Nova Scotia

Public to get sneak peek of 106-year-old CSS Acadia's massive restoration

CSS Acadia survived the Halifax Explosion and two world wars. On Thursday and Friday, the public will get a chance to see the massive amount of work that's been done so far to restore the 1913 vessel to her former glory.

Acadia survived Halifax Explosion, only Canadian vessel still afloat to serve in both First, Second World Wars

On Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., CSS Acadia will open to the public for the first time this season to allow people a sneak peek to see the work that's been done to the 1913 vessel. (Cassie Williams/CBC)

The smell of Douglas fir, fresh paint and the tap, tap, tap of people working in what looks like a greenhouse on top of the 106-year-old CSS Acadia draws the curiosity of onlookers along Halifax's waterfront.

The vessel is approaching the end of the first of three phases of work to restore the "Grand Old Lady" to her former glory.

The project is no small task with dozens of people working for months to remove the rust and decay that has accumulated on the ship over the years.

"It makes me feel immensely proud... because we're setting up Acadia to be in tip-top shape, as good as we can get her, true to her heritage nature and her original integrity," said Calum Ewing, museum director at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

He said the vessel will continue to bring the history of hydrographic and ocean sciences in Canada, and the life of seafarers, to the public

On Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the ship will open to the public for the first time this season to allow people a sneak peek at what's been happening underneath the plastic cover the ship has been hiding under.

Calum Ewing is the museum director and has worked at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic for more than 30 years. (Cassie Williams/CBC)

Ewing said the Acadia was built in England by some of the craftsmen who constructed the Titanic. The vessel was designed to map coastal areas and 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. The ship also survived the blast of the Halifax Explosion in 1917.

"The same carpenters and welders and shipbuilders that worked on Titanic built this vessel," said Ewing, noting the chief scientist's cabin looks like one of the first-class suites on the Titanic.

Museum staff have big ambitions for the vessel, the largest artifact in its collection. Ewing said the new durable winter cover will extend the ship's season into the fall and spring. He said the work will allow for more programming, including becoming a floating classroom.

"I'm really thrilled about the potential future use of Acadia," said Ewing.

CSS Acadia 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. (Cassie Williams/CBC)

Communities, Culture and Heritage Minister Leo Galvine said the restoration work is important, especially with the museum's plans to offer more youth programming aboard.

"This is a wonderful, wonderful vessel for Nova Scotians and visitors to the province to come and see and experience, but more than that, it's to bring our youth here to talk about the work of the Acadia so that history, that heritage, that sense of pride that the Acadia brings out," he said.

Communities, Culture and Heritage Minister Leo Glavine says preserving the Acadia is important for the marine heritage of Nova Scotia. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

The Department of Transportation, which is involved in the project, said the cost for the first phase is on budget. When that stage is done, likely this fall, the cost will be released. The total cost of the three phases will be revealed when the project is complete.

The last assessment of the Acadia for the Department of Transportation, in 2013, estimated restoration costs of at least $1.4 million. However, that only took into account the visible degradation, not any potential damage below the water line or in other hidden nooks and crannies.

Dozens of people have been working for months to remove the rust and decay that has accumulated on CSS Acadia over the years.  (Cassie Williams/CBC)

Museum boat builder Eamonn Doorly said once the work is finished, the museum may open the ship up as an event space.

A lot of the work done so far in the first restoration phase is not obvious. Ewing said the prep work to get the steel deck ready for the Douglas fir top was no small feat. Before the honey-coloured planks were laid, the job involved scraping, patching, riveting and sealing.

"It's an ideal wood to use for the decking," said Ewing. "It's very solid, yet not too heavy, and it stands up very well to the everyday use of a ship. And so it was traditionally used as decking and it was certainly the original decking that was used on Acadia when she was built."

This 2018 file photo shows some of the rust and marine growth that had accumulated along the hull of the Acadia. (Cassie Williams/CBC)

Glavine said once the three phases of the work are complete, the ship will be protected for decades to come.

The ship has also undergone sampling in 720 spots using ultrasonic blasts to measure the hull thickness, which gives the caretakers a baseline to compare hull degradation year over year.

There's more work to be done. The two other phases of the work will include replacing the electrical system, working on the boilers, installing Wi-Fi and taking the ship out of the water into drydock.

When the Acadia is finally put in drydock — the tender for which will go out in September — even more in-depth ultrasonic testing can be done, testing the hull thickness in 2,500 places.

The museum has also installed a state-out-the-art bilge pump that will keep the interior from becoming flooded if it takes on water, as well as two new vacuum toilets for the comfort of visitors.

The museum has also added all new mooring lines and hurricane hawsers to further protect the ship from getting jostled too much in storms.

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