May 2009

Pirates, Privateers and Freebooters - A new and adventure-filled temporary exhibition

For immediate release

Montreal, May 19 2009 - Pointe-à-Callière, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History, will be presenting Pirates, Privateers and Freebooters from May 20, 2009 to January 3, 2010. Visitors to the exhibition will learn about the 16th- to 19th-century seafaring adventurers who prowled the eastern seaboard of North America and the Caribbean. It's a captivating opportunity to discover the amazing stories of these pirates, privateers and freebooters.

All aboard the Pointe-à-Corsaire...
A delightful surprise awaits visitors, as they will be invited to set sail on the high seas aboard the Pointe-à-Corsaire. That's right! The Museum took on the tremendous challenge of building a ship's deck in the temporary exhibition room. Everyone is welcome to come aboard and learn about the origins and history of piracy in the New World. As visitors explore the exhibition, they will move through the different parts of a ship. The adventure starts on the wharf, at the recruiting station. Then the kitchen, followed by the forecastle (or crew's quarters), apothecary-surgeon's quarters (chills guaranteed) and armoury. Farther on, they will come to the ship's prow and, villains be warned, the gibbet. Then the captain will throw open the doors of his cabin to proudly show off his booty. Over 165 fascinating objects relating to piracy from the 16th to 19th centuries will be displayed.

"The story of piracy in the New World is a fascinating subject, a little-known chapter of our history. The exhibition is bound to delight visitors of all ages and appeal to their imaginations. These mesmerizing tales of pirates, privateers and freebooters speak to the child in all of us," says Francine Lelièvre, Pointe-à-Callière's Executive Director.

A short history of piracy
Piracy has been around for a very long time. There were pirates in the Mediterranean thousands of years ago. But trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas, and growing conflicts between England and France that extended to their respective colonies in the New World, created the conditions that allowed piracy to flourish.

From the 16th to 18th centuries, the turquoise waters of the Caribbean were full of seafaring adventurers, for there were fortunes to be made in the New World! In the early 16th century, enormous Spanish galleons began plying the trans-Atlantic route, taking Aztec and Inca gold and silver home from the New World. The Dutch were the first to follow the Spaniards to the Caribbean. Next, the French settled the western part of Hispaniola and the island of Tortuga. This was the "Golden Age of Freebootery," followed by the "Golden Age of Atlantic Piracy," with the influx of English pirates who attacked straggling vessels in the treasure fleets.

Shipboard life
What was life like for pirates at sea? It certainly wasn't easy! The men slept packed together like sardines, taking turns sharing their canvas hammocks: half the crew snored while the other half worked. Visitors will discover the crews' chores and trades, activities, disciplinary code and diet, see the different parts of a ship and learn about how they navigated, with a look at compasses, sextants, telescopes, maps and globes.

Some infamous pirates
While most pirates, privateers and freebooters were outlaws and adventurers, some of them were also on the right side of the law, members of the Navy with letters of marque from the King or Governor that authorized them to attack the nation's enemies in wartime. The names of some pirates, men and women as well, have gone down in history. The exhibition will introduce a few mythical figures, including Blackbeard, John Rackam, Sir Henry Morgan, Bartholomew Roberts and Captain William Kidd, and even some female pirates: Anne Bonny, Mary Read and Fanny Campbell.

Pirates in Canada?
Visitors may be surprised to learn that pirates and privateers once plied Canadian waters, too. The exhibition presents a number of cases, the most famous one being Canada's last piracy trial, the Saladin mutiny. In 1844, the barque, which was headed to Newfoundland and then England, was seized by its crew. Passenger George Fielding and his son had incited the men to mutiny. But the crew distrusted Fielding and threw him overboard. Following the trial, four of the six accused were hanged in Halifax.

And we can't forget the fate of a singular privateer, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville. Born in Montréal in 1661, he went to sea at the young age of 12. At age 27, he made a name for himself as part of an expedition to expel the English from James Bay, where their posts were interfering with the French fur trade. In 1695, he was chosen to rout the English from Labrador and Newfoundland. In the space of just four months, he destroyed 36 English settlements!

And a Canadian Treasure Island?
In 1795, on tiny Oak Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia, three boys found a tackle block hanging from an old oak tree and underneath it what looked like a filled-in pit. They started to dig and came to a layer of stones, then 3 metres deeper, a platform made of logs and coconut fibre. Was there buried treasure? Fortune hunters arrived in 1804 and, at a depth of 27 metres, found a stone bearing strange inscriptions. The excavations eventually became too risky and were abandoned. In the 1990s, a new effort was made: nearly $10 million was sunk into the "money pit." Today it awaits new investors.

This exhibition is bound to appeal to both adult history and adventure buffs and young people and families looking for fun and excitement.

Pirates, Privateers and Freebooters, on from May 20, 2009 to January 3, 2010, was produced by Pointe-à-Callière, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History. The Museum thanks Sun Life Financial, its main partner for the event, along with Tourisme Montréal, Air Canada, the Consulate General of France, InterContinentalMontréal, Historia, Archambault and its media partners, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, La Presse and The Gazette.

So come cast off with the Pointe-à-Corsaire from May 20, 2009 to January 3, 2010!

Pirates, Privateers and Freebooters. A fun and fabulous look at a captivating period in history.

The Museum is subsidized by the city of Montréal.