Mary Celeste inspires building project

Andrew
Andrew Wagstaff
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Dalhousie architecture students join community volunteers to create outdoor public room

The Mary Celeste is back.

The mystery ship that was built in Spencers Island and went on to haunt generations has now served as the inspiration for a joint project between Dalhousie University architecture students and local community volunteers.

The Mary Celeste is back.

The mystery ship that was built in Spencers Island and went on to haunt generations has now served as the inspiration for a joint project between Dalhousie University architecture students and local community volunteers. In two weeks the participants created a public outdoor room that was completed and introduced to the community last week.

Making a public room in a rural community is quite an accomplishment, compared to a plaza or other larger urban centres, said Professor Roger Mullin, who led the project. They are very important for collective development, I think, and the discovery of ideas.

This particular idea was discovered more than a year ago, when Mullin and a group of students visited the Age of Sail Heritage Centre in Wards Brook to discuss a possible project there. Among those in the audience were Laurie Currie, Kerr Canning and Paul Callison.

Currie had been thinking for some time about building something for the community in Spencers Island, and he told Mullin that if he was willing to undertake such a project, he would donate five acres of land for it next to Highway 209, a thoroughfare for local tourist traffic.

Originally I wanted to rebuild the Mary Celeste, said Currie. I asked him if they would want to do a project, and he said they would.

Several different designs were considered, and originally had included a boat in the water. One idea was to have a boat that could travel to different ports and tell its story through a film. A similar idea was to have a floating structure docked in Spencers Island, rising and falling with the tides as a film was projected on to it.

Theres a nice relationship between boat building and the history here, and storytelling of filmmaking and the cinema, said student Kimberly Fuller. I think thats why initially we wanted to go on the water, to create the storytelling of this boat that could go from town to town and tell the story.

The logistics of such a project eventually proved too much, and the team settled on recreating the Mary Celeste in spirit and on land. A rock wall represents the hull, gravel represents the ship deck and a wooden step is the keel. Between two masts hangs a sail, where films can be shown thanks to a projector housed in a small lighthouse structure.

We really accomplished a lot in two weeks, said Mullin. I think whats most pleasing is the similarity in size between this public room and the large shipping vessels that were here, the Mary Celeste, in particular. I think the scale of this thing is impressive.

Materials and time were donated by several community volunteers, including Currie, Callison, Canning, Charles Reid, Jim Robarts and Taylor Redmond.

Community members were invited to the site on July 26 to see the work that has been done, and watch a film prepared by the students. Unfortunately, the wind proved too strong for the materials used for the sail, and it began to tear. So the showing will take place at a later date.

But the future opportunities for the site are endless, according to Currie, who said the community should make the most of the increased tourist traffic expected from developments such as the new fossil interpretive centre in Joggins.

Id like to see seven or eight buildings here, with a parking lot and rental space, he said. It could be called the Mary Celeste Centre.

Organizations: Dalhousie University, Age of Sail Heritage Centre, Mary Celeste Centre

Geographic location: Spencers Island, Wards Brook, Joggins

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