Tracy McMenemy

Fine Art Collections


Maritime Museum exhibit explores history behind Victorian Brideship
‘Crinoline cargo’ sent on brutal 19th century journey during early colonization of B.C.
Paula Carlson / North Shore News

The Girls Are Coming! A Visual Voyage of Brideship Tynemouth opens on International Women’s Day, March 8, at the Vancouver Maritime Museum, 1905 Ogden Ave. Opening reception is 7 p.m. The exhibition runs until June 16, or 99 days – the same length of time as the journey the young women took 157 years ago. Learn more about Tracy McMenemy at

It is September 1862 and the iron steamship Tynemouth has set out from Dartmouth, England bound for Esquimalt, B.C. by way of San Francisco.

The freight? Not lumber, bricks or cotton, as was commonplace for the times.

The vessel carried 60 girls, some as young as 12 years old, who were trumpeted in the press as ‘crinoline cargo.’

“How many hearts will beat with pleasure as this paragraph reaches their eyes…” proclaimed Victoria’s The British Colonist in its pages on Sept. 17, 1862, “when we state that the good ship Tynemouth with sixty select bundles of crinoline, arrived…”

The young women endured 99 days on board in decrepit living conditions. They were kept below deck in the dark, with dank, soot-filled air, rotten food, vermin and the omnipresent lack of sanitation.

The reward once they reached their destination? They were marched down the gangplank two-by-two and “received” by hundreds of drunken, gawking miners who had flooded into the region en route to the gold rush in the Cariboo.

The men, most of them from San Francisco, were a rowdy bunch. Hard drinking, uncouth and with no families to ground them, the raucous miners had become a problem for Victoria officials, who wanted to bring order to their outpost.

Across the Atlantic, London had its own concerns. The British, too, were seeking to clean up their streets, as a declining industrial cotton industry was leaving orphans and spinsters in its wake.

It’s a little-known fact about the founding of this province, but as North Vancouver artist Tracy McMenemy discovered, these brideships played a huge part in the development of British Columbia.

“It was sort of a win-win for both sides, they thought,” McMenemy says. “[Britain] shipped them over and in a way, colonized B.C.”

A longtime photographer, painter and sculptor, McMenemy, 50, has always been intrigued by historical themes. She incorporates a range of techniques in her work, such as fumage (images coaxed from smoke); objet trouvé (found objects); and photographic transfer (a method of print-making).

At the heart of her creations, however, is a story.

“I find it kind of grounds the art,” she explains. “It starts to connect everybody in the community. When you have some kind of historical story, people can dial in. And then it becomes more than just the art.”

For McMenemy, the experiences of the 60 girls shipped from civilized England to a rough rainforest in B.C. was intriguing, to say the least.

“How did I not know this?” McMenemy wondered upon finding the records of the voyage, after she had been asked by the curator of the Vancouver Maritime Museum to come up with a show for a “women at sea” theme.

“And then I went and asked all my family and friends, and none of them knew, either.”

McMenemy was hooked; she needed to follow the trajectory of the brideships.

“I spent a few years researching online, I went over to the B.C. Archives in Victoria, and just dug, and dug, and dug, until I came up with enough of a story that I thought I should share.”

The result is The Girls Are Coming! A Visual Voyage of Brideship Tynemouth, a new art exhibition at the Vancouver Maritime Museum that opens March 8.

From the archival images and photographs in newspaper clippings, to pieces of sails from the last fur-trading ship to sail to the Arctic, McMenemy has utilized nautical objects and themes to create 19 haunting mixed-media pieces.

“Life Saver,” for example, is a sculpture of eight mannequin heads, wrapped in ripped sail cloth with no facial features, indicating the women have no sight, no voice.

“Select Bundles of Crinolines” shows packages of wedding dresses stacked on a pallet to illustrate how the bride ship women were treated like any other cargo, such as meat or tobacco, McMenemy says.

In fact, the exhibit’s opening date, falling on International Women’s Day, is rather ironic for McMenemy, who after all of her research and artistic expression for The Girls Are Coming! was left with an overriding observation: Not much has changed.

From degradation on dating sites, to the need for an assertive #MeToo movement, McMenemy can’t help but wonder, “are we going to be having this same conversation in another 150 years?”

It’s something she hopes everyone who views her exhibit leaves thinking about.

“That part of it is heavy, it weighs on you,” McMenemy says.

Despite brideship’s misogynistic premise and challenging journey – the girls lived through several violent storms, two mutinies, and illness and injury – McMenemy found hope in their stories, and came to view the sailing like she believes many of the young women did: as an adventure.

“I’m sure part of them were scared, terrified to be going to a foreign country,” McMenemy says, “but they were probably also excited to start a new life.”

Many of the women went on to flourish in B.C., with some becoming midwives and teachers, in addition to homesteading and farming alongside their husbands and children.

They even introduced a bit of culture to the wild West Coast, bringing in the province’s first piano and sewing machine.

This female ability to turn difficult situations around is what inspires McMenemy and keeps her optimistic about the future.

“It’s pretty remarkable how fired up young women are today,” she says. “I really hope things do change. It’s our time.”


SEAFORTHS SEEN: Bagpipes skirled in 1917 when Seaforth Highlanders of Canada troops fought and died in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. They sounded again recently when piper and South Main Gallery owner Don MacMillan opened Tracy McMenemy’s Songs of The Smoke exhibition. Its works couple past battlegrounds with details of the regiment’s Burrard Street armoury. The latter were derived from technical blueprints, as were those in McMenemy’s 2016 Maritime Museum exhibition, Ghost Passages of the McKenzie Shipyard. Some from that series enhance lobbies at Cates Landing, a condo development that art collector-gallerist-philanthropist Michael Audain’s Polygon firm built on the 85-year-old North Vancouver industrial facility’s waterfront site.

South Main Gallery owner Don MacMillan played pipes at Tracy McMenemy's Songs of the Smoke exhibition of Seaforth Highlanders history.
South Main Gallery owner Don MacMillan played pipes at Tracy McMenemy’s Songs of the Smoke exhibition of Seaforth Highlanders history. Malcolm Parry / PNG


Tracy McMenemy explores our collective memory of war

North Vancouver artist showing work at South Main Gallery

Tracy McMenemy presents Songs of the Smoke, Nov. 10 to Dec. 4 at South Main Gallery, 279 E. 6th Ave., Vancouver. Opening reception: Nov. 10, 6-9 p.m.

As a mixed-media artist, Tracy McMenemy has worked with many different materials. Only recently did she discover fire.

She wields a candle like a paintbrush, applying haunting billows of smoke to her wood panel. Holding the open flame against a stencil creates charcoal-black silhouettes of warplanes flying overhead.

“I discovered a way of using a candle and taking the soot from the burning candle and capturing it onto the wood,” explains the North Vancouver resident. “Once the soot’s on the image, then I take a paintbrush and I can actually manipulate the soot.”

McMenemy later learned this method, known as fumage, is an existing art technique that was popularized during the surrealist movement in the 1930s. Fumage features heavily in her new exhibit, Songs of the Smoke, which opens tonight at South Main Gallery in Vancouver. Smoke seemed an appropriate medium, since the show explores our collective memory of war.

It was a trip to the Seaforth Armoury on Burrard Street that set the project in motion. McMenemy initially visited the 1936 heritage building seeking blueprints. At the time, she was collecting architectural plans of Vancouver landmarks for use in her art.

“The armoury had always caught my eye because it’s such a stunning building,” she says.

While looking through the building plans, she also came across impressive electrical blueprints – “They had these gorgeous 1930s chandeliers.”

She got chatting with James Calhoun, archivist at the Seaforth Armoury Museum, who produced densely packed boxes of maps, photographs and artifacts from the First and Second World Wars. Calhoun regaled her with tales of the people who had donated these items.

“As he was telling me those stories, I was getting excited,” McMenemy recalls. She started to feel the energy behind each war medal and photo; they became more than just objects. “I just kept going back.”

Up to that point, McMenemy had considered wartime imagery scary and depressing.

“The way we were taught in school, it was so sanitized,” she says. It was about committing dates and names to memory. “There was never really that personal side to it.”

But as the lives of dozens of people emerged through black-and-white pictures and handwritten letters, she realized the story she wanted to tell through her art was about much more than Vancouver’s architectural history.

Her new series incorporate the artifacts and heirlooms she discovered at the museum. She took photographs of the old blueprints, maps and documents and transferred these images onto a wood panel. She then added ink or acrylic paint and employed the fumage technique. One of her pieces, “Home Away From Home,” juxtaposes blueprints of the palatial Seaforth Armoury with the rudimentary tents soldiers preparing for the First World War in Saanich, B.C. slept in. “Boys to Men” shows the faces of some of the first Canadian soldiers to travel overseas and fight in the First World War.

McMenemy describes Songs of the Smoke as a “collective memory” intended to allow people to revisit, reinterpret, and give new meaning to wartime.

“With the letters and the images, they’re coming from people’s personal photo albums that they donated to the archives,” she says. “That’s what really drew me in, is that it wasn’t so sanitized and boring, it was actual real people.”

She hopes the personal element allows gallery visitors to relate to her artworks. And, although war is a dark subject matter, the message she wishes to impart through her art is a positive one.

“It’s not something that everybody necessarily wants to look at, but I think if they see the beauty in the imagery it’s not as scary and I think it’s presented in a way that’s uplifting and beautiful,” she says.

“I hope that people realize how important it is to talk about our history and be connected to it, but in a good way.”


McKenzie Shipyard in North Vancouver subject of art exhibit

Ghost Passages of the McKenzie Shipyard runs until April at the Vancouver Maritime Museum

By The Early Edition, CBC News Posted: Jan 08, 2016 3:00 PM PT Last Updated: Jan 08, 2016 3:08 PM PT

  • In Ghost Passages of the McKenzie Shipyard, artist Tracy McMenemy takes photos of the last day of the McKenzie Shipyard and manipulates them with a variety of artistic techniques, like this photo of a building.
  • In Ghost Passages of the McKenzie Shipyard, artist Tracy McMenemy takes photos of the last day of the McKenzie Shipyard and manipulates them with a variety of artistic techniques, like this photo of a building. (Tracy McMenemy)
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A new multimedia exhibit at the Vancouver Maritime Museum captures the last day at a North Vancouver shipyard before it was demolished in 2014.

“Ghost Passages of the McKenzie Shipyard” is the creation of artist Tracy McMenemy. She was present for the last day of the McKenzie Shipyard before it was demolished after 82 years of existence.

“It was very ghostly. It appeared as though everyone had gone to lunch and were going to come back. But they didn’t,” she told The Early Edition’s Rick Cluff.

“There were notebooks open with pens. There were saws that looked like they were ready to chop wood. There was a chair positioned on the dock as if someone had just had their lunch. You could feel the energy of the workmen around. I had never felt anything like that before.”

She says her aim was to remind people to slow down and appreciate what’s in their own backyard before it disappears forever.

You can see some of the exhibit’s photos in the photo gallery above.

“Ghost Passages of the McKenzie Shipyard” runs until April.

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: McKenzie Shipyard, closed in 2014, subject of art exhibit


“…haunted but hopeful” CBC’s Early Edition interview with Tracy McMenemy talking about her Ghost Passages of the McKenzie Shipyard exhibition

tracy_mcmenemy_GhostPassages_mixed_media                                                          Tracy McMenemy documented, archived and collected objects from the McKenzie shipyard in North Vancouver before the site was demolished in August, 2014. Her resulting mixed-media artworks will be on display at the Vancouver Maritime Museum Jan. 7 to April 3. photo Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

Ghost Passages of the McKenzie Shipyard: An Exhibition by Tracy McMenemy, Jan. 7-April 3 at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. Reception: Thursday, Jan. 14, 6-9 p.m. 

It felt like everyone had just gotten up and left.

Having jumped at an opportunity to photograph the McKenzie shipyard, located just west of Cates Park, a day prior to its demolition to make way for a new condo development, mixed-media artist Tracy McMenemy was completely taken by what she saw.

Things were sitting still. There was clothing hanging on hooks, open notebooks on tables, blueprints lying around, and a chair sitting out on the dock as if someone had just had lunch on it.

“It felt almost apocalyptic,” says the North Vancouver artist who maintains a studio in East Vancouver.

“I got goosebumps a couple of times when I walked through some of the spaces. You could certainly feel the energy of the people that worked there. That’s what you’re looking for as an artist is that connection and it was there in spades,” she says.
According to McMenemy, McKenzie Barge and Marine Ways was launched in 1932. Bustling in its heyday building ship and tug boats, since the late-1970s, operations were downsized and the company was primarily focused on things like repairs and painting. The shipyard remained operational until the day in August 2014 that McMenemy went in to conduct her self-described “material investigation,” photographing, documenting, archiving and collecting various objects from the site. Today, waterfront townhomes and apartment residences are being built on the site.

McMenemy went on to spend a year on a series of works inspired by the shipyard and her resulting pieces are set to be showcased in Ghost Passages of the McKenzie Shipyard: An Exhibition by Tracy McMenemy, opening at the Vancouver Maritime Museum Jan. 7.

“I think it was just the perfect fit for this theme,” she says.

“It’s exciting to talk about the shipyard – as another place that’s disappearing. If we don’t notice these places, the energy, they will be gone the next time we drive by. It’s a reminder to stop and take note, look closer and take time to see what is in our backyard and community. My artist’s resurrection brings the colour back,” she adds.

There were a “couple of strange, serendipitous situations” that led to McMenemy’s McKenzie shipyard project coming into fruition.

Her initial introduction was simply the result of driving past the site for the last decade, along Dollarton Highway.

“It was striking because it was this very beautiful setting with this building on the water. I always wondered what was happening there. Once I started painting, I would imagine myself having a gallery in the front of the building and a studio in the back looking out at the water. I saw there was lots of parking and thought about it very rationally as well as in my imagination. It had always been in my mind as a beautiful spot,” she says.

McMenemy was pleased then when, out of nowhere, in the summer of 2014 she received a phone call from a family friend whose wife, unbeknownst to her, was a member of the McKenzie family. The wife’s father and uncle had been the shipyard’s two owners.

The family friend had long been a supporter of McMenemy’s art, having attended her shows over the years, and had a proposition for her.

“He said, ‘They’re demolishing it tomorrow, can you come in today and do your thing and make a piece for my wife as sort of a memory of her father who had recently passed away?’” she recalls.

In disbelief at the timeframe, McMenemy jumped at the opportunity nonetheless and the next day, grabbed her gear and headed over, spending five intensive hours photographing intricate details of the site.

“I thought I was going to do a piece, but I was just so blown away by everything that I found there and the feelings that I had there. It was really serene with the setting on the water but the actual shipyard was quite ghostly,” she says.

In fact, she had heard rumours about actual hauntings, having been told about a number of employees who’d over the years seen “an old man down at the dock,” yet the man never actually materialized.

“I had a lot of feelings about it so it blew up into a year of my life, working away at it,” she says.

McMenemy will be exhibiting 38 pieces of a variety of types in the upcoming exhibition, showcasing her efforts to blur the lines between photography and painting.

“I basically start with a photograph and then I either use that as inspiration or I actually transfer part of the photograph onto my panel and then I paint after that,” she says.

She’ll also have some three-dimensional works on display, including a 17-foot-tall water line marker and a tool box with art on the inside of it.

The show’s title, Ghost Passages, is a reference to a common theme in McMenemy’s art.

“A lot of the work that I’ve done with abandoned places have something to do with the passage of time, and so I knew that I wanted to have passages in the title and it had that ghostly feel,” she says.

An added significance to her chosen title is that passages can also refer to waterways.

“I grew up as a sailor, so I’ve always been connected to the water. . . . and I think that’s probably why the shipyard caught my attention when we first moved out to Deep Cove and I’d always wondered what had happened there behind those doors. It’s funny you know, you get a phone call and it changes your life. I had no idea I’d spend the last year of my life working on this,” she says.

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