Naval Museum marks 50 years, launches new naval story initiative 

A garden party was held on June 14 to mark the Naval Museum of Halifax’s 50th birthday. Museum director Jennifer Denty is seen here speaking to guests and colleagues. CPL MITCHELL PAQUETTE

Naval Museum marks 50 years, launches new naval story initiative 

By Nathan Stone,
Trident Staff 

Summer staff member Cora Fletcher works the “Your Navy, Your Experience, Your Story” desk during the anniversary celebration. RCN veterans attending the party were encouraged to share their experiences in person.

A cheerful garden party brought out friends, well-wishers and staff from years past to celebrate an important milestone for the Naval Museum of Halifax and witness the launch of a new story collection project. 

The museum honored its 50th anniversary on June 14 in the garden outside of Admiralty House, the museum’s home since 1974, at Canadian Forces Base Halifax. The festivities featured music by members of the Stadacona band, refreshments, speeches and the unveiling of a new display inside the museum.  

Museum Director Jennifer Denty announced the launch of a new story collection project: Your Navy, Your Experience, Your Story. The initiative aims to collect firsthand stories from current and former members of the Royal Canadian Navy about their experiences in uniform. Denty said since journaling and letter writing have fallen out of fashion, museums are struggling to acquire personal accounts of modern military history. 

“Firsthand accounts are no longer finding their way into our archive as we shift into a new and digital lifestyle. These firsthand accounts often reflect aspects of naval history that more formal histories ignore, such as the Navy family and day-to-day life at sea. They can also enhance our understanding of or acknowledge that there are conflicting perspectives of a single event.” 

Denty added that the recent 80th anniversary of D-Day underscores the importance of collecting firsthand stories as the Second World War begins to fade from living memory. 

“History is fleeting, and in many instances, the most powerful means of telling a story is through the voices of those who have lived experience.” 

The story collection project is a permanent service with no deadline to enter. Those wishing to share their experiences can submit a written or typed story online to or in person at the museum. 

Denty also thanked the staff and volunteers who dedicated their time to the museum over the last half century. 

“Their tenacity is echoed through the exhibits that they built, the artifacts they collected, and the love they have fostered for this museum amongst the Navy community.” 

Captain (Navy) (Capt (N)) Andy Mackenzie, Base Commander Canadian Forces Base Halifax, and former museum director Richard Sanderson were among others who spoke at the celebration. They both commemorated the work of Rear-Admiral (RAdm) Hugh F. Pullen, who played an instrumental role in the creation of the Maritime Museum of Canada, a precursor to both the Naval Museum of Halifax and the Maritime Musuem of the Atlantic, in 1948.  

Capt (N) Mackenzie described RAdm Pullen as “an avid historian” with “a great presence and a great history” and noted the Pullen building, a part of Naval Fleet School Atlantic, as evidence of the respect his legacy commands in the RCN.    

RAdm Pullen’s daughter, Frances Gregor, attended the celebration and was present for the unveiling of a new display about her father’s RCN career within the museum. The future children’s activity room at the museum will also bear RAdm Pullen’s name.  

Naval Museum of Halifax Curator Jennifer Gamble is seen introducing the museum’s new display highlighting the life of RAdm Hugh F. Pullen. CPL MITCHELL PAQUETTE

During the celebration, guests were encouraged to browse through the museum’s latest exhibition titled Challenging Traditions: Women in the Royal Canadian Navy. It is the first in a planned series of floating exhibits that can be displayed at institutions outside the museum. It debuted in May at Halifax Central Library.  

The 50th anniversary begins a period of renewal for the museum, kicking off with the restoration work of Admiralty House’s exterior in the fall and continuing in phases through the next ten years. On the inside, Denty and her staff will be working to expand the museum’s collection and build new exhibits. Denty said the aim is to present the full history of the RCN. 

“We plan to tell the whole history of the Navy from 1910 to more modern operations, including the Gulf War and Operation Apollo – from our humble beginnings to charting the new path ahead.”