Historic shipwreck exhibit berths at the Welland Museum

The HMS General Hunter exhibit opened Saturday at the Welland Museum.

A significant part of Niagara’s history has returned and has captured the interest of marine history aficionados, the HMS General Hunter exhibit opened Saturday Apr. 15/2018 at the Welland Museum.

“This is very significant for Welland,” Ken Cassavoy said.

Cassavoy is the marine archeologist in charge of the excavation of the HMS General Hunter site in Southampton, ON.

“If this isn’t a local story I don’t know what is,” he said. “The ship was built just at the western end of the Lake, it was built at the mouth of the Detroit River at Fort Amherstburg (Ontario) in 1806 and it travelled all through the Great Lakes, Lake Huron as well for six years before the war.”

“Then it was involved in the War of 1812, most of its action was in the area including the vital capture of Detroit,” he said. “Then it was lost to the U.S. Navy in the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813 (off the coast of Ohio on September 10, 1813).”

“It was a famous battle because it was the only traditional line of battle on the Great Lakes in the war, there was a the Battle of Lake Champlain as well, but, this is one where they lined up and battered each other until somebody finally gave up,” he said. “Unfortunately it wasn’t a good day for the British/Canadian forces because all the ships, including the General Hunter, were captured by the U.S. Navy.”

The ship became a U.S. Army transport ship until pushed ashore in a fierce Lake Huron August gale in 1816. She was discovered buried on a beach in Southhampton in 2001.

In 2012 a major exhibit about the HMS General Hunter opened at the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre, central elements of the exhibit are now in Welland through December.

“We are very excited to have this exhibit here,” Welland Museum curator Penny Morningstar said. “It is a ground-breaking exhibit for us, a first in the City of Welland and for museums in our area.”

The exhibit makes use of new technology to enhance the visitor’s experience.

The ground-breaking element for this exhibit is the Welland Museum’s aspect which includes the use of 3D modelling and virtual reality elements designed by the Nauta Design Group of Pelham.

“It raises the bar for interactive participation for the visitor,” Morningstar said. “And that is what a great museum experience is all about.”

The virtual reality/3D modeling experience was created by Derek Schneider of Nauta Design Group, the company normally creates virtual tours for new homes.

“The museum came to us, they wanted to do a virtual tour of the shipwreck,” Schneider said. “They approached Hank, the owner of Nauta because they know we create virtual tours of homes.”

“They also knew that my background was in film and television,” he said. “This is something I did weekly while there.”

The company decided to get involved with the exhibit and created several aspects to enhance the experience. During the exhibit, they will be still adding more and more to the virtual reality aspect.

“We’ve got the ship modelled out and ready to go,” he said. “We are going to be adding other things, seeing the ship below deck, checking out the living quarters.”

“At this point we can go wherever the mind takes us in this experience,” he said. “With the technology available today we can recreate anything.”

“For this exhibit, we do have three or four opti0ns for the visitor to explore. On one monitor we have a looping movie of the ship model under sail, on another we have the model where you can get the mouse, spin the ship around, zoom in and out,” he said. “We also have the headset where you can immersive in it (the ship model) and we have the tablet which is a still image, but, you can still get a sense of the whole ship.”

Greg D’Amico, Welland Museum board president said that an exhibit like this will appeal to people of all different ages.

“We are building a whole ship in virtual reality for people to see,” D’Amico said. “Making use of technology available helps bring younger people in, bring in younger people who would never have come here before.”

“We are going to be able to see this ship as a sailor would see who was on it,” he said. “It is being done in phases, right now we have the outside of the ship done, come back in two weeks, you’ll be able to see underneath the decks, more and more being built every day.”

While there is the virtual reality aspect, there are also the traditional panels, artifacts, models and displays as well.

The General Hunter exhibit is also coupled with a couple of other local shipwrecks, artifacts, panels and media from the Scourge and the Hamilton, two American War of 1812 ships sunk in Lake Ontario.

The Welland Museum, 140 King St.,  is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The HMS General Hunter display will be at the museum through December.



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