Preserving maritime history on the North Coast

A liquefied natural gas proponent, the library and the cannery museum have come together to preserve maritime history on the North Coast.

A liquefied natural gas proponent, the community library and the cannery museum have come together in an unique collaboration to preserve maritime history on the North Coast.

In 2014, Nexen Aurora LNG purchased the property on Casey Cove, and adopted the crumbling buildings from a marine supply station in 1912 that was repurposed in the Second World War to be a military outpost.

There are six buildings still standing on the site and one that has caved in on itself. The buildings housed industrial equipment, including one magnificent 12,000 lb overhead crane for lifting marine buoys that still moves by hand. There were buildings for the full-time workers, the bachelors bunk house, houses for married men and an impressive superintendent’s home.

The proponent is considering Digby Island as a potential location for an LNG facility and needs to tear down the unstable buildings to ensure safety on their site for their workforce and for the general public.

“At the same time there’s some interesting artifacts. There’s some big pieces of timber. We didn’t want to bring it all down and send it to a landfill. There’s a lot of history there,” said the site development manager for Aurora LNG, Andrew Hamilton.

Before the land had been purchased by the proponent, Lou Allison, who works at the Prince Rupert Library, had toured the buildings with the previous owner. Allison lives in Dodge Cove, adjacent to Casey Cove, and the preservation of the artifacts, and the massive crane, on the site became a mission that she and the library took on.

“I was lamenting the fact that this was just going to be destroyed when the company took all the buildings down, or when time inevitably knocked them down,” Allison said.

She reached out to the proponent to find out what was left on the site and she discussed with the deputy librarian, Kathleen Larkin, how they could find an institution in the province that would take the remaining artifacts.

“One of the roles that libraries play is we do research for people. We get research questions all the time. Kathleen has done probably thousands, hundreds of research questions for people,” Allison said.

Allison contacted marine museums in Vancouver and others but none would bite due to the remoteness of the location and the cost to move the crane and heavy industrial machinery. Then she started talking to the manager of the North Pacific Cannery Museum, Lesley Moore, who expressed an interest.

Three weeks ago, the cannery, the library and the proponent came together to view the site at Casey Cove. Steve Milum, the restoration manager at the cannery, also joined the crew and saw the possibilities of using materials from a similar era as the cannery window frames, doors, light switches and hardware are consistent with the cannery’s era.

“The main things we saw that are useful are old windows with the old glass from pre-1940s that have ripples in it, which is hard to get. You can’t access that stuff anymore,” Milum said.

Milum has taken four of his crew members, who are part of the North Pacific Cannery Industry Trades Training and Conservation Project, and travelled to Casey Cove to salvage some of the materials from the buildings. The crew, who are apprenticing to be construction craft workers, bridgemen pile drivers or carpenters, also received some additional experience in how Nexen safety program operates on site.

“A big part of our safety program is getting our crew up to speed with industry standards and we went through their safety program which just echoed everything that we taught our guys,” Milum said.

Nexen is providing transportation of the materials from the Casey Cove to the cannery and Hamilton said they are happy to support this.

The library and Allison has fulfilled the duty as a community liaison and has stepped out from the process now that at least some of the heritage materials have found a home.

The fate of the crane has yet to be decided.