Marco Polo Project Saint John New Brunswick

The replica of the Hector has been drawing tourists to Pictou

The Hector's a go: How about the Marco Polo?

by Fred Hazel

   They've been having "a good season" at the Pictou, N. S., Hector Heritage Quay, which winds down its tourism business this month. When I visited there in mid August, there seemed to be plenty of strollers along the sun-splashed waterfront, brisk business in the restaurants and bars and steady groups of visitors to the three-storey Heritage Museum.
    Centerpiece is the striking "Hector" itself, a 110-foot long replica of the sailing ship which brought the first wave of Scottish settlers to the area in 1773. The determination behind this remarkable reconstruction project mirrors that of those hardy Scottish emigrants who made the three-month Atlantic crossing to settle in the Pictou area.
   They started the ambitious reconstruction in 1990, under a unique program sparked by the Pictou Waterfront Development Corporation, which succeeded in drawing federal, provincial and wide-scale corporate support for the ship Hector foundation.
    Last year, it was named winner of the Nova Scotia Provincial Tourism Attractions Award.
   And last month, they erected its massive masts, towering 48 feet above the deck. It's an ongoing project.
    For $4 (seniors' rate), Saint John's Fraser Campbell and I were able to tour the sprawling complex, which includes a working boatyard, carpenter shop and blacksmith forge - and of course a gift shop - on the ground level.
    Upstairs in the neat wooden interpretive centre, you walk through diorama and full-size displays, taking you through a dazzling parade of Scottish history - from the 1746 Battle of Culloden to the 1773 voyage of the Hector, when Captain John Spiers brought 189 Scottish settlers to the New World.
   The third floor of the interpretive centre outlines the construction of what is, described as a Dutch-designed "Boot Ship," with its distinctive pear-shaped flat ends. Then you're down an outside stairway to board the Hector itself.
   Moored at dockside and boarded by a short gangway, this strikes me as an impressive piece of historical reconstruction. I measure out about seven strides across the planked deck and 27 strides from end to end. There's an ornate boxed-in cabin at the stern, and a grated hatch leads to the hold, where most of the passengers would have travelled.
    Seems like an incredibly tough way to have crossed the Atlantic, in a 12-week voyage. But that's the way those hearty Scottish - and our own Irish - did it in those days. The Hector's authentic, and that's why the reconstruction is significant, both as a tourist attraction and as a visible reminder to today's generations of the determination of their ancestors.
    They have a good setting. Across from the Hector heritage Quay is the Visitors' Marina on Caladh Avenue with its 30 boat moorings, the Pictou County Weekend market, with its foods and crafts, the modern deCoste Entertainment Centre theatre facility, and a host of eateries where diners and drinkers survey the scene from the decks of such lively places as Relic's pub and the Salt Water Cafe.
   We had an elegant fish dinner at Fougere's Restaurant, run by Giovanna Sieber and Ian Urquhart, overlooking Pictou Harbour. Then it was off to explore other attractions in the New Glasgow, Pictou, Stellarton, Trenton and Westville communities, which comprise this tight-knit district.
    The area boasts a surprising number of attractions: The nifty hands-on Museum of Industry in Stellarton; the corporate headquarters of grocery giant Sobeys; the Albion Shaft and Westray Mine Memorials; the sports heritage Hall of Fame at Trenton, plus attractive parks and beaches.
   Back to the Hector. The set-up there, with its interpretive centre and ship replica, calls to mind the Mayflower display that draws thousands of tourists to Plymouth, Mass.
    And the question has to be asked: What about the Marco Polo? Built in Saint John in 185 1, this famous clipper earned its reputation as "the fastest ship in the world."
   Local schoolteacher Barry Ogden, who has been promoting a reconstruction, now says: "I sense in the community it's time to start. We've had a coin, a stamp, a film and a novel about the Marco Polo - in fact the latest is that big mural on the Pittsburgh Paint Building done by Rothesay High students.
    "What we need now is a way to make it viable and tangible, maybe start it one piece at a time. I'm encouraged by the new waterfront development plan. We just need to get a piece of land and involve the community. When you empower people they can make things happen. "
    A tourist-attracting full-size replica of the Marco Polo floating on Saint John's waterfront in a few years' time? Why not? It worked for the Hector.

Fred Hazel is a former editor-in-chief of this newspaper who writes a weekly column for the Times Globe.