Shay Nordal is beginning to think if it wasn’t for bad luck the Selkirk Marine Museum would have no luck at all.
One year after floodwaters almost forced the permanent closure of the historic site, the museum manager was forced to dial 911Wednesday morning after sparks from a welders torch started a small fire on the museum’s cornerstone ship, the Keenora.
Nordal said the welding was being done to put a new safety rail on the ship’s boat deck. Despite the efforts of a “fireman” on hand with a spray can to douse sparks, some fell the equivalent of two stories over the side of the ship and onto the cargo deck.
Nordal said the sparks found their way under the metal covering of the gunwail and onto the tinder-dry wood beneath.
With water pipes at the site still frozen, members of the Selkirk Fire Department were called in and hosed down any smoldering embers in short order.
“The ships was built in 1897 so the wood is a little dry,” Nordal smiled. “We had taken precautions by having someone else there but these things can start quickly.”
Nordal said it could have been much worse. With the Keenora the centerpiece of the museum, if it was to catch fire, the museum would lose approximately 80 per cent of their displays.
“The items in there are irreplaceable,” Nordal said.
Last spring, ice jams caused the Red River to rise over one metre in a two-day period – within inches of 1996 flood levels, the highest ever recorded in Selkirk – causing thousands of dollars in damage to the museum. Water not only filled the lower levels of the larger ships, destroying what remained in their holds, two vessels broke away from their foundations with several fishing boats strewn about the site and damaged in the ice.
As if the unsanitary water from the Red wasn’t enough, flood water breached the Selkirk lift station behind the museum rendering it useless, sending raw sewage into the museum shop and exhibits.
Doors and door jams swelled, mud covered everything and expanded floorboards buckled. Damage to the buildings and ships was bad enough officials said the museum might never open again.
The museum’s restoration became a source of community pride as numerous businesses large and small donated everything from cash and cleaning equipment to employee manpower in an effort to repair the damage.
The museum was able to open for business July 23 with four of the six ships open to the public.
With Wednesday’s fire causing only minor external damage, Nordal said she and emergency crews were able to laugh about the latest mishap and chalk it up to bad timing.
“One of the firemen was joking that last year we had all that water and this year we didn’t have any to put the fire out,” Nordal laughed.