Precious North Vancouver Museum artifacts stolen

North Shore News


Riveters work on one of the Second World War victory ships on the North Vancouver waterfront. Photo courtesy North Vancouver Museum and Archives

The North Vancouver Museum and Archives is hoping for the return of some treasured community artifacts after they were stolen in Lower Lonsdale on Saturday.

According to North Vancouver RCMP, one of the actors who performs in the museum’s Shipyards Pals routine sat down briefly only to find their black duffel bag stolen. Inside the bag were an ironworker’s helmet, tongs and rivet bucket, all of which were used in the building of Victory Ships on the North Vancouver waterfront during the Second World War before being put to use as props in the summertime re-enactments the museum puts on to tell the story of North Vancouver’s industrial contributions to the war effort.

“It was grabbed when they weren’t looking. We don’t have a suspect but we imagine it was just a crime of opportunity,” said Sgt. Doug Trousdell, North Vancouver RCMP spokesman. “Somebody saw a bag that wasn’t being closely watched, grabbed it and took off hoping there might be something good inside.”

The items don’t have a high cash value but: “It’s the stories that these pieces represent that are important to this community,” said Shirley Sutherland, assistant director of the Museum and Archives. “I would hope that there would be some regret within the community that part of their history has been compromised.”

More than a loss of treasured artifacts, the theft leaves the future of the museum’s public education pieces in question, Sutherland added.

“This is a huge problem for us. We cannot do that show. Fortunately, we’re at the end of the season for this particular program but we often use those props in other programs and we won’t be able to do World War II riveting without those particular pieces in hand,” she said. “We will have to go out and see what we can do to either replicate or find original pieces.”

During construction, a rivet would be put in a fire until red hot, and then tossed with the tongs up into the air where another worker would catch it in the bucket, before a riveter fastened it to the ship. The process would be repeated more than 380,000 times per ship, according to the museum.

The stolen items were insured, but Sutherland didn’t want to guess what they’d be worth to replace – especially since there are so few around. The bucket will likely have to be replaced with a replica. Other museums are known to have ironworkers’ tongs but helmets of that time are harder to come by.

“If you don’t have the object, you can’t purchase a replacement. We’re talking about relatively rare items here,” she said. “I would hate to put a monetary value on them.”

The Shipyard Pals characters the North Vancouver Museum and Archives use to teach visitors about the history of shipbuilding on the North Vancouver waterfront. Photo courtesy North Vancouver Museum and Archives

Also lost in the theft were historical photos, a pipe, a fur scarf, hats, and log book signed by people who watched the show.

“Those shows have proven to be extremity popular and we’re really pleased the results we had this summer in terms of feedback from the visitors,” Sutherland said. “Those comments are really helpful to us as we plan the next year’s program because every year, the show changes. That’s really unfortunate that we lost that.”

Most often when a thief realizes they’ve stolen something of little monetary value, they tend to ditch their ill-gotten gains and move on, Trousdell said.

“Very often we find bags dumped and the contents are still there and can be recovered,” he said. “We’re thinking it’s reasonably likely that the bag has been deposited somewhere.”

More than anything, Sutherland would like to see the items returned. Anybody who has information about the theft or the whereabouts of the stolen items is asked to contact North Vancouver RCMP.