Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tribute to Martin Boston

Celebrating Martin's birthday, ANSM-style
We have lost an icon of Nova Scotia's museum community; Martin Boston, founder and long-time volunteer of the Orangedale Station Museum. While he has not been active with the museum during recent years because of illness, his fingerprints are still throughout the museum. 

Orangedale was always a highlight of my Cape Breton museum travels because of Martin. Not only would he greet me with a huge grin, but he wanted to make me and our team feel truly welcome and at home. He really was the epitome of Maritime hospitality. Heaven forbid we leave without being fed. The smell of a full Thanksgiving-style chicken dinner would already be wafting from the "freight shed" kitchen when we arrived in the morning. Making sure you could stay for a proper meal was just as important to Martin as confirming which date and time you'd be visiting. 

Martin was such a sweet, gentle soul that you couldn't help but be in a good mood when you were around him. When he mentioned to me that our digitization team's visit would coincide with his birthday, we decided to repay his hospitality and make him a cake he'd appreciate. He might not have been able to identify the engine (a favourite game of his when looking at old photographs of trains), but I think it's safe to say he was tickled pink by the surprise. 

The language Martin used in describing the museum, railway history, and the people who visited the museum is a lesson to all of us. There was a passion and appreciation so sincere that it's no wonder the museum's Facebook page was flooded with messages of condolences and memories of Martin when it announced his passing. It's also no wonder people joked about Martin being the museum's best interactive exhibit. His life was the railroad. He didn't want to just tell you about statistics or historical factoids. He wanted to describe his life to you so that you could really understand what life was like during the railroad's heyday. He wanted to show you how the telegraph and the mail bag hoop worked, which forms you'd have to fill out on a daily basis, and what it was like for the station master and his family to live in a bustling train station. He loved the look of surprise on people's faces when he'd tell them what the train schedule used to be in Orangedale, and how many people would pass through the station.

One of Martin's biggest concerns was that people were losing their understanding of how critical the railroad was in the development of Canada. This, in addition to his being so sociable, really motivated his work with the museum. From the restoration work in the 1980s to the development of the archives and exhibits, Martin desperately wanted to preserve this important piece of our history. It was always interesting to hear about how the museum was established and how it evolved from one of its founding members, an opportunity that just isn't possible for many museums. Until his health deteriorated, Martin's memory was impeccable. He could relay stories from his Uncle Bob of his days on the railroad, describe in detail the excavations and restoration of the unique station, explain the ins and outs of operating a museum next to an active railway line and the safety measures that were required, and could tell you a story about every single artifact in the museum's collection. He was the corporate memory of the Orangedale Station Museum. 

Martin loved being a mentor to summer students, and hoped to instil an appreciation for history in them during their tenure. Quick to praise, Martin would shrug off his own contributions but talk at length about all that the students had accomplished that summer, of what the board was planning and pursuing, and of the wonderful stories shared by the museum's visitors. He was especially proud of the work Jessie did in documenting the collection when the museum was first established. He would show off her artifact drawings and index cards of handwritten details, and muse that those were big shoes to fill.

Martin was more in tune with the telegraph era than the computer era, but he was always eager to participate in outreach opportunities that would showcase the museum, Orangedale, and railroad history in general. He often expressed sentiments about museums being much stronger when they worked together. So it's no wonder that the museum created a Community Memories virtual exhibit on Railroading in Cape Breton, or joined the Advisory Service to work cooperatively with other museums and showcase the collection on NovaMuse, or became one of Heritage Cape Breton Connection's "Heritage Voices". 

But that's enough from me. Let's give the final word to this beautiful soul. May you rest in peace Martin, and enjoy all those afterlife reunions with Uncle Bob and all your railroading buddies. 


MaryAnne MacKeigan Cameron said...

Your descriptions of Martin are spot on! He was a most gentle, enthusiastic soul, always thinking of others. Thank you for sharing this.

Karin said...

Thanks MaryAnne. It was an honour to work with such a lovely gentleman.

Isle Madame Historical Society said...

Karin this is a lovely tribute, the museum community needs more Martin's!

Karin said...

Thanks Susan. Yes we could definitely use more people around like Martin ☺

Yvonne Fox said...

Well done, Karin. I met Martin in the early 1980's after we opened the Port Hastings Museum and Archives when we were all attending workshops and meetings and learning together. He was quite the guy. I saw him often over the years and he always had a smile for you. Thanks again.

Karin said...

Thanks Yvonne. I'll definitely miss that smile too.

Unknown said...

Hi Karin, my name is Joanee, I am the wife of Michael who was Martin's cousin. I just wanted to let you know that you wrote a beautiful tribute to Martin, he would have really liked it, you described him to a tee, you said it all. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Best regards,
Joanne and Michael

Karin said...

Dear Joanne & Michael,
Thank you for your kind comments and I'm so very sorry for your loss. I'm really glad my little tribute made its way to Martin's family. Thanks for reaching out.