by Annika E. Mazzarella, ICMM Associate Member (Canada)

Young Canadian ocean researcher Annika Mazzarella was one of thirteen recipients of our Richard Foster Bursary scheme. The bursaries are offered at each ICMM Congress in memory of Richard Foster, a former ICMM President who tragically died over 20 years ago.  They assist delegates with the costs of attendance, cover the conference registration fee and a contribution (depending on need) towards travel and accommodation costs. We were delighted to welcome Annika as a new Associate member of ICMM, and to share her personal reflections on the Congress as a first-time delegate.

Can you feel it? That breath of fresh air as the watery mist of the Atlantic Ocean hits your face?

The 50th anniversary of ICMM (International Congress of Maritime Museums) took place on the East Coast of Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia – hosted by the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. It comes to no surprise that our Canadian hosts welcomed us with open arms, but as a Canadian, perhaps I’m a little biased! Nevertheless, it was very fitting to have our congress speakers present at Canada’s national museum of immigration: the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.

Everyone who attended will – most likely – agree with me that they appreciated the refreshing humour of seeing multiple cruise ships docking and undocking tourists right outside the windows. As it happens to turn out, my grandparents were four of the nearly one million immigrants who landed in Halifax between 1928 to 1971. But if we look past Canada’s multi-culturalism and think more generally about migration and displacement, we can ask ourselves more museum-focused questions about immigrants, refugees, soldiers, etc., such as: What objects did they bring and/or what objects did they leave behind? (sentimental items, necessities only?); Did they get seasick and/or homesick?; and What reason led to their voyage? (family, work, war?). No matter the answer, they are essential to maritime museums and connect us internationally, as we share, tell and explore their experiences via text; artefacts; ships; and educational programming/activities.

In light of the 94 Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canada has become more committed to Indigenous perspectives. At the opening reception of ICMM 2022, following a smudge welcome, our host, Kim Reinhart, Manager of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, made a point of encouraging delegates to visit Ta’n me’j Tel-keknuo’Itiek: an exhibition that highlights the importance of water and how sacred it is to Mi’kmaw people in connecting to the lands and waters of Mi’kma’ki. The Nordic Bridges illuminated artistic projection at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic was also worth seeing to immerse yourself in seascapes.

At ICMM 2022, I represented Ocean Wise as a youth Ambassador. Two weeks after I returned home from Halifax to the Niagara Region of Ontario, I was off again, headed to the National Capital of Canada: Ottawa. It was there that I had the immense honour of co-initiating (with permission and guidance) an Anishinaabe Walk Water Ceremony with members of the Peltier family from Wikwemikong First Nation, Manitoulin Island, Ontario. Coincidentally, the Peltier family are relatives of grandmother, elder and founder of Mother Earth Water Walkers, Josephine Mandamin (1942-2019), who was featured in the ‘Water Protectors’ section of Ta’n me’j Tel-keknuo’Itiek. I took this as a good omen. Water Walks are ceremonies for the protection of water. One of our intensions in thought/prayer was support for those affected by Hurricane Fiona that hit Atlantic Canada just a week after we departed from Halifax.

I think it is vital to not only reflect upon but also apply our experiences of attending ICMM 2022 to both our personal and professional lives. For many delegates, this was their first time visiting Canada, for others attending an ICMM conference, or both, regardless, everyone at ICMM 2022 took away valuable experiences. Together we learned and reflected upon some major themes: colonialism; ocean conservation; and differing perspectives through presentations, discussions and asking a lot of key, thought-provoking questions. I particularly enjoyed the informal lunches!

I would like to share and reflect on some of my experiences of ICMM 2022 Halifax.

Setting the tone on Day 1 of ICMM 2022, was Raymond Sewell of Pabineau First Nation (New Brunswick), Assistant Professor at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, who explained the natural connections with water of the Mi’kmaq First Nation.

That afternoon was our first cultural excursion: a sail around Georges Island National Historic Site on the iconic Bluenose II Schooner. It wasn’t until we were in Lunenburg that I learned that the Bluenose recently celebrated its centennial anniversary; although, I was already aware that it is on the Canadian 10-cent dime!

The theme on Day 2 of ICMM 2022 was ‘Saving our Oceans?’, with the question of the day being: “Can/should maritime museums become effective advocates for marine conservation and ocean science education?”. A perfect fit for a youth ocean activist like myself. The only possible correct answer is, of course, YES! For inspiration, just look at that travelling exhibition, Rising Tide. I was pleased to hear that the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development is at the forefront for several maritime museums. Also, that ICMM has donated to SeaGrass Grow, Ocean Foundation’s carbon offset program in respect of Congress delegates’ travel.

Peggy’s Cove on Day 3 of ICMM 2022 was the picture-perfect (pun intended!) place for our celebratory ICMM 50th Anniversary group picture. We didn’t lose anyone to the black rocks, so I guess everyone read the signage! At the Shore Club our lobster dinner was sustainably caught, although without the official seafood labelling from Ocean Wise. The evening was a hit thanks to the AMAZING live band, Evans & Doherty.

Did someone say field trip?! On Day 4 of ICMM 2022 we went to Grand-Pré National Historic Site to learn about the history of the Acadians before a guided walking tour of the historic town of Lunenburg, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Finally, we arrive at Day 5 of ICMM 2022. A fun day focused on vessel preservation, from a variety of perspectives, nicely tied together our future goals of sustainability and cultural heritage / memory / identity.

The poignant presentation by Dr. Robert Domżał, Director of the National Maritime Museum Gdańsk, Poland, on ‘Museums Without Borders’ and how Polish museums are helping Ukrainian museums during the Russian invasion of their country, allowed us to truly question our role as museum professionals. It is clear we are human beings first. As an international congress, delegates come with different government structures, political affiliations, maritime regulations, religions, etc.; yet, there is an unwavering sense of camaraderie (especially with locally-brewed beer!) amongst members.

I’m honoured to have received a Richard Foster Bursary to attend ICMM 2022 Halifax. In theory, 50 years from now at ICMM 2072 – at the young age of 78 – I hope to be in attendance to see the maritime world that Peter Neill, Director, World Ocean Observatory envisions. But for now, I look forward to ICMM 2024 Low Countries: ‘Low Lands, High Tides: Collaborating on Heritage & Innovation’!

Annika E. Mazzarella

Photos by Annika Mazzarella and Kathryn Jones

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