Temporary exhibitions

Ships that sailed nowhere 

New temporary exhibition sponsored by Hydro-Québec 



133 years of history

In all weather and under difficult conditions, brave men dedicated their lives to protecting the lives of fellow sailors.  Ships that sailed nowhere presents the unique lifestyle aboard these ships tasked with a very special mission: signaling the invisible presence of danger. Project manager, designer, writer, curator and maritime heritage specialist Alain Franck states, “The exhibition showcases a truly overlooked aspect of Quebec’s maritime history presented here to the general public.” It is based on extensive research documented in the publication, Les bateaux-phares du Saint-Laurent en aval de Québec1830-1963 by authors Jean Cloutier and Jean-Pierre Charest.

Artefacts never before presented to the general public

The exhibition focuses on the technical and architectural evolution of the lightships, yet provides a fascinating human snapshot with interesting quotes by the last witnesses to this bygone era and a unique presentation of the different stations along the river and the lightships assigned to them, from the southern channel of the St. Lawrence Estuary to the eastern tip of Ȋle d’Anticosti.

The exhibition presents some 25 artefacts originating mainly from former sailors having worked on the lightships and from the MMQ collection. Some are being presented to the public for the first time, including the logbook and navigation instruments of Captain Alfred Couillard, a native of Montmagny and the great- grandfather of the current Premier of Quebec; a ship’s wheel, one of the rare material vestiges of a lightship of this vanished epoch; photos and six models of ships crafted, for the most part, during the sailors’ spare time aboard the lightships. There is also a unique piece made especially for the exhibition by one of the last sailors to have worked aboard this type of ship.

“This presentation is the first of its kind in Quebec. Never before has any museum addressed the subject. I sincerely believe that this new exhibition dedicated to the brave crews who committed their lives to saving the lives of other sailors will be a memorable experience for visitors and an invaluable lesson in humanity for our times,” stated Museum Director Sophie Limoges.

Spotlight on our patrons

The museum team wishes to thank all the patrons of the new exhibition sponsored by Hydro-Québec: the Corporation des pilotes du Bas Saint-Laurent, the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, the Maritime Employers Association,

the Institut maritime du Québec, Norbert Morin, Member of the National Assembly,  Côte-du-Sud, and Bernard Généreux, Member of Parliament, – L’Islet – Kamouraska – Rivière-du-Loup.

The museum is subsidized by the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec and obtains financial support from the Department of Canadian Heritage.

The new temporary exhibition, Ships that sailed nowhere, is a Musée maritime du Québec – Capitaine J.E. Bernier endeavour that will be presented over the next two years.  In 2018, this bilingual exhibition will be an integral part of the special programming to highlight the museum’s 50 years of existence.


Join us as we reawaken one of the largest manhunts in Canadian history: the search for the lost ships of the Franklin Expedition, an Arctic venture that went horribly wrong 170 years ago.

The story that has inspired folk songs and travel writing for over a century began in 1845, when British explorer Sir John Franklin set forth on a much-heralded Arctic expedition in pursuit of new scientific knowledge and hoping to find the Northwest Passage. Outfitted with two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, and a crew of 134 men, the Franklin expedition was, at the time, the best-equipped mission to venture into the Arctic waters. But three years later, Franklin, his crew, and his two ships still hadn’t returned home, prompting countless search efforts and capturing international attention.

The world’s fascination with this maritime riddle has only grown since the historic discovery of HMS Erebus in 2014, and most recently HMS Terror in 2016. Current archaeological excavation of the wreckage promises to expand our knowledge of the North, of the ocean, and of Franklin’s grisly fate.

The ROM’s new interactive pop-up display, The Franklin Exploration, is your source for learning about this incredible story as it evolves in real time. The pop-up display, which will be featured at ten venues across the country, puts the mysteries of Franklin’s tragic voyage into a historical context of science and exploration, looking at reasons behind the expedition and clues from early search efforts, and connects you to contemporary Arctic investigation, presenting the methodologies and findings of ongoing scientific research in Canada’s North.

This nationwide display is the cornerstone of The Franklin Network Outreach Project, an innovative, three-year initiative helmed by the ROM, in collaboration with Parks Canada and the History Museums Network. The ROM and its partners will showcase cutting-edge technology and remarkable findings about the Franklin Expedition through special events, topical lectures, and inspired public programming.

Stay tuned for information about upcoming Franklin Exploration events.

The Franklin Network

Over the next three years, The Franklin Network Outreach Project will bring fascinating material to museums from coast to coast, sharing underwater excavations, traditional Inuit knowledge, and exciting new discoveries. During this time, some of the Franklin Network members will execute outreach work and move their pop-up displays to different locations and cities. For the latest locations across Canada, search for The Franklin Exploration by using the map below!

[ Google Map – Network Partners ]

Join the Conversation









Canadians can engage with the Franklin story thanks to the generosity of donors, including Lead Exhibit Patron, The W. Garfield Weston Foundation; the Government of Canada; Arctic Research Foundation; Isles Foundation Incorporated–The John E. Irving Family; The WB Family Foundation; and Andrew and Valerie Pringle. It is a testament to their vision that Canadians from coast to coast have the opportunity to learn about this important piece of history.

The Royal Ontario Museum and Parks Canada are Developing Partners of the Franklin project.


Skip to toolbar