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How Halifax’s waterfront will honour a historic sea battle on land

Battle of the Atlantic Place, a proposed new museum on the Halifax waterfront, will tell the story of the longest battle of the Second World War through theatrical technology.


A multimillion-dollar building that will soar out over the water – featuring an entire ship encased in glass, a three-sided digital theatre and a green rooftop – is to occupy a prime 4.5-acre site on Halifax's waterfront. From the outside, the curves and lines of the three-storey glass, steel and wood structure suggest those of ships and sails.

Battle of the Atlantic Place – the concept was revealed last week – will tell the story of the longest battle of the Second World War through theatrical technology at a time when the numbers of Canadians left who fought in the battle are dwindling down.

"We as Canadians have not been very good in telling our stories," said Ted Kelly, chairman of Battle of the Atlantic Place. "A major part of our motivation is to try and change that with this project."

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But while the planned facility is state-of-the-art and stunning, the challenge to find the money to build it is formidable as well.

The Canadian Naval Memorial Trust, which is behind the project, needs to raise between $180-million and $205-million, all while competing with other high-profile projects in the city and for federal government funding. The hope is to open on July 1, 2017 – in time for Canada's 150th birthday. To do that, construction has to begin next year.

So far, the land has been secured, allocated to the group by the province; the federal government provided $250,000 for startup costs. New museum builds, however, can be fraught with controversy, like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is finally set to open in Winnipeg in September after nearly five years of construction.

But this group is confident. "We are very deliberate," Mr. Kelly said about the scope of their plan and prospect for success. "We always recognized you can't do much when you have [just] a notion and an idea."

Battle of the Atlantic Place will not, in fact, be a museum, according to the duo who won the competition to design it: Doug Hamming, a Vancouver-based architect with Stantec, and Matt Solari, the artistic director of BRC Imagination Arts, in Los Angeles.

They characterize it as an "experience centre" – more stories and visual representations than artifacts. It will take the visitor about three hours to view. Inside, you will also be able to tour the HMCS Sackville, the last of Canada's 123 Corvettes, which were used to escort convoys across the Atlantic during the war. Destined for the scrap heap in the early 1980s, it was saved by some Canadians who didn't want to lose this piece of history. It has been a floating museum, moored alongside a jetty in Halifax Harbour.

In Battle of the Atlantic Place, however, it will be taken out of the water and sit on a platform surrounded by glass so that it can be looked at from inside and out. The stories of the battle, how it changed Canada and Canadians, will be told in other areas. A separate Memorial Hall is designed to honour more than 5,000 Canadians who died in the battle and the loss of 24 Canadian naval ships, 72 merchant ships and maritime aircraft.

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"This place will come alive using theatrical technology, borrowing the best from Broadway and film, anything that is going to really draw you into the story," Mr. Solari said.

The hope, too, is that it will draw tourists to Halifax and Nova Scotia.

The Economic Planning Group of Canada, tourism consultants hired by the CNMT to look at the economic impact of Battle of Atlantic Place, estimates it will attract up to 240,000 visitors a year. In its report, the planning group says it could add "$20-million in new, direct visitor expenditures to the province's tourism receipts." It bases its estimates partly on comparisons with the attendance and revenues from local museums, including the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.

For Mr. Kelly and the others in the CNMT, who held a fundraising meeting Friday, the hard work begins now. The goal is to tap government, corporations and private citizens from across the country for donations.

"We had to get something concrete and we believe we have something that is right for the time," he said. "The planets are somewhat in alignment. It is consistent with the federal government's goals for the 150th anniversary and it addresses many of the priorities of the federal government in terms of furthering the notion of Canadian identity."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More


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