105-year-old CSS Acadia continues to rust away at Halifax wharf

Despite a commitment last fall from provincial Heritage Minister Leo Glavine, the only ship still afloat to have survived the Halifax Explosion continues to rust away at the dock.

'Grand Old Lady' of Halifax harbour has not been in dry dock since 2010

CSS Acadia sits in front of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. (Cassie WIlliams)

Despite a commitment last fall from provincial Heritage Minister Leo Glavine, the only ship still afloat to have survived the Halifax Explosion continues to rust away at the dock.

Last fall, Glavine told reporters he planned to have CSS Acadia — launched in May, 1913 and known as Halifax's "Grand Old Lady" — out of the water and in dry dock in 2018 for overdue repairs.

Six months later, the province still has no timeline for that work to happen, nor how much it might cost.

"We know that ... a ship-keeper is there everyday looking after the Acadia and we're still looking at both the short and the longterm viability of the CSS Acadia," Glavine told reporters after a cabinet meeting on Thursday. 

Heritage Minister Leo Glavine says the province is still working on a plan to make improvements to CSS Acadia, but would not commit to a timeline. (CBC)

The ship's last condition assessment was done in 2013 for the Department of Transportation. It found the Acadia in decent shape for its age, but there were serious problems that needed to be fixed in order to keep it afloat.

Sections detailing recommendations for fixing problems are redacted in a copy of the report released through freedom-of-information laws.

'I just think it's shameful'

Removing the ship completely from the water for work on the hull was something that used to be done every five years, according to heritage consultant David Flemming. 

He's a member of the group trying to save the Acadia and worked for years as curator of collections and director at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, the ship's caretaker.

Flemming said the last time Acadia was placed in dry dock was in 2010.

"I just think it's shameful," Flemming told CBC last November.

"I won't even go aboard her now. I haven't been on board the ship for five years. It's just too depressing."

The Acadia, shortly after she arrived in Canada in 1913. (Canadian Navy archives)

Glavine said the province is still working on a plan, but would not commit to a timeline for work above and beyond regular maintenance. He said once in dry dock, the province will be able to assess the ship's condition and whether it may be taken out of the water permanently. 

"At 104 years of age, when it does get to dry dock, you know the integrity of the ship and the work that's needed will certainly be evaluated," he said. 

Ship will not be scrapped, says province

Glavine was adamant, however, that the ship will not be scrapped. 

"That has never, ever been part of the discussions since I have been minister," he said.

"I value history and heritage and when I look at the CSS Acadia and what it did during its working years, it has a place in the history and heritage of our province." 

CSS Acadia rusts in front of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Built in England, Acadia was designed to map coastal areas. The vessel is thought to be the only Canadian ship still afloat today to have served in both the First World War, when it guarded Halifax harbour, and the Second World War.

It's also the only ship still afloat to have survived the Halifax Explosion more than a century ago.

Province wouldn't grant interview with museum staff

The province declined CBC an interview with museum staff to talk about the state of the ship. When asked to provide a reason, the spokesperson did not respond.

These days, the Acadia is a floating museum at the Halifax waterfront. Visitors can tour the main deck, but lower decks are off limits due to mould.

In an emailed statement, Kim Reinhardt, the general manager of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, said staff had made a number of repairs over the past five years. They include replacing anodes that help prevent corrosion and cleaning the hull of organic growth.

She added the ship has undergone lead and asbestos abatement projects.

"Longterm maintenance work would involve dry docking the ship and this is one of many considerations involved in preservation planning," said Reinhardt in the statement.

With files from Michael Gorman

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