By Benn Fisher

The “Home Port Heroes” travelling exhibit shines a spotlight on the Canadian Merchant Navy, and commemorates the efforts made by thousands of Canadian merchant sailors during the Second World War, many of whom gave their lives in this service.

During the war, Canada mobilized all possible resources, including food, raw materials, and military equipment, and delivered them to the war front via merchant ships. From 1939 to 1945, the Canadian Merchant Navy played a key role in the Battle of the Atlantic–the longest battle of World War II. Over 400 merchant ships were built during the war, with many bearing the names of familiar Parks Canada parks, forts, and places.

In 1945, the Allies were victorious, but at a high cost. Close to 50,000 Canadians died in the war effort, with many more wounded, including those in the Merchant Navy. The perilous efforts of soldiers in the Battle of the Atlantic ensured the Allied victory. Though vital to the outcome of the war, it took decades for Merchant Mariners to be recognized as veterans.

The Home Port Heroes exhibit highlights these heroes and recognizes their role in the victory, while also strengthening the connections between Parks Canada places actively involved, such as Signal Hill and Cape Spear National Historic Sites, and naval or merchant vessels such as HMCS Sault Ste. Marie and HMCS Haida.

Over the course of the 2019 operating season, the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site presented the Home Port Heroes exhibit as part of our heritage programming. The interactive exhibit includes interpretation panels, branded floor banners, artifacts and photos, fun activities, and 1940s era music to educate visitors about the honourable efforts made by thousands of Canadian merchant sailors.

Through the exhibit, which we displayed 13 times in July and August, Parks Canada staff had the opportunity to connect with current and former service members from the Canadian Armed Forces as well as the forces of the Netherlands, France, India, New Zealand, Australia and the United States of America. Each member of this heroic community told us humbling stories about their time in the armed services.

As a Parks Canada team member, I enjoyed the opportunity to connect with local residents about our community’s history in such an important, international effort. Interpretive programs like the Home Port Heroes exhibit allow Parks Canada to continue to protect and present our nation’s natural and cultural heritage to visitors to our sites.

Next year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. If you weren’t able to view the Home Port Heroes exhibit this year, you will once again have the opportunity to view it during the summer of 2020 at the Sault Ste. Marie Canal.


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