Selkirk marine museum works to ensure artifacts don't go down with the ships

The potential for flooding this year has staff at the Selkirk museum hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

'We have a bit of a history with the Red River,' museum director says amid preparation for potential flooding

Staff at the Marine Museum of Manitoba in Selkirk have been working for three weeks to get artifacts off their land-locked ships, in preparation for potential flooding that could damage them. (Submitted by Shay Nordal)

Staff at the Marine Museum of Manitoba in Selkirk are braving the cold to move hundreds of precious artifacts from its historical ships, as the nearby Red River threatens to surround the now land-locked vessels with water once more.

For the past three weeks, museum manager Shay Nordal, along with three staff members and a volunteer, have been working full-time to keep old diving suits, ship building tools, lighthouse lamps and fragile pieces of furniture high and dry, transplanting them from the ships' chilly hulls to their upper decks.

The City of Selkirk has also set aside some office space to safely store the 47-year-old museum's archival material.

"It's a huge process," said Nordal. "One that we don't take lightly."

"It's six ships full of displays. We have one that's a banquet hall and we have a full restoration building that we have to move all of the equipment out of."

The museum hasn't had to take such measures for the past few years and it's not clear yet how much the Red River will rise following the spring melt.

But with early indicators this could be a bad year for flooding, Nordal's not taking any chances.

"We have a bit of a history with the Red River," she said.

Staff members packed up six ships' worth of displays, including old diving suits, ship building tools, lighthouse lamps and fragile pieces of furniture. (Submitted by Shay Nordal)

In 1996, an ice jam caused the museum and other parts of Selkirk to flood, prompting the city to build a dike that spared the ships from the following year's Flood of the Century.

However, another ice jam in 2007 caused flood waters to breach the dike, lifting up two ships from their foundation and drowning many of the artifacts inside them and others.

All told, damage from that flood was well over $100,000, Nordal said.

'Best case scenario, we did it for nothing'

From then on, the museum takes no chances when it comes to its wet, winding neighbour. 

"Best case scenario, we did it for nothing," Nordal said. "Worst case scenario, it floods and we saved the artifacts."

The museum has since made it so that the ships take on water instead of float, since it's easier to clean up the mud and silt in their hulls than put them back on their foundations.

If that happens, Nordal will be looking for volunteers to help with the clean up. But she's hoping nothing will happen at all.

In that case, it will only take her and a few staff members to put the artifacts back in time for May long weekend, when the museum plans to open its doors to visitors for the 2019 season.

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