British Columbia

Victoria museum requests stories from queer maritime workers to include in exhibition

The hidden history of gay maritime workers is being brought to light in a project organized by the Maritime Museum of British Columbia.

Queer at Sea exhibition will be held at the Victoria museum from May 17 to Nov. 5

The Maritime Museum in British Columbia in Victoria is inviting LGBTQ people with experiences with B.C.'s maritime industries and culture to share their stories, in preparation for its Queer at Sea exhibition that will run from May to November. (James Holkko)

The hidden history of gay maritime workers is being brought to light in a project organized by the Maritime Museum of British Columbia.

The Victoria-based museum is inviting queer, trans and two-spirit people connected to B.C.'s maritime history and culture to share their stories in preparation for an upcoming exhibition. Queer at Sea: Tales from the 2SLGBTQ+ Community will be held from May 17 to Nov. 5.

Jelena Putnik, a director of the Maritime Museum, says Queer at Sea is inspired by Hello Sailor, an exhibition about the history of gay seafarers, which was held in Halifax's Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in 2011.

As a sea cadet officer in the 1980s and '90s, Putnik says she has lived experience with homophobia in the corps.

"The gay community [was] quite thriving in [the sea cadets], but it was definitely under the radar and there was just an understood hush-hush," she said.

Jelena Putnik remembers the sea cadet corps was still homophobic back in the 1980s and '90s. (Submitted by Brittany Vis)

From 1950 to 1992, thousands of LGBTQ personnel across the civil service including Canadians in the military and RCMP were grilled by special investigation units, hooked up to polygraph machines and ultimately discharged from service — deemed a threat to national security.

Putnik says she could live more freely only after quitting the sea cadets in the early 1990s and working at an eco-tourism company, where she got to know her current partner.

Since her departure, however, she says the sea cadets have become increasingly LGBTQ-friendly.

The museum's executive director, Brittany Vis, says LGBTQ people with connections to maritime industries and culture could submit their stories in text, or do an interview with museum staff, and submit photos and other personal artifacts as well.

Vis asks people who want to share their stories with the museum to fill out an online form, where they can remain anonymous, or contact her by email at or by phone at 250-385-4222 (ext. 106), by the deadline on March 4.

LISTEN | Brittany Vis invites LGBTQ people to share their stories about B.C. maritime culture

LISTEN | Jelena Putnik shares her experiences with homophobia in maritime professions

With files from On The Island and The Early Edition