The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is the first museum in North America to explore the lives of gay and lesbian mariners in this special exhibit. It combines an exhibit adapted from National Museums Liverpool (NML) in England with an exhibit created by the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. The NML exhibit explores the unique subculture created by gay men working as stewards on British ocean liners from the 1950s to the 80s. The Canadian component compares that experience to the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex mariners in Canada up to the present day.
The UK component of the exhibition was created by guest curator Dr. Jo Stanley, who also co-authored the book "Hello Sailor: The Hidden History of Gay Life at Sea" with Paul Baker. The book is available for purchase at the Marine Heritage Store, operated by Island Beach Company.
For the Canadian content, the main themes are:
Canada: Different Ships, Different Times - Canada did not support a significant ocean liner industry as did the UK. Canadian ships are smaller, carry few passengers and have very few stewards. Not surprisingly, gay Canadian seafarers experience was distinctly different from that of gay British stewards.
Gay Life on Canadian Ships: The Good, the Bad, and the Boring - Seafaring provided friendships and respect from fellow mariners in a challenging and satisfying workplace. Unfortunately isolated incidents of homophobia would occur but even so, the long absences from home and loved ones, and frequent danger were worse.
Homophobia - Although none of the mariners interviewed by the museum felt they experienced any significant homophobia from shipmates, there were still isolated incidents ranging from awkward jokes to systemic discrimination prior to 1992 when the Canadian navy lifted its ban on gay sailors.
Sailor First - Although up to the latter 20th century LGBTI seafarers generally had to hide their sexual orientation to keep their jobs, in more recent times, one's sexual orientation has been less of an issue. Sexual identity is secondary to one’s reputation as a reliable and skilled sailor.
A May 18 social media release from the Maritime Museum offers a glimpse of the exhibit – from behind the scenes to interviews with Dan Conlin and Dr. Jo Stanley, curators of the Canadian and UK exhibit components.
Hello Sailor! was featured on CBC radio's Q with Jian Ghomeshi in an interview with museum curator Dan Conlin from July 29, 2011.
Hello Sailor! Canadian Edition, Oral History Project
A Research Report for the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Final Report (PDF1.6KB)
Merseyside Maritime Museum recommended Books and websites»