Volunteers at the Maritime Museum of British Columbia (Victoria BC)

by John MacFarlane 2017

Bob Bell

Bob Bell, one of the long-serving reference volunteers at the desk in the reading room. (Photo from the John MacFarlane collection.)

Since its earliest origins the Maritime Museum of British Columbia has relied on a small but highly talented and experienced group of volunteers to drive the access to its voluminous collections. The budget has never been sufficient to have salaried staff to carry out this work. This has been most important in the operation of the library and archive. They have been lucky to have recruited a group of dedicated men and women who donated thousands of hours of time.

Getting the images and ephemera properly documented and recorded has been a focus for some time. They are almost finished the images having reviewed almost 30,000 for record accuracy. Its been a big job but they are already looking at tackling the huge collection of ephemera - schedules, tickets, information sheets, promotional brochures and other paper documents that have never been properly reviewed.

Bob Bell joined the Maritime Museum of British Columbia at its old headquarters in the courthouse on Bastion Square in 1991. After 26 years he is undoubtedly the longest serving staff member at the Museum in its history. (I did some rough figuring and reckon that Bob has given almost 8,000 hours service to the MMBC.) Such dedication and service is rare and the maritime heritage community is grateful to him for his service.

Bell served in ships of the Alfred Holt Line. He served in vessels calling in exotic ports of the world in the Engineering Department as a marine electrician. He came ashore to work as an electrical engineer and draftsman before his retirement. Bell speaks fondly of his sea service. For readers not familiar with the Alfred Holt and Company, it traded as the Blue Funnel Line, and was a UK shipping company that was founded in 1866 and operated merchant ships for 122 years.

In his own words, "I have always been interested in nautical history and was a member of the World Ship Society from its early days when it was founded on Merseyside. So when I came to Canada I joined the Vancouver branch who held their meetings at the Vancouver Maritime Museum and so became interested in the history of the Pacific North West, opening up a whole new area of history for me. When I came to Victoria I visited the MMBC and heard that there was a requirement for volunteers, so I applied and was interviewed, and initially detailed to answer research requests."

"I later became involved in a project to document the photo collection with the aim of having on line access, at the same time the photos would be inspected and their condition noted information about the photo quoted, location, brief history , (i.e. change of name ultimate fate, and then the photo would be put into an acid free sleeve with the accession number affixed). I’m currently working on the final stages of this project together with Adrian Bull and Pat Crabb. As a result of this project and other areas of involvement I have thus continued to learn more about this wonderful region of Canada, and hopefully will continue to do so."

Adrian Bull

Captain Adrian Bull reviewing the last of the photograph collection. (Photo from the John MacFarlane collection.)

Captain Adrian Bull has been a volunteer since 1996. Adrian works with Bob Bell in cataloguing the huge photograph collection of the Museum and working toward the eventual goal of having it accessible online.

Captain Bull was the Master of the huge salvage tug Sudbury II. He began serving in deep sea vessels in 1949 and brings a wealth of personal experience to the research desk. He is the sort of volunteer you can only hope to dream of offering help when you need the answer to an obscure or difficult query. He is reluctant though to tell about his own brilliant career which I hope someone will help to rectify in the near future.


The Maritime Museum of British Columbia (Photo from the John MacFarlane collection.)

The Maritime Museum of British Columbia reading room is located at 634 Humboldt St., Victoria, B.C. V8W 1A4 (across the street from the Empress Hotel). Email them or phone in advance for an appointment if you want to talk to the research volunteers or use the reading room resources. (They may have to retrieve some materials from the collections storage to assist you.)

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2017) Volunteers at the Maritime Museum of British Columbia. Nauticapedia.ca 2017. http://nauticapedia.ca/Gallery/MMBC_Volunteers.php

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