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



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 for opening hours.


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

B.C.-born hockey official talks to IIHF about switching European rule book to NHL rules

Rob Shick will represent NHL at 4th World Hockey Forum in Russia

Campbell River mom’s iPhone containing priceless photos stolen from Victoria hospital parkade

The phone contained photos, heartbeat recordings of her late son

Helping with Christmas bird count is ‘citizen science’

Port Alberni’s bird count will be Dec. 28, 2019; volunteers are needed

BUDGET 2020: Port Alberni Fire Department needs new equipment

Police services ask for funding for community policing office

Child care sector feels the squeeze in Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District

There are five children for every licensed child care space in the ACRD

VIDEO: Boys help rescue Cariboo bear cub

The cub, weighing just 24lbs, has been taken to wildlife sanctuary in Northwest B.C. for the winter

Miller nets winner as Canucks edge Sabres 6-5 in OT

Roussel, Leivo tally two apiece for Vancouver

‘Norovirus-like’ outbreak interrupts Bantam hockey showcase in Greater Victoria

Several athletes were sent home, quarantined on the ferry

$578: that’s how much your first distracted driving ticket will cost with recent premium hikes

Over 50 per cent of Canadians admitted to using phone while driving last year, according to study

Kelowna man attempts to steal bait bike from RCMP parking lot

38-year-old Brian Richard Harbison is facing several charges

‘Things haven’t changed enough:’ Ecole Polytechnique anniversary prompts reflection

Fourteen women were fatally shot by a gunman at the Montreal school on Dec. 6, 1989

Bear raids freezer, gorges on Island family’s Christmas baking

Hungry bruin virtually ignored meat and fish, focused, instead, on the sweets

B.C. pharmaceutical company’s stocks double in value after successful lupus drug trial

More than 40 per cent of patients using voclosporin saw improvements in kidney function

Second warning on romaine lettuce from California region as another E. coli case reported

Two cases of E. coli have been reported in relation to the illness in the U.S.

Most Read