When you walk past the Reception Desk and into the museum, you will be greeted by colourful 90s nostalgia and a childhood joy. The friendly faces of tugboats and barges smile up at you as you look into the Big Harbour. No, not the real Halifax Harbour outside the windows, but the model that resides inside the museum.
This display comes from the original set of “Theodore Tugboat,” a children’s television series that ran from the early 1990s until the early 2000s. Created by Andrew Cochran, the show was a favourite of children all over the world. The show was set in The Big Harbour, which was based off the real Halifax Harbour, the second biggest natural harbour in the world.
The models in the display were all used in the filming of the series. In the middle of the display, in front of the model of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, sits Theodore, wearing his iconic red cap and friendly smile. He is surrounded by his closest friends, the other harbour tugs: George, Emily, Hank, and Foduck.
You might be able to see some of Theodore’s other friends while you’re here. Each model has a small panel describing their personality and reminding you of why you loved them in the show. There is Filmore the Ferry, Kingston the Cargo Ship, Guysborough the Garbage Barge, Dorothy Dory, Carla the Cabin Cruiser, and Kulu the Canoe, to name a few.
A model that you may not remember from the show sits near the centre of the display. If it was not in the show, why is it in the exhibit? Well, it is a model of CSS Acadia, our museum ship! We couldn’t have a model of the Halifax Harbour without including the museum’s largest artifact.
Behind the vessels in the Harbour lies the Halifax waterfront, decorated with buildings and other characters from the show. The Dispatcher sitting to the tugboats’ left, gives out their duties for the day. You can also see Chimey atop Citadel Hill, modeled after Halifax’s iconic Town Clock. The display includes other buildings from Halifax’s waterfront, such as Summit Place, the Ferry Terminal, the Halifax Grain Elevator, and, of course, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic!
In 2019, Nova Scotia Museum staff undertook a thorough cleaning and restoration of the entire Big Harbour display. In addition to a comprehensive condition assessment and deep cleaning of all models, it also included an upgrade of the building lights and wiring. As a result, we think (but can’t really prove) that Theodore’s smile became just a little wider.
These wonderful and colourful models were built by master model maker Fred Allen. They stand out from the crowd in their size, colour, and build, as they were constructed for very different reasons than most of the model ships at the museum.
You can learn more about model making, the Halifax Harbour, and the television series when you visit the museum. Theodore and his friends are excited to see you!