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A Uist CalMac port assistant with a vast and unique collection of ferry memorabilia is staging an exhibition of his treasures at Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts Centre in Lochmaddy.

John MacDonald’s collection, which he began gathering in childhood, is a treasure trove of CalMac memories.

“Where The Sea Meets the Road - John Macdonald’s CalMac Collection” is a fascinating historical insight into the ferry company, which dates back to 1850.

Artefacts include model boats, flags, postcards, silverware, and albums full of photographs. One of the most interesting items is the charts from the Cold War when CalMac was officially tasked with scanning the west coast waters and reporting to the UK Government on sightings of Russian warships or submarines. This surveillance project was entitled Operation Hornbeam.

John, an unofficial CalMac ambassador who has worked as a port assistant in his hometown of Lochmaddy for 18 years, began collecting CalMac and David MacBrayne memories when he was eight years old and used to spend time at the harbour watching the vessels dock. 

He then went on to live the dream, landing a job with CalMac at the age of 16, which led to college and a spell working in Glasgow.

Said John: “My dad used to work at the port, and I was always down at the pier, watching the boats; I really wanted to work for CalMac one day. The crew were so nice to me; they used to let me visit the bridge and the car deck. I started off collecting magazines and souvenirs, and it is now a full-time hobby. People send me pieces of interest, such as a Caledonian Steam Packet Company flag they found in their parent’s house.

“My house is still full of boxes of CalMac memories, and I enjoy it so much that I will keep collecting. I would really like to find a David MacBrayne signature to add to the collection.”

As for his favourite part of the collection, John added: “Probably the Operation Hornbeam charts. A lot of the documents were destroyed, but for some reason, these charts were kept. It would be interesting to find out if we did report any Russian activity off the coast!”

Fiona Galbraith, Area Operations Manager (Hebrides) for CalMac, said: “John is an extremely dedicated member of the Lochmaddy team. He always puts a smile on people’s faces and is a fantastic asset to CalMac.

“His amazing, museum-quality collection of memorabilia is breathtaking and takes you on a fascinating walk through the history of CalMac and David MacBrayne. I would highly recommend a visit to this exhibition, which is a testament to John’s love of ferries as well as CalMac.”