LEARNING FROM SHIPWRECKS: A New Exhibit Showcases Canal Boat Stories from a Fresh Perspective

The General Butler on the Burlington Breakwater

The General Butler on the Burlington Breakwater, 2000, Ernest Haas, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum Collection. Courtesy photos.

Vermont Business Magazine Lake Champlain Maritime Museum has announced they are opening a new exhibit that dives into the history of canal boats. Using research and artifacts recovered from shipwrecks in Lake Champlain by underwater archaeologists, as well as interviews with real people and interactive experiences, the exhibit shares lesser-known local stories of canal boats and the people who worked on board, providing unexpected points of connection for all with this key era of local history. The exhibit, titled “Underwater Archaeology: Diving into the Stories of People and Canal Boats on Lake Champlain,” will open to the public on July 13, 2024.

While the maritime industry of the 19th century was largely dominated by men, the canal boat community was strikingly different. Boats were often owned and operated by families who lived on board, combining work and home for men, women, and children, and building strong, connected communities with other canal boat families. 

For the museum’s research and archaeology team, the work of excavating canal boat shipwrecks in Lake Champlain is a unique and special experience as they discover families’ home goods, toys, tools, and clothes as well as the cargo that canal boats were tasked with delivering.

The new exhibit experience invites visitors to immerse themselves in these stories and experience being an underwater archaeologist diving on a shipwreck to recover artifacts. Using 3D models of original artifacts, visitors can experience what it’s like to find an object in dark water by guessing what it is by touch alone. 

Through audio recordings of interviews with two women who grew up on canal boats, visitors can listen to first-person accounts of what life was like for children on these vessels, going to school in the winter, recreation, and more. A rich collection of objects including artifacts recovered from shipwrecks, ship models, and documents welcomes visitors to envision life on board for the diverse mix of people who lived and worked on canal boats.

Featured artifacts include a toy boat and woman’s overshoe recovered from the sailing canal boat General Butler shipwreck just off the Burlington breakwater, an iron kettle from the canal boat Vergennes, a 19th-century cornet from the sailing canal boat O.J. Walker, and more.

The public is invited to a special preview of this new exhibit at the museum’s annual Summer Party on Fri. July 12. This is an evening event that includes live music, local food, a raffle and silent auction, and after hours access to exhibits. Tickets to the party and exhibit preview are available for purchase at www.lcmm.org/SummerParty.

The museum is also holding a free event on Sat., July 13 for the public to view more artifacts recovered from canal boats that couldn’t fit into the exhibit. Visitors will be able to speak with museum experts, ask questions, and hear more stories uncovered through underwater archaeology. Event details are available at www.lcmm.org/collections-corner-canalboat-artifacts.

The new exhibit will open on July 13 at 10 a.m. and will be open daily for the public to visit until the museum closes for the season on Oct. 20, 2024. Admission to Lake Champlain Maritime Museum is free for all visitors. Plan your visit at www.lcmm.org.

In Tow Down Lake Champlain, Postcard 340, circa 1900. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum Collection.

In Tow Down Lake Champlain, Postcard 340, circa 1900. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum Collection.

About Lake Champlain Maritime Museum
Founded in 1985, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum connects all people to Lake Champlain, inspiring them to learn from the past, build together in the present, and create a sustainable future. Committed to free access to the lake and its history, archaeology, and ecology, the Museum is open to all from late May to mid-October for free admission. Year-round education programs serve more than 2,500 K-12 students, as well as hundreds of educators locally and nationally. For more information, visit www.lcmm.org.

Source: VERGENNES, VT – Lake Champlain Maritime Museum

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