Bridge of the MV Ushuaia, Homeward Bound Expedition, December 2 - 21, 2016. Photo: Carol Devine

Antarctic Sea: Women in Science and Leadership Expedition, Marine Debris and Ocean Love

Open bridge policies on ships are the best.

In December 2016 I was in the Antarctic on the MV Ushuaia, a former oceanographic research vessel operated by US agency National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with 75 other female scientists. We were the largest-all female Antarctic expedition ever, part of the inaugural Homeward Bound initiative, a 10-year project to elevate the impact of women in science and leadership to address pressing contemporary issues. Antarctica was our backdrop, as well as our climate change classroom. Filmed Faculty on Homeward Bound included Her Deepness aquanaut and marine biologist Sylvia Earle, Jane Goodall, British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace, Christina Figures leader on global climate change and former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2010-2016.

HOMEWARD BOUND FILMED FACULTY

Iceberg Parade, Antarctic peninsula. Photo: Carol Devine

Iceberg Parade, Antarctic peninsula. Photo: Carol Devine

 

Chrysalis SciArt with air temperature and the Beauford Wind Scale. Photo: Carol Devine

Chrysalis SciArt with air temperature, Beauford Wind Scale, a bestiary, and personal symbols. Brett Foster photographer and Homeward Bound 2016 artists, Carol Devine curator.

 

At any given time, especially since it was the austral summer and the sun barely set, there would be a few of us on the bridge alongside the mainly Argentinean crew. There we witnessed the sailors’ skilled navigation of seasonal sea ice, heard the beeping meteorological data coming in and soaked in magical views of minke whale pods and iceberg parades.

The music on the bridge was invariably rock or pop, or some stunning classical piece that seemed to fit the mood of the weather – sunny, foggy or wind of Beauford Scale 10. Another sound on the bridge was a super loud beeping sound. At first I worried we’d hit an iceberg, but the Captain assured us it was the “Krill alarm”, signaling that we were near krill swarms, the major link in the food chain. The Southern Ocean, or Antarctic Ocean is crucial body of water for our planet as it stores anthropogenic heat and carbon dioxide and helps regulates global atmospheric temperatures.

On this trip I was keen to learn more about the state of the earth and science and leadership from my fellow scientists from a dozen countries and the program’s faculty- including marine biologists, an astronomer, a mathematician, a glaciologist, a neuroscientist and social scientists like me. We had onboard faculty with leadership and terrestrial ecology backgrounds for example, and amazing “filmed” faculty with messages for us from primatologist Jane Goodall, aquanaut and oceanographer Sylvia Earle and diplomat Christina Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We also had the fortune to visit scientists and staff the Argentinian research station Carlini, and US Palmer Station as well as Port Lockroy, the historic 1944 UK base. We explored the fact that many women are already leading scientists and changemakers but that there are also unconscious and conscious biases preventing or deterring women in STEM leadership. UNESCO reports that only 28% of researchers globally are women. Evidence tells us too that gender-balanced teams are renowned for better performance and decision making.

Bridge of the MV Ushuaia, Homeward Bound Expedition, December 2 - 21, 2016. Photo: Carol Devine

Bridge of the MV Ushuaia, Homeward Bound Expedition, December 2 – 21, 2016. Photo: Carol Devine

On this 20-day program at sea I was keen also was keeping an eye out for marine debris. I’d collected garbage in the Antarctic twenty years earlier. I saw living on a Russian Research station decades ago, and on this trip in visits to three research stations, that individuals and groups in the Antarctic, be it governments, scientists or tourists, must act responsibly. We must think about what we goods we bring and dispose of there (and everywhere), including the risk of bringing invasive species to Antarctica on ships, planes and on shoes, materials and equipment.

I also helped clean up garbage in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, where its Governor initiated clean ups of this northernmost inhabited place on earth where garbage collects on extremely remote fjords and shores. I collected a survey of the marine debris we found on Svalbard’s shores and documented in an exhibit Aqua Mess with portraits of the trash and landscapes where we found it.

Aqua Mess: Portraits of garbage at the top of the earth – Clean It! From Clean Up Svalbard 2016. Photo: Carol Devine

From the series Aquamess, portraits of garbage collected in Svalbard, Norway in the high Arctic during “Clean Up Svalbard” 2014. Photo: Carol Devine

In the Antarctic I didn’t see a lot of marine debris compared to the Arctic, but when we did it stood out as a shock of colour against mostly muted earth tones in the moss and rocks, on top of endless blue-white glacier vistas.

I collected ten pieces of trash on our shore landings, from small bits of multi-colour plastic rope to a big green pop bottle. Again, this may be the tip of the iceberg of Antarctica’s human-created pollution, even traces in its deep ocean floors. Study results from August 2016 on human contaminants in ocean trenches are eerie. In shrimp-like crustaceans called amphipods, scientists found human-made organic pollutants at some 10,000 metres deep. We’re still learning about the volume, location and impact of marine debris from the Antarctic to the Arctic and in between. But we do know it’s prolific and harmful to wildlife and to organisms and us too when it breaks down and enters the food chain. It’s choking the oceans. Some estimates suggest plastics may make up 50-80% of ocean litter.

The Aqua Mess display as it is in the #SciTechHiddenWorlds exhibition of the new Canada Science and Technology Museum. Photo: M. Labrecque

“Aquamess” is now displayed in the new Canada Science and Technology Museum’s #SciTechHiddenWorlds exhibition.

In Antarctica studies on marine trash began in 2007/8 by The British Antarctic Survey and Greenpeace. While big pieces of plastic were not found, plastic was discovered in remote places and seas. In 2012 scientists on the French schooner the Tara found a disturbingly high amount of trash in Antarctica. While we were in Antarctica another ship was doing a formal survey again said one of our faculty, terrestrial ecologist Dr. Justine Shaw told us.

We live in uncertain yet also hopeful times. Antarctic history gives us fantastic examples wisdom on the value of international cooperation, science and innovation, which were also values we discussed on our recent expedition and ones we commit to live and disseminate following the voyage.

The Antarctic Treaty of 1959, created remarkably during the cold war, and its Environmental Protocol of 1991, dedicates the continent to peace and science, celebrates its aesthetic beauty and outlines our responsibility to conserve Antarctic biodiversity and ecology. In our pursuit to protect limited resources, reduce and clean up our human footprint on land and oceans, and work towards better equity for fellow humans around the globe, the poles are bellwethers, mirrors and also inspirations.

Carol Devine is a social scientist from Toronto who specializes in global and earth health, and one of 76 participants on Homeward Bound Women in Science and Leadership Expedition Antarctica 2016. Carol is a member of Society of Women Geographers and The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research’s Social Sciences Expert Group.

Carol Devine is a social scientist from Toronto who specializes in global and earth health, and one of 76 participants on Homeward Bound Women in Science and Leadership Expedition Antarctica 2016. Carol is a member of Society of Women Geographers and The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research’s Social Sciences Expert Group.

Image: Examples of the delicate touch needed to manipulate scalpels. 
Jean Baptiste Marc Bourgery, Nicolas Henri Jacob, Traité complet de l’anatomie de l’homme. 
Volume 6. Plate 15. Paris, 1839. http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/bourgery1831ga

The Surgical Touch – Connecting Artifacts and Trade Literature

One of the exhibits that will be in the renewed Canada Science and Technology Museum is organized around the theme of medicine and the five senses, and their central role in medicine over centuries. Medical Sensations will feature the human dimensions of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch in medical practice, as well as the instruments that have evolved to extend the use of these senses. The exhibition will showcase a number of significant artifacts from the museum’s collection, as well as artifacts on loan from museums around Canada and the world.

The sense of Touch will be explored with artifacts and stories about the use of touch in learning and practice. The learning element will include old anatomical models as well as new 3D prints. The practical aspect will explore the “surgical touch” and the more refined, skilled use of hands and instruments to heal the sick and fix the injured. Unfortunately, we could not display the entire collection of surgical artifacts held by the museum, nor the incredible visual material held in the library and trade literature collections which date back to the early 1800s.

Image: The surgical instrument catalogues contain images and technical descriptions for the surgeons to make their purchase decisions.  Instruments would sometimes be organized into kits, such as this one that contains the necessary instruments for a private practitioner. Surgical Instrument Catalogue, J. H. Montague in London, 1897. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Image: The surgical instrument catalogues contain images and technical descriptions for the surgeons to make their purchase decisions.  Instruments would sometimes be organized into kits, such as this one that contains the necessary instruments for a private practitioner. Surgical Instrument Catalogue, J. H. Montague in London, 1897. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

These resources provide a window into how doctors would have learned about the latest technical development in practice. One of my projects during my placement at CSTM has been to examine this literature and have some of it digitized and put into the museum’s new Digital Asset Manager and online Open Archives Portal. The images from the trade literature and textbooks greatly enhance our understanding of the surgical instruments that are in the museum’s collection. The small selection of instruments going on display in the exhibit includes a trepan, a scarificator, eye surgery tools and an amputation saw. Surprisingly, many of these instruments have changed little over time, showing the stability of surgical practice. However, through the trade literature and instruments, we see changes in materials and style, the commercial context for surgery, as well as broader changes in the surgical practice and technology. During this project, I also discovered several historic image resources from on-line medical collections across Canada and the world such as the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto, the Wellcome Library and University of Heidelberg.

Image: Examples of the delicate touch needed to manipulate scalpels. Jean Baptiste Marc Bourgery, Nicolas Henri Jacob, Traité complet de l’anatomie de l’homme. Volume 6. Plate 15. Paris, 1839. http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/bourgery1831ga

Image: Examples of the delicate touch needed to manipulate scalpels.
Jean Baptiste Marc Bourgery, Nicolas Henri Jacob, Traité complet de l’anatomie de l’homme. Volume 6. Plate 15. Paris, 1839. http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/bourgery1831ga

Some of the collection and images evoke a graphic medical past. Hundreds of years ago, surgeons who were known for their brute force and speed would operate on completely conscious patients. Anaesthetic was not tested until the 1840s, so patients before then faced traumatic pain when going into surgery. The most dramatic of these operations were amputations where patients looked for reprieve in alcohol, painkillers, or a solid knockout. The surgeon could purchase kits that contained all the tools necessary for the operation. When the surgeons allowed themselves more time, the finesse of an amputating chain saw allowed them to saw through the bone, while not damaging as much of the surrounding tissue.

Trepanning involves drilling a hole in the skull, and was practiced as early as 8000 years ago. The reason behind the drilling is not completely clear, explanations have included expelling bad spirits from the body, relieving pressure from headaches, curing epilepsy and fixing a broken skull. Drills such as trephines were an alternative to larger, less precise trepans.

Image of an amputating chain saw being used to remove part of the ulna. Jean Baptiste Marc Bourgery, Nicolas Henri Jacob, Traité complet de l’anatomie de l’homme. Volume 6. Plate 56. Paris, 1839. http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/bourgery1831ga

Image of an amputating chain saw being used to remove part of the ulna.
Jean Baptiste Marc Bourgery, Nicolas Henri Jacob, Traité complet de l’anatomie de l’homme. Volume 6. Plate 56. Paris, 1839. http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/bourgery1831ga

A more common occurrence for surgeons was bloodletting, which used heated metal or glass cups, to draw the blood to the surface and scarificators pierced the skin, and allowed the blood to flow. Teeth pulling instruments were also very common, and specialized tools for each type of tooth were invented to facilitate the operations. Surgical catalogues would often have many pages of dental equipment, such as tooth forceps, and excavators.

Tooth Keys were a somewhat archaic device sold alongside forceps. They would grasp a tooth in its claw, and with a sharp twist, the tooth would hopefully become dislodged.  Instrument Catalogue, Arnold and Sons, in London 1876. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Image: Tooth Keys were a somewhat archaic device sold alongside forceps. They would grasp a tooth in its claw, and with a sharp twist, the tooth would hopefully become dislodged.  Instrument Catalogue, Arnold and Sons, in London 1876. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

The collection on display also recalls the delicate, fine motor skills refined by surgeons. Cataract surgery is another ancient surgical practice, dating as far back as Ancient Egypt. The tools for these procedures were small (compared to the amputation instruments) with refined workmanship, materials and decorative features. The delicate procedure needed a specific series of precise tools to detach the lens from the eye, and push it down into the eye in the earliest known cataract procedure known as couching. Needles were eventually invented to extract the lens. At the end of the 19th century, eye instruments were still noted for their elegance. Kits were a handy purchase for surgeons, who could also choose from a selection of virtually indistinguishable knives.

When anaesthetic was invented, and proven to work, it was revolutionary for surgeons and, of course the patients. Within the span of just a few years, every surgeon was using anaesthetic on their patients.

Image: One type of ether inhaler used to administer the anaesthetic to the patient before a surgery. Surgical Instrument Catalogue, J. H. Montague in London, 1897. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Image: One type of ether inhaler used to administer the anaesthetic to the patient before a surgery. Surgical Instrument Catalogue, J. H. Montague in London, 1897. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

As the sense of touch was removed for patients, surgeons started to explore new dimensions of their use of touch and instruments.

The trade literature reflects a rapid growth in the diversity and complexity of the techniques and instruments during this period, as well as several different versions of the same instrument, and instruments named after an inventor of famous surgeon.

Image: Surgeons would have appreciated this spring-loaded double bistoury only 150 years ago because the folded blades were compact and remain sharper than exposed blades.  Instrument Catalogue, Arnold and Sons, in London 1876. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Image: Surgeons would have appreciated this spring-loaded double bistoury only 150 years ago because the folded blades were compact and remain sharper than exposed blades.  Instrument Catalogue, Arnold and Sons, in London 1876. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Surgical theatre also went through several changes in the 19th century that impacted the evolution of surgical touch. Before antiseptic surgery, surgeons rarely washed their hands and they wore blood-soaked smocks with pride. Sawdust was strewn on the floor of operating theaters in an attempt to manage the blood.

Inventions such as the Revolving Flushing Table were an attempt at modernizing the surgical theater and collect the blood. Surgical Instrument Catalogue, J. H. Montague in London, 1897. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Inventions such as the Revolving Flushing Table were an attempt at modernizing the surgical theater and collect the blood. Surgical Instrument Catalogue, J. H. Montague in London, 1897. Trade Literature Collection. Canada Science and Technology Museum.

As antiseptic surgery emerged in the latter nineteenth century, instruments in the collection and trade literature reveal a new emphasis on materials and sterilization. Organic materials for the tools gave way to solid, nickel-plated handles that could be sterilized between each procedure. Nickel-plated tools gave way to stainless steel in the mid-20th century. Doctors started washing their hands, and wearing gloves, masks and hats, while they operating in clean, organized, private theaters. They adapted to the gloves that significantly changed their sense of touch, and the simple, sterile, solid metal tool, and the clean, careful and cautious surgical operation that is recognized today materialized.

See some of these changes in the exhibition in November 2017, or now in the sample of images from our extensive trade literature collection.

Erica Nadeau is a Student Intern from the Applied Museum Studies program at Algonquin College working on the Medical Sensations Exhibit.

“Vaccination: Fame, Fear and Controversy, 1798-1998,” is currently on exhibition until the end of April 2017, at the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University. The exhibit is open to the public, Monday-Friday, 9AM-5PM.

Hope and Fear in a Glass Capillary – Connecting over the History of Vaccination with the Osler Library

This unassuming glass capillary of fluid represents much more than meets the eye. In addition to protection against smallpox, it represented hope for the eradication of a disease that T.B. Macaulay once described as being “always present, filling the churchyard with corpses, tormenting with constant fear all whom it had not yet stricken, leaving on those whose lives it spared the hideous traces of its power…”[1] To some, it may even represent the potential to wipe out all infectious diseases. To others, it represents fear and distrust of modern medicine. To still others, it could represent combinations of the above in varying degrees.

Capillary tube containing smallpox vaccine manufactured by Connaught Laboratories in Toronto, Ontario circa 1939. Medical Technology, Canada Science and Technology Museum, art. no. 2002.0101.

In 1798, Edward Jenner, an English country physician, published the results of his experiments on the use of cowpox inoculation in the prevention of smallpox, a procedure Jenner named vaccination. Although it was quickly taken up around the world, the benefits of vaccination were hotly contested from the beginning. Many, including physicians, were wary of “introducing a beastly humour into a human frame.”[2]

Picture of Sarah Nelmes’ hand, from which Jenner took material to inoculate James Phipps in 1796. Edward Jenner, An inquiry into the causes and effects of the variolae vaccinae, a disease discovered in some of the western counties of England, particularly Gloucestershire, and known by the name of the cow pox, London: D.N. Shury, 1800.

Picture of Sarah Nelmes’ hand, from which Jenner took material to inoculate James Phipps in 1796. Edward Jenner, An inquiry into the causes and effects of the variolae vaccinae, a disease discovered in some of the western counties of England, particularly Gloucestershire, and known by the name of the cow pox, London: D.N. Shury, 1800.

As early as 1802, caricaturists and satirists captured the fears of the public “that the human subject, when inoculated with cowpock matter, becomes contaminated; and is transformed into a brute…that an infant, when vaccinated, will have a face like an ox; and hair all over its body like a cow.”[3] The controversy surrounding vaccination would continue throughout the nineteenth century and persist until the present day, even after the hope of smallpox eradication was fulfilled in 1980.

The Cow-Pock ÔÇô or ÔÇô the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation high res

Satirical cartoon by James Gilray depicting the effects of vaccination. The Cow-Pock – or – the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation! London: H. Humphrey, 1802. The British Museum.

The museum collection’s vial of smallpox vaccine, a remnant of the fight against the disease, is currently on display at the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University. Their new exhibition, Vaccination: Fame, Fear and Controversy, 1798-1998, highlights the arguments that have been made by both pro-vaccinationists and anti-vaccinationists over the two hundred years following Jenner’s publication. Here, items from the Canada Science and Technology Museum connect with the library’s rare books collection to showcase how the dispute manifested in early nineteenth century Britain, during the 1885 Montreal smallpox epidemic, and the 1919 smallpox epidemic in Toronto. The exhibit engages with the history of vaccination controversy in an attempt to understand vaccine hesitancy and the fears that are attached.

“Vaccination: Fame, Fear and Controversy, 1798-1998,” is currently on exhibition until the end of April 2017, at the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University. The exhibit is open to the public, Monday-Friday, 9AM-5PM.

“Vaccination: Fame, Fear and Controversy, 1798-1998,” is currently on exhibition until the end of April 2017, at the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University. The exhibit is open to the public, Monday-Friday, 9AM-5PM.

Cynthia L. Tang, 2016 CSTMC-McGill Research Fellow

[1] T. B. Macaulay, The History of England from the Accession of James II, Boston: De Wolfe, Fiske & Co., 1831, 424.

[2] Benjamin Moseley, Commentaries on the Lues Bovilla or Cowpox, London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1806.

[3] Anonymous, “Satirical poem on Moseley’s “Commentaries on the Lues Bovilla, or Cow Pox,” in The Vaccine Phantasmagoria, London: J. Murray, 1808.

Brad in the Blue Contraption
Photo:  myspace.com/rockclimberz

Access, the Body, and the Great Outdoors

Brad Zdanivsky is an athlete living in Vancouver. Born in 1976, he grew up in Mackenzie, BC and developed a love of the outdoors and rock climbing from a young age. On his blog, Brad notes that “it was in my early teen years that I started really learning how all the rope systems worked to keep things safe. I was hooked, I just couldn’t get enough climbing. The more time outside, the more I respected the wilder of places. Exposure, gravity, strong and always changing weather… Pretty addicting stuff for my adventure seeking personality.”

In 1995, Brad was involved in a car accident on the 14 hour drive home from attending his grandfather’s funeral in Saskatoon. He sustained a C5 spinal cord injury. “The abrupt change from being independent and strong to helpless and weak was surreal” Brad wrote on his blog. “It was sickening to watch the atrophy happen so quickly. The body simply eats itself within a week or two of being immobile. It took a long time to be able to push a manual wheelchair and I never regained any hand function. Living as a quadriplegic was about teaching myself tricks to compensate for the loss of function.” Over the course of the next 10 years, Brad would return to rock climbing, and in July 2005, became the first quadriplegic to summit the Grand Wall of the Stawamus Chief, one of the largest granite monoliths in the World which towers 700 meters over Howe Sound in Squamish, B.C.

BACK TO THE WALL (video)

Brad’s 10-year journey of climbing the 1700-foot vertical wall of the Squamish Chief.

This past Spring I met Brad in Vancouver. The following in an excerpt from my March 10th visit.

Emily: What was it that drew you to rock climbing?

Brad: As a child, I was always outside, always hiking. Rock climbing has the outdoors, nature, in one sport that I enjoyed. I couldn’t get enough of it. After the car accident, it was as if it almost had to be climbing. It almost felt cowardly not to try to rock climb again. It wasn’t enough to go back to school, to do other sports, it had to be pretty big stakes. You know, there’s nothing up there. You don’t get anything for it but your own satisfaction. But 10 years of work for 10 minutes at the top…would I do it again. No. Everything hurts now. I realized that I don’t have to stick it out that far anymore.

 

Brad climbing in the Blue Contraption. Photo: http://ambassadors.net/archives/images/bradclimbing.jpg

Brad climbing in the Blue Contraption.
Photo: http://ambassadors.net/archives/images/bradclimbing.jpg

Emily: How does physical exercise, like climbing, affect your body?

Brad: To do what we needed to do to climb The Chief, the regular heart rate and blood pressure for quads is not sufficient. I had a blood pressure of 100 over 60 and a heart rate of 60. That’s like the same as a little old lady…as like the vitals of a 90 year old grandma in a rocking chair. I needed to get way above that and exercise at a higher threshold. So to do that you have to use what’s called a noxious stimulus where you give yourself a bit of pain in order to create higher blood pressure and heart rate. It’s a tricky thing because sometimes it can work against you but if it works properly you get this optimal exercise area. But you are working with an uncontrolled reaction and trying to balance between being over or under, over and under, and if you go too far over, it can kill you. It’s almost impossible to regulate. You have to know your body really well. That’s what half of the climbing project was… figuring out how my body would work. It’s extremely dangerous and considered cheating by most para Olympic committees. What a lot of track athletes will do is break a toe or let their bladder fill up to create this reaction, which is an all or nothing approach. We tried to modulate this reaction by creating an algorithm that looks at heart rate trends and gives me an electric shock based on these patterns. It’s got to be a surprise or else it doesn’t work. I’d say that this is safer and more controlled than what other people were doing. What I use to do was zap my leg but your body gets use to that. What your body does not get use to is or cannot ignore is zapping your testicles. That always works. That always hurts. But on the day I didn’t use it. My body was in such a weird state. If you try to boost if you have other stimulus on board, some other thing going, like a sunburn, now you’re in deep water. That’s really dangerous.

Emily: I’m really pleased to have acquired your Blue Contraption for the Museum’s collection. It represents, for me at least, a more critical and inclusive way of understanding technology. Can you tell me a bit about how you came to this design? What was your design process and were there any major surprises along the way?

Brad: I wanted to try to climb the same way the paras do which was stubbornness on my part. My body requires more protection and support so when we started with a paragliding harness it didn’t respect my lungs and squished me. I needed something that protected me and provided more structure so we tried a wheelchair type design instead. We were slowly getting it right by removing complexity, pushing details away. All these moving parts can break so we decided to try to only fix three things every iteration. Chip away at it. We couldn’t afford to leave any stone unturned. As for the colours, they made it easier to see from the ground. As for surprises, all of it was a surprise.

The basic framework of Brad’s rock climbing rig. Photo: verticalchallenge.org

The basic framework of Brad’s rock climbing rig.
Photo: verticalchallenge.org

Emily: Can you tell me a bit about what you remember from the climb you completed with the Blue Contraption?

Brad: We carried-in the day before the climb and slept at the base on the route. I didn’t sleep at all – how could I sleep before that? It was pitch black and early, when we got started because we wanted to beat the main heat of the day. The morning of it, you just try to turn your brain off and get on with it. It’s a pretty weird feeling, pretty sedate. You don’t want to jinx it. We did really well, made really good time when we started that morning. We broke our records to a point. At a certain point we climbed pass the safe known area into an area that we hadn’t reached before. Coming back through these areas… having to retreat would be next to impossible. The only way out was up, really.

Emily: Did you celebrate at the top?

Brad: No, I was too tired. I just wanted a sandwich. I was starving. You’re scared, hungry and shivering and in pain.

Brad in the Blue Contraption Photo: myspace.com/rockclimberz

Brad in the Blue Contraption
Photo: myspace.com/rockclimberz

Emily: What did it mean to you?

Brad: Lots. It was a book ending. It squared my whole injury with me. My injury didn’t get the best of me. I proved to my family that I survived and still did things I wanted to do. I slept like a baby that night.

Brad’s experience highlights the innovative ways that people with physical disabilities are making the outdoors accessible. Technologies, in this case, serve as tools to break through physical, as well as socially constructed, barriers.

To learn more about Brad Read more

Gammex Non-Latex Polyisoprene surgical gloves, courtesy of Dr. Jeffrey Barkun and the McGill University Health Centre

Surgical Gloves and the Battle of Protection vs. Sensitivity

In medicine and science today we take the use of gloves for granted. But their usefulness in surgery was not as obvious when they were first introduced in the late 1800s. In 1889 the Johns Hopkins surgeon, William Halsted, first introduced rubber gloves in surgery as a gift to his chief operating nurse and future wife, Caroline Hampton, to protect her hands from the caustic solutions that were used to prevent bacterial infection in the patient. They were subsequently used by Halsted’s assistants, but their use for the protection of the patient from the bacteria present on the surgeon’s hands was not immediately apparent. Using gloves for the entire surgical team did not become standard practice at Johns Hopkins until 1896.

In fact, the use of gloves by surgeons during procedures was a subject of controversy and debate in the surgical world of the 1890s. The increasingly delicate nature of surgery highlighted the importance of touch and dexterity, two aspects that were compromised by the use of gloves. Many surgeons were not willing to give up touch and dexterity in exchange for sterility. Others were more amenable to negotiating between manual and microbial control and experimented with various materials such as cotton, silk, leather, and rubber, as well as combinations of these materials. Surgical meetings began to include demonstrations of the different models of gloves that were available from manufacturers.[1]

image-1

Advertisement for surgical gloves that allow for “a very feeble pulse” to be felt through its rubber. Illustrated Catalogue of High Grade Surgical Instruments and Physicians’ Surgical Supplies, Sharp & Smith in Chicago circa 1908. Trade Literature Collection, Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Catalogues of surgical equipment and sundries in the Museum’s Trade Literature Collection exhibit some of the specific features of gloves that were marketed to surgeons for the best preservation of the surgical touch. One catalogue from the Chicago manufacturer of surgical supplies c1908 advertises “Seamless Rubber Gloves” that are “smooth, strong, seamless, non-absorbent and can be sterilized. A very feeble pulse; differences in the consistency of tissue and irregularities of surfaces can be felt through these,” indicating some of the traits surgeons looked for in an ideal glove. Other desired qualities included comfort and flexibility. Another catalogue published c1900 by The Hospital Supply Co. in New York specifically describes their gloves as being made “of very thin soft rubber, fitting close to the skin, and not impairing the sense of touch.” Starkman, a company based in Toronto, claimed that their 1970 model was “So sensitive it will actually transmit a finger-print.”

image-2

Gloves that claim to be “so sensitive it will actually transmit a finger-print.”  Starkman Surgical Supply: Price Catalogue 1970, Toronto, 1970. Trade Literature Collection, Canada Science and Technology Museum.

As technological advances allowed for significantly more touch-sensitive gloves to be manufactured, eventually gloves became a ubiquitous and essential part of a surgeon’s toolkit. Surgeons can now focus on choosing gloves based on comfort and flexibility. My work examining the surgical touch for the Museum’s upcoming exhibit, Medical Sensations, has led me to delve deeper into how today’s surgeons choose their ideal glove. Dr. Gerald Fried, Surgeon-in-Chief at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, says that what is important for him is that “the shape of the different brands cause pressure in different areas of the hands resulting in fatigue for longer cases.” Thus he chooses gloves based on their shape and the stretchiness of their material so that there is no restriction in movement.

Sensicare polyisoprene surgical gloves, courtesy of Dr. Harvey Sigman and the Montreal Jewish General Hospital

Sensicare polyisoprene surgical gloves, courtesy of Dr. Harvey Sigman and the Montreal Jewish General Hospital

According to Dr. Harvey Sigman, a surgeon at the Montreal Jewish General Hospital, gloves made of thicker material are preferred by some surgeons for their added protection against puncture and cautery burn. Some surgeons, including Dr. Sigman, even choose to double glove for extra protection.

Gammex Non-Latex Polyisoprene surgical gloves, courtesy of Dr. Jeffrey Barkun and the McGill University Health Centre

Others, such as Dr. Jeffrey Barkun, a surgeon at the McGill University Health Centre, find double gloves to be too constricting and prefer to use glove liners. Dr. Barkun finds that that these soft, thin, gloves hug the skin very tightly and offer better protection without impairing the sense of touch. Drs. Sigman and Barkun have kindly provided samples of their preferred gloves to the Museum’s Medical Artifacts Collection. Along with some of the Museum’s trade literature, these will be on display in the surgical touch section of the upcoming Medical Sensations exhibition.

[1] For more information check out Thomas Schlich’s article, “Negotiating Technologies in Surgery: The Controversy about Surgical Gloves in the 1890s” in the July 2013 issue of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine.

Cynthia L. Tang is a 2016 CSTMC-McGill Research Fellow

Photo. Raft from Libya. Photo by Dr. Simon Bryant

A Compass in the Migrant Crisis

In June 2015, as the migrant crisis intensified on the Mediterranean, I asked a friend Carol Devine, who has a long history of working with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), if it would be possible to collect objects that document the medical dimension of this experience. She immediately mobilized to have a message sent to MSF staff on the MOAS rescue ship MY Phoenix stationed on the Mediterranean. Simon Bryant, a Canadian physician on board, took up the challenge. During his tour, he set aside a range of objects – a mariner’s compass found on an overcrowded inflatable raft, children’s flotation aids, emergency medical devices for maintaining a patient’s airway, a disposable white coverall, a sign for the consultation room door, as well as a worn flag from the Phoenix – all with images and detailed provenance.

Photo. Pool Floatie recovered during Mediterranean rescue mission in the summer of 2015. Photo by Dr. Simon Bryant

Life Jacket and Pool Floatie recovered during Mediterranean rescue mission in the summer of 2015. Floatie reads on back: “NOT TO BE USED FOR BOATING … NOT A LIFESAVING DEVICE.” Photo by Dr. Simon Bryant

The first contact between migrants and the West has often been through rescue efforts on the Mediterranean Sea. In 2015 MSF launched sea rescue operations with Migrant Offshore AID Station (MOAS) because so many were drowning or lost at sea during the treacherous voyage from Libya and Turkey and had health needs upon arrival in Europe.

In many cases, there are immediate medical needs on the ship, so capturing that encounter was the focus of my initial request. Dr. Bryant’s subsequent selection of objects represented a broader snapshot of life in the rescue zone. By choosing the sign from the front of the consultation room, he was drawing our attention to the the migrant perspective amidst the turmoil of the rescue ship and challenges of language barriers.

The “Consultation in Progress” side of the clinic door window sign. Photo by Simon Bryant.

The “Consultation in Progress” side of the clinic door window sign. Photo by Simon Bryant.

One of the floatation devices was in fact a pool floatie “NOT TO BE USED FOR BOATING” (increasingly used by migrant children), while the other was a certified device; the Guedel airway devices were a constant in Dr. Bryant’s pocket during his tour; the mariner’s compass was a brass-coloured plastic instrument manufactured by a navigation and fishing equipment company in China.

Photo. Mariner’s compass made by Zhanhui Industry, Ltd. Guangdong Province, China. Photo by Dr. Simon Bryant.

Mariner’s compass made by Zhanhui Industry, Ltd. Guangdong Province, China. Photo by Dr. Simon Bryant.

The objects have become migrants on their own remarkable journey. In the fall of 2015, shortly after they arrived in Ottawa, curator Dan Conlin at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax took up the challenge to display these objects for the public. The exhibit, Perilous Crossing, communicated the migrant crisis in simple and powerful material terms, which at that time had become the top story in the Canadian news. This May, the exhibit and artifacts will be moving to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg for the summer of 2016. And there are now more requests to showcase these objects after the summer (the compass may be going to the Shanghai Biennale 2016), completing their unexpected voyage around the world, while building complex biographies – from Chinese factory products, to consumer goods (who bought the compass, where?!), to survival items, to cultural artifacts.

Simon Bryant wrote about his 2015 rescue tour in a blog “Bringing Home the Rescue-Zone.” Joshua Hammer also profiled life on the rescue ship Phoenix (with photos of Dr. Bryant at work) in his Sept. 2015 piece for Outside Magazine. Below, I am including the story of the compass that Dr. Bryant submitted for our acquisition files:

The compass story submitted by Simon Bryant

On August 3rd 2015 at about 3 a.m.,103 adults and 15 children from fourteen countries embarked on a nine-metre inflatable raft in Libya and proceeded north, propelled by an old 40-horsepower outboard engine and the need to escape from violence, poverty, and persecution in their countries of origin.

Photo. Raft from Libya. Photo by Dr. Simon Bryant

Inflatable raft from Libya, August 3, 2015. Photo by Dr. Simon Bryant

They relied on this gimbaled marine compass, provided by the “smugglers” who organized their trip, to maintain a northerly bearing. It is typical of those found on many of the boats and rafts.

 (Ironically in most instances, cardboard packing inserts remained in place around the compasses themselves, as seen in the photograph below; They prevented the gimbal mechanism from keeping the compasses level regardless of the boats’ movement, and undoubtedly made it difficult to navigate a straight course…) [Below], a similar compass to the one in the museum collection, with (white) shipping cardboard still in place.

Photo:  compass with packing in place, photo by Gabriele Casini

Compass with packing in place, photo by Gabriele Casini

After a distress call was received, the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Rome instructed the search and rescue vessel Phoenix, a collaboration between MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) and MSF (Medecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders) to proceed to the assistance of these people. They were subsequently intercepted without incident at 10 a.m. about 20 nautical miles north of Zuwara, Libya, at latitude 33 24 north, and longitude 011 57 east.

 The accompanying photo of the inflatable raft and its occupants was taken on first approach from the fast RHIB (rigid hull inflatable boat) dispatched from the Phoenix, just prior to lifejackets being provided to those in the raft.

 All aboard the raft were transferred by several shuttles of the RHIB to the Phoenix, where they received drinking water, food, dry clothing, and medical care as needed. Later the same day all those rescued were transferred to two Italian Coast Guard vessels, and taken to Italy. The Phoenix then returned to the search and rescue zone.

Country of origin, and number of rescued (15 children, 103 adults)

Nigeria 69; Ghana 15; Sudan 6; Gambia 5; Eritrea 4; Senegal 4; Guinea 3; Morocco 3; Mali 2; Niger 2; DRC 2; Libya 1

 

The trailer with its orginal owners. (Credit: MacLaren Family)

The story that changed my mind

Collecting is about connecting across time and space. We use our knowledge and our networks to seek out objects that embody important stories in the history of science and technology in Canada. But sometimes, when we don’t even know we should be looking for it, an object finds us and forces us to look beyond our established collecting priorities to discover a genuine treasure.

Interior of trailer showing icebox. License plate above. (Credit: Desjardins Family)

Interior of trailer showing icebox. License plate above. (Credit: Desjardins Family)

In September 2014, I received a forwarded email from a colleague at the National Gallery of Canada. He had seen a “lovingly restored” Canadian-built house trailer and wanted to know if we were interested in acquiring it. The trailer was a late 1930s Brantford travel coach made by Canada Carriage & Body Limited. Interesting but, on the face of it, a bit too close in age and type to our Nash motorhome to make acquisition an easy decision. I looked at the photos and opened a file for the trailer and consigned it to the “more research required” pile on my desk.

Exterior of restored trailer. (Credit: Desjardins Family)

Exterior of restored trailer. (Credit: Desjardins Family)

I was still mulling over the merits of the Brantford trailer in December when the owner called me directly to find out if I was interested in purchasing the trailer. I told her that I needed to do more research before I could make a decision and asked her what she knew about the trailer. Though English is her second language, she offered an animated and compelling story that forced me to reconsider the assumptions I had made about what the trailer represented. Using the names, dates and technical details she provided, I began to pull together the Brantford’s history and discovered some of the richness and complexity of life in Depression-era Canada.

Canada Carriage & Body Co. Ltd. was a long-standing manufacturing enterprise that had survived the decline of the carriage market and the rise of the automobile. Looking for ways to diversify its product line during the lean mid-1930s, it bought Fred Knechtel’s small trailer business. Knechtel was a gifted cabinet-maker who had once built radio bodies but then decided to try his hand at designing trailers for the emerging automobile tourism market. Canada Carriage produced Brantford Travel coaches for a few years leading up to the Second World War under the careful supervision of Mr. Knechtel.

The Brantford trailer after 50 years in storage. (Credit: Desjardins Family)

The Brantford trailer after 50 years in storage. (Credit: Desjardins Family)

Meanwhile, in the comfortable Montreal suburb of Outremount, Wallace Anderson MacLaren decided that he should take advantage of the growing network of roads around him to explore Canada. He purchased the Brantford trailer around 1937 and, for the next decade, indulged his appetite for adventure by taking his family on the road and discovering some the many remarkable places the country had to offer.

The trailer with its orginal owners. (Credit: MacLaren Family)

The trailer with its orginal owners. (Credit: MacLaren Family)

The MacLaren family retired the trailer in 1949 but stored it safely in a garage at their cottage on Lac-Lousia in the Laurentians. There it stayed for 50 years until the MacLarens’ neighbours expressed an interest in restoring and using it. When the Desjardins family took possession of the Brantford, they became not just its owners but also the keepers of its stories and, eventually, advocates for its place in Canadian history. By taking on all of these roles, they maintained a crucial connection with the past and helped me to make a strong case for collecting this unique piece of Canadian automotive history.

My friend, engineer Cloé Doucet, in Manitoba, on a spillway replacement job.

“The Lady Who Drives the Great Big Truck”!

Throughout my travels across Canada – purposed to interview veterans of the mining, metallurgy and petroleum sectors, one of the questions I asked was: How present (or absent) were women in the workplace? To which I would get the recurring answer: essentially none. Most rather seasoned interviewees would tell me that at the time, there were simply no women in engineering schools. Howbeit, many women found administration jobs within the natural resources world.

“… when I go to schools to talk to the kids, they don’t want to talk to me, they want to talk to the lady who drives the great big truck!”

In recent history, several companies have made efforts to increase the number of women in skilled labour positions. Eric Newell, former CEO of Syncrude, explains how the company implemented the Bridges program in the mid-90s, a program that encouraged female employees to transition from their administrative roles to the male dominated workplace. “They had two weeks to learn about the technical trades, then they would job shadow and finally, they would work a 28 day work cycle. […] None ever asked to go back. In the end, 25% of our 400 tonne truck drivers were women (as opposed to 4-5% before). And we won employer of the year award (Maclean’s) […] Now, when I go to schools to talk to the kids, they don’t want to talk to me, they want to talk to the lady who drives the great big truck!”

 

Ground-level perspective of a heavy hauler and a shovel at Syncrude. Courtesy of Syncrude Canada Ltd.

Today, women comprise 25% of the heavy truck driver workforce at Syncrude. Courtesy of Syncrude Canada Ltd.

Nowadays, women represent the majority of young university graduates, and although engineering programs are still renowned for seldom having women, registration has considerably risen. That said, women remain less likely to choose or find employment in any STEM areas. This stands in contrast to nearly all other fields of study, where women now make up the majority of graduates. What explains this phenomenon? Why are women more reluctant and less likely to find a job in natural resources?

Parents, teachers, mentors all play very important roles for a young woman.

“Somehow in the mining world, we haven’t succeeded… women have not found it very appealing,” says Dr. Samuel Marcuson, former Vice President at Vale. “When I started working in the 1970s and 1980s, in the work place you would find lots of pinup girls, naked women, pictures on the wall. And the women who joined the workforce at that time, clearly had to put up with that.” Although these kinds of actions have virtually been banned from the workplace, Marcuson explains that it took several decades for most companies to condemn it.

 

My friend, engineer Cloé Doucet, in Manitoba, on a spillway replacement job.

My friend, engineer Cloé Doucet, in Manitoba, on a spillway replacement job.

Today the workplace makes an effort to be much more inviting, but issues can still arise. Dr. Mary Wells, Associate Dean and Professor of Engineering at the University of Waterloo, explains that women can be subject to micro-aggressions. The latter are short, verbal or behavioral indignities, at times unintentional, that translate into slights. For instance, “a subtle example could be of a woman always getting a surprised reaction from others when she tells people in her field that she is an engineer,” explains Wells. “It can have a negative, eroding impact over time.” The work schedule of many jobs in the natural resources industry can also make it very difficult for any women to spend time with her family. In fact, “the drop off rate of women is much higher midway through their career […] as the work schedule is less flexible,” says Wells. On the brighter side, there are companies who offer mentorships and have become more flexible to the needs of families. “C E Zinc for example, has a company policy that all meetings must end by 4:30pm,” explains Wells. She has high hopes for the future as it has become much more common for men to be as involved as women in raising the family. As a result, responsibilities such as paternity leave or finishing work earlier to pick up the kids, have educated employers of the difficulties traditionally encountered by women.

Time will tell, but positive influence starts much earlier, says Wells. “Parents, teachers, mentors all play very important roles for a young woman.”

 

Photo courtesy of MiHR.

Photo courtesy of MiHR.

Acknowledgement:

Many thanks to Eric Newell, Sam Marcuson, Mary Wells and all other interviewees for your thoroughness and candor. A special mention to my dear friend Cloé, who is an exemplar in the field.

Header photo courtesy of the Mining Industry Human Resources Council

Sources:

Catalyst. Catalyst Quick Take: Women in Male-Dominated Industries and Occupations in U.S. and Canada. New York: Catalyst, 2013. http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-male-dominated-industries-and-occupations-us-and-canada

Hango, Darcy. Gender differences in STEM programs at university, Statistics Canada, December 18, 2013. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-006-x/2013001/article/11874-eng.htm

Marcuson, Sam. Interview with Sam Marcuson, Mining and Metallurgy Project, July 23, 2015. Toronto, Ontario, in person (William McRae)

Natural Resources Canada. 10 Key Facts on Canada’s Natural Resources, August 2014. https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/files/pdf/10_key_facts_nrcan_e.pdf

Newell, Eric. Interview with Eric Newell, Mining and Metallurgy Legacy Project. April 22, 2015. Edmonton, Alberta, in person (William McRae)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 5. Iron works in the Georg Fischer Iron Library

“Get thee to a Nunnery” : Finding the History of Metallurgy in a Monastery

Although the history of Canadian metallurgy is of national significance, our collection in this area is rather small. Before, I could decide what to collect, I needed to gain a better understanding of the subject. Therefore in June 2015, I travelled to the Georg Fischer Iron Library in the small town of Schlatt, Switzerland where I spent three weeks as a Scholar-in-Residence. I researched the history of metallurgy, and the technology transfer between Europe and Canada.

Figure 1. The Klostergut Paradies nunnery

Figure 1. The Klostergut Paradies nunnery near the town of Schlatt, Switzerland.

The Iron Library holds the world’s largest collection of books on mining and metallurgy. It is located in Klostergut Paradies, an old nunnery, established by Poor Clares in 1253 (Figures 1). In 1918 Georg Fischer AG (GF), a large manufacturer of iron, steel, and plastics purchased the monastery with its agricultural lands to grow food for the company’s workers. Inside, Fischer discovered a large library of books related to mining and metallurgy, and rather than dismount it, the company decided to invest in the collection. Today, the Iron Library’s holdings are unmatched by any others in the world (Figure 2). Surrounded by towns with rich metallurgical history, the Iron Library provides a perfect environment to study the field.

Figure 2. The Iron Library Rare Books Collection

Figure 2. The Iron Library Rare Books Collection

I had an ambitious research plan for my three-week stay. I started by consulting monographs related to the history of metallurgy in general, and the European history of metallurgy. This allowed me to place developments in Canada in a broader cultural and technological context. Next, I reviewed Georg Fischer’s archival resources to identify links with Canadian companies. Indeed the archival collection proved very interesting. It contained files on Fischer turbines supplied for Alcan’s Kitimat-Kemano projects (Figure 3), Hydro-Quebec’s Bersimis stations, and Ontario Hydro’s Sir Adam Beck No. 2. I was surprised to discover that in 1956, Professor Gerard Letendre, who according to Canadian scholarship advised Premier Duplessis against investing in steel industry in Quebec, solicited GF’s capital for a metallurgical research centre in Canada. The documents also show that, when in 1956 Gordon MacMillan, Vice-President of the Canadian Car Company asked for a tour of GF’s plants, the head of GF bluntly refused suggesting in a less than polite manner that he felt: “inclined to consider the contemplated visit devoid of the benefit (…) and think it better for [MacMillan] to cancel your coming to Schaffhausen.”

 

Figure 3. A Pelton turbine for Alcan’s Kitimat-Kemano project in British Columbia

Figure 3. A Pelton turbine for Alcan’s Kitimat-Kemano project in British Columbia

Lastly, I consulted unique manuscripts and publications dating from the fifteenth to the eighteen century containing drawings, engravings, and woodcuts, such as Jean François Morand’s L’art d’exploiter les mines and Jacob Leupold’s Theatrum Machinarum. Images that I found challenged my assumptions on the roles of women in mining and metallurgy (Figure 4), a subject that I now need to study in more detail.

Figure 4. (A) Women working in a coal mine, 1700s (B) An ivory miniature showing women forging Damascus steel

Figure 4. (A) Women working in a coal mine, 1700s (B) An ivory miniature showing women forging Damascus steel

 

I toured a GF’s iron plant in Singen, Germany and a plastics plant in Schaffhausen, Switzerland; met with GF staff and visiting scholars from as far as Nepal and Japan. Yet, in its serendipitous way, the research at the Iron Library revealed an unexpected story of ‘collecting and connecting.’ The library contained a collection of polonica, metallurgy literature published in Poland between the 1960s and the early 1980s. How did the Iron Library come to acquire such a collection? As archival correspondence revealed, in the early 1960s the Library approached the Mining and Metallurgy Academy in Krakow asking for help in acquiring publications produced in then communist Poland, which were not available abroad. One of the professors, Dr. Jerzy Piaskowski, who had a private collection on history of metallurgy, enthusiastically agreed to supply the books and magazines in exchange for material published in the Western Europe.

… in its serendipitous way, the research at the Iron Library revealed an unexpected story of ‘collecting and connecting’.

At the time, as Piaskowski explained in one of his letters, this was the only way that books from the West could make it to a scholar from the Eastern Block. Dr. Piaskowski produced handwritten bibliographies, which he mailed to the Iron Library. The Iron Library staff would make a selection and mail it back to Dr. Piaskowski. He then purchased the books and sent them to the Library with a list of publications that he wished to receive in return, of the value equivalent to his shipment. This cooperation lasted for almost two decades. At one point, in the mid-1960s, the Library invited Dr. Piaskowski for a visit. He diplomatically ̶ as not to offend any potential censors and jeopardize his future contacts with the Library ̶ replied that it was impossible for him to travel outside of Poland. As the staff at the Iron Library changed and the collecting policies become more practical in the early 1980s, the new Librarian suggested in one of the last letters to Dr. Piaskowski that books in Polish were not useful for the Library’s clientele. “Perhaps, now there are no people who can read my papers”- replied Dr. Piaskowski – “but there will be in future.” I wish, I could tell him that he was right.

Figure 5. Iron works in the Georg Fischer Iron Library

Figure 5. Iron works in the Georg Fischer Iron Library

Resources:

Iron Library Online Catalogue

Acknowledgements:

I would like to thank the Georg Fischer Iron Library Foundation for their generous support of the Scholar-in-Residence programme. Many thanks to the wonderful library staff Franziska, Florian, and Uta, for making my stay truly special.

Figure 1. “Wake Up Call”. A signed print by Robert Bailey that belonged to John Colton, No. 137 Squadron, Royal Air Force.

Wake Up Call: Encounters between a Typhoon and a Focke-Wulf Pilot

In 2014, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum was fortunate to be the recipient of a loan from the Royal Air Force Museum in England: the sole surviving example of the Hawker Typhoon. The Typhoon is a unique Second World War airplane. It could also be a very dangerous aircraft to fly. Of course, it is always dangerous to fly in wartime but the Typhoon made things a little trickier. There were structural issues and engine problems. In the first couple of years that it was operational, engineers and mechanics modified its structure and design significantly. The Typhoon also looked very much like the German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in flight and was frequently shot at and shot down by friendly fire.

Figure 1. “Wake Up Call”. A signed print by Robert Bailey that belonged to John Colton, No. 137 Squadron, Royal Air Force.

Figure 1. “Wake Up Call”, by Robert Bailey, 2001. A signed print which belonged to Flight Lieutenant John Colton, RAF 137 Squadron.

The Typhoon represents an important story in aircraft design. So I was thrilled when a man named John Colton Jr. called me from Sherbrooke, Quebec, saying that he would like to donate some objects and photographs that belonged to his father, Flight Lieutenant John Colton (1923 – 2013), RAF 137 Squadron (Figure 2) who was a Typhoon pilot. Given the importance of this story and the fact that we have very little in the collection that represents the experience of the Typhoon pilots, we were pleased to accept this donation.

Figure 2. Flight Lieutenant John Colton posing on a Hawker Typhoon. RAF 137 Squadron, Manston, England, July 1944.

Figure 2. Flight Lieutenant John Colton posing on a Hawker Typhoon. RAF 137 Squadron, Manston, England, July 1944.

 

John Colton Jr. said he thought of us because we had the Typhoon on loan. I invited him to share some photos of the objects but he wanted to come in person to show me the objects (Figure 3). He is a wonderful, light-hearted man who is very proud of his father’s service during the Second World War.

 

It was a great pleasure to learn about John Colton’s service. His son was kind enough to share many of his stories with me.

 

The Typhoon was a difficult aircraft to fly. Pilots either loved or hated it – one was never on the fence about the Typhoon. John Colton loved it. On average, Typhoon pilots survived about 17 sorties (or missions) – he completed 75. John Colton took part in several important battles throughout the final two years of the war: Operation Overlord, Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge, and Operation Bodenplatte. Colton Sr. was awarded the following medals for his service: War Medal, France and Germany Star, 1939-1945 Star, Defense Medal, Normandy Campaign Medal, Canadian Voluntary Service Medal, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.

 

Figure 3. A) Flight Lieutenant John Colton’s dress uniform complete with the various medals he was awarded, including the Queen’s Jubilee medal he received in 2012. B) Colton posing with a Hawker Typhoon. C) A small sample of John Colton’s photo collection sitting amid his notebooks on the Typhoon and its notorious engine, the Napier Sabre.

Figure 3. A) Flight Lieutenant John Colton’s dress uniform complete with the various medals he was awarded, including the Queen’s Jubilee medal he received in 2012. B) Colton posing with a Hawker Typhoon. C) A small sample of John Colton’s photo collection sitting amid his notebooks on the Typhoon and its notorious engine, the Napier Sabre.

 

“Wake up Call” is a painting by Robert Bailey, signed by 8 Luftwaffe pilots who flew on January 1st, 1945 – the beginning of Operation Bodenplatte. This was the Luftwaffe’s attempt to cripple Allied airforces in Belgium and the Netherlands. Colton Sr.’s base at Eindhoven in the Netherlands was one of the targets. The German forces destroyed many of the Typhoons on the airfield and one of his good friends was killed. Colton’s Typhoon was one of the few that remained undamaged in the attack.

 

It became real again when John Colton Jr. and his father were attending an airshow in 1984. The two later met a glider pilot who was flying that day, a Luftwaffe veteran named, Oscar Boesch (1924-2012), who continued to fly in air shows around Canada and the United States in the post-war years. The first question Boesch asked Colton Sr. was: “Where were you on January 1st, 1945?” To which, Colton Sr. answered: “Eindhoven (Netherlands).” Boesch replied, “So was I.” Boesch was the pilot of one the Fw 190s that attacked Colton’s base that morning.

 

A.A. position at Arnheim attacked. Bags of heavy and light flak!!!

∼ Flight Lieutenant John Colton, September 16, 1944.

 

Figure 4. Pages from John Colton’s Log Book, chronicling his missions throughout September 1944.

Figure 4. Pages from John Colton’s Log Book, chronicling his missions throughout September 1944.

 

At first, Colton was uneasy, thinking of his friend who had been killed that day in 1945. But in the end, Colton and Boesch went for a beer together and toasted absent friends. This friendship seems rather unlikely but in fact happened more than you would think. Colton Sr. had another good friend who served in the German Navy on E-Boats. Typhoons regularly attacked these ships and the ships fired back. The two laughed about their shared experience over beers. Still, the encounter at Eindhoven was a little more personal, which explains Colton Sr.’s initial reaction to Boesch. In his own words, “[I] didn’t know whether to go at him or what.” He let it go, understanding that back then they were both pilots just doing their jobs. Every January 1st from that day on. The two even provided details to artist Robert Bailey in his research for “Wake Up Call!” a signed print of which John Colton Jr. donated to the museum as well as a log book, photographs, uniforms, and pilot’s notebooks on the Typhoon and the Napier Sabre engine.

 

References:

Joanna Calder , “I could smell death at 1,000 feet”, Royal Canadian Air Force, November 1, 2013.

Hugh Halliday, Typhoon and Tempest: The Canadian Story

Pierre Lapprand with Dave O’Malley, Michel Côté, and John Baert, Johnny Typhoon: Down Low with Canadian Fighter Pilot John Colton, Vintage Wings.

Arthur Reed, Typhoon and Tempest at War