Jenn Preedy, co-ordinator of the Maritime Discovery Centre, and Bryce Casavant of Heritage Hard Hat Divers welcomed visitors Saturday to Knights of the Deep, a new exhibit on this history of diving. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Descend to the depths of diving history in Port Alberni

New exhibit opens at Maritime Discovery Centre

MIKE YOUDS

SPECIAL TO THE NEWS

By extraordinary coincidence, the Maritime Discovery Centre opened its doors for the season with a new exhibit on the same day that a cruise ship dropped anchor in Alberni Harbour.

“It just coincidentally fell on opening day,” Jenn Preedy, museum co-ordinator, said of the timing on Saturday, which marked the second visit this year by the MS Maasdam.

Passengers strolled along the waterfront to discover a fascinating glimpse of history in the form of Knights of the Deep: Heritage Diving on the West Coast. The exhibit is the first of its kind on the Island, said Bryce Casavant of the Heritage Hard Hat Divers, a club with members in Vancouver, Washington State and Port Alberni.

Club members dug into their personal collections of diving artifacts to assemble the exhibit full of vintage diving helmets and other gear. Casavant credited Preedy for the “heavy lifting” required to bring the exhibit to life.

“I’m very proud of how it’s been put together,” she said. “We agreed that this would be a great exhibit for our little space. It’s more than I could have imagined.”

Heritage Hard Hat Divers not only cultivate an interest in old gear—they put it to use, donning the bulky suits and hard helmets to descend to the depths. Last year, Casavant demonstrated his Mark V suit for a diving event at Vancouver Aquarium. Each fall, club members gather at Sproat Lake to test their equipment.

READ: Divers explore the deeps of Sproat Lake using vintage equipment

As a diver intrigued by military history, he was naturally drawn to the old gear.

“It’s one thing to go diving,” Casavant explained. “It’s another thing to have connection to diving history.”

He gives a lecture on diving history on Sept. 19 at 7 p.m.

“It is like walking on the moon,” he added, describing what it’s like to dive in the old suits. “You can literally hop as if you were on the moon. It’s a real unique feeling.”

And if you’re a diver, Port Alberni is a good place to hang your hat.

“Jacques Cousteau called this area the Emerald Coast,” Casavant noted, placing the B.C. coast prominently on the world diving map.

The show includes an old Gorman pump that barely survived the Blitz, the intense bombing of London during the Second World War. Mike Bentley bought the burned-out pump from a salvage company and brought it back to Port Alberni for restoration.

“Those divers had to be dedicated,” observed Gareth Flostrand, chair of the heritage commission.

“What was the interesting part is that the club is actually using the gear,” said Steve Marshall, a passenger from the Maasdam and a former scuba diver. “It’s keeping heritage alive. It’s nice that people keep history alive like that.”

Knights of the Deep continues at the centre until April 2020. Check portalbernimaritimeheritage.ca for opening hours.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Steve Marshall, a cruise ship passenger from Florida and former scuba diver, photographs vintage diving helmets, part of Knights of the Deep at the Maritime Discovery Centre. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Just Posted

Port Alberni’s Old Puckers playing for BC Children’s Hospital

CFOX’s hockey team will make the long trek to central Vancouver Island for the game

BIZ BEAT: Get a head start on spring cleaning in Port Alberni

Chris Fenton walks across a desert to raise funds for ACAWS

2020 is another banner year for Port Alberni

Painted banners will be hung up in the Rotary Arts District this summer

Port Alberni’s Special Olympic skaters head to BC Winter Games

Four skaters from Port Alberni will head to Fort St. John to… Continue reading

Pipeline dispute: Tories put no-confidence motion on House of Commons agenda

Conservatives say they have no confidence in the Trudeau government to end the rail blockades

Galchenyuk nets shootout winner as Wild edge Canucks 4-3

Vancouver tied with Calgary for second spot in NHL’s Pacific Division

Original Victoria Clipper vessel sails one last time

Vessel sold to buyers in Gabon, Central Africa

B.C.’s soda drink tax will help kids lose weight, improve health, says doctor

Dr. Tom Warshawski says studies show sugary drinks contribute to obesity

A&W employees in Ladysmith get all-inclusive vacation for 10 years of service

Kelly Frenchy, Katherine Aleck, and Muriel Jack are headed on all-expenses-paid vacations

B.C. mom’s complaint about ‘R word’ in children’s ministry email sparks review

In 2020, the ‘R’ word shouldn’t be used, Sue Robins says

Five vehicles crash on the highway in Nanaimo, one rolls over

No one injured in collision Wednesday on Highway 19A near Norwell Drive and Jingle Pot Road

Two new hybrid BC Ferries ships christened with new names in Victoria ceremony

Island Aurora and Island Discovery will service Gulf Island and North Island routes

B.C., federal ministers plead for meeting Wet’suwet’en dissidents

Scott Fraser, Carolyn Bennett says they can be in Smithers Thursday

Most Read