family ships, and includes some Moran family history as well. It is an intriguing read and I do recommend picking it up on your way out to learn more about the journey of the figurehead.
What to do after your visit to the museum?
If you can hold off reading your new copy of “Hope Restored” there are wonderful views to take in, sea caves to explore, and wonderful shops along the winding road to partake.
Hours: Change seasonally; check website for details: http://www.quaco.ca/museum/
Sources: http://www.quaco.ca/; http://stmartinscanada.com/attractions-events/museum/ ; Hope Restored: The Ship Prince Victor, its Iconic Figurehead and the Maritime Heritage of St. Martins, New Brunswick. Robert A. Moran.
Where to find the book: http://miramichireader.ca/2018/02/hope-restored-review/