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Marine Heritage Chairman, Vicki Tomori (centre), Chantry Island Tour Guide Helen Geissinger (left) and Marine Heritage Member Grace Currie immersed the bottom end of their storm signal basket into a pool of water, making the wooden stakes pliable enough to weave.

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Members of the Marine Heritage Society and The Propeller Club of Southampton have taken on the task of creating a new storm signal basket to hang on display at Pioneer Park in Southampton. These oversized wicker baskets came in conical and drum shapes and were used until the 1950s to warn sailors of dangerous weather conditions which were indicated by various hanging configurations. This system was used for nearly a century across a network of signal stations spanning the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence waterways and the Atlantic Coast.

Volunteers began the project on Monday, January 6 at the Southampton Boathouse, working under the guidance of Chantry Island Tour Guide Helen Geissinger. In a two hour shift, the dedicated weavers managed to produce a few inches at a time and predicted project completion well within their allotted two week schedule. Geissinger studied the art of basket weaving many years ago while helping Girl Guides in Guelph achieve their Basket Maker Badge.

“If you learn while other people are learning, it makes it much easier,” explained Geissinger when we visited the volunteers at the Southampton Boathouse Wednesday.

Using round wooden stakes of three different diameters, Geissinger directed the volunteers through a series of steps involving soaking, pairing, single weaving and upsetting. Geissinger instructed basket weaving classes last year to help prepare for the project. The group also repaired one of the older baskets that were constructed in the 1990s and that have been on display at Pioneer Park.

Marine Heritage member Grace Currie said this project to be a greater endeavour than the small scale baskets they had practiced the previous year, but admitted that it hadn't deterred the eight volunteers who had committed to the project.

This project is one of many that the Marine Heritage Society and The Propeller Club undertake as part of their ongoing mission to preserve and rediscover elements of the community's historic marine culture. Marine Heritage Society Chairman Vicki Tomori said it’s always easy to find members eager to volunteer for these unique projects.

This year marks a historic milestone for the Marine Heritage Society with 20 years of guided tours to Chantry Island and 10 years of the iconic Marine Heritage Festival.

Dennis

Dennis Bodkin (left) carefully maneuvers a set of stakes in a pattern called ‘upsetting,' during his shift on the storm signal basket at the Southampton Boathouse January 8. Helen Geissinger (right) organized the project and kept a close eye on the volunteers, gently guiding them as they worked.

Grace

Grace Currie (left) begins her second shift of weaving the new storm signal basket to be hung at Pioneer Park in Southampton. Project guide Helen Geissinger closely observed the volunteers as they weaved.

old basket

An older storm signal basket, constructed in the 1990s, served as a model for the new project. Although the Marine Heritage Society patched this basket up last year, Chairman Vicki Tomori said it likely wouldn’t last much longer.

storm signal graphic 560

Storm signals rising, a Marine Heritage Society image. Click for larger view. 

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