By Jenn Shelby
When I was a child, I was fascinated by the sea. The bracing breezes carrying wafts of briny air set my heart racing and filled my mind with adventurous tales of daring deeds, buried treasure, and possibilities.
The sea breezes still have the same effect, but having shifted from the role of a child to the role of parent, these days have me scanning the horizon for strong female role models rather than errant pirate ships.
A strong female can easily inspire the young girls in our lives, however it’s important to remember that she also fills a necessary role for young boys, as well. Through her, boys learn that women are not limited by their sex, and perhaps become more comfortable interacting with women who take on strong roles. This can help them view women less as someone to conquer or care for, and more as equals or partners.
In a world that firmly believed women were bad luck at sea, Molly Kool was sneered at as “the petticoat girl”. As time passed, Captain Molly’s deeds and her skill soon won her the respect of her peers. Captain Molly held her own among the traditionally male world that she found herself in and in so doing, quite unintentionally tumbled into the role of feminist icon and – possibly more tantalizing – adventuress.
What I find most enticing about Captain Molly as a role model is that she didn’t set out to change the world. She simply discovered a passion within herself and followed through, removing the obstacles in her way as they came to her.
As someone attempting to raise a strong, confident child in a world that tends to thrive on making us feel insecure about ourselves, I consider these qualities invaluable.
In a world where the few strong female role models that the media offers tend to be stubbornly sullen, unfriendly, and almost always unfeminine, Molly is a stark contrast. She is not the princess advocating a lifetime of vanity, nor is she the dark warrior of closeted self-harm; rather, she is the elegant queen striding confidently into a destiny that she both chooses and creates for herself. Her surviving friends describe her as “funny, always telling jokes and laughing.” Her mischievous, fun-loving nature shines through in the many photographs of her. Quite honestly, Molly Kool seems like she’s having the time of her life.
Molly’s is also a story of family. Her mother, Myrtle Kool (nee Anderson), seems to lurk in the shadows and corners of the history books, but Ken Kelly, friend to Molly Kool, assures me that she was always supportive of her daughter, as were all of the Kool family. Her father never doubted that she was capable, demanding change on her behalf so that she could become a captain despite her sex. Her siblings were at her side as children upon the Jean K, and later they continued to support her emotionally as their lives took different directions. The boat she first learned the ropes on and later captained, the Jean K, was named for her eldest sister, and it was to this sister that Molly sent her famous telegram announcing “Call me captain from now on” when she’d finally received her master’s papers. It may have seemed to Captain Molly that she had to prove herself time after time at sea, but amidst her family she could be certain of acceptance.
Molly Kool’s story is also the ideal of what happens when we follow our individual strengths and passions. If we’re lucky, we might even accidentally change the world while we’re at it. She is both the heroine of adventure and completely accessible. She is possible. And so much of her remains in Albert County today.
As I was researching Captain Molly, I spoke with Ken Kelly, Alma native and co-owner of Cliffside Suites and Cottage, where Molly was wont to stay on her many visits home in her later years. He spoke fondly of her love of looking out over the harbour, watching the boats come and go. “The spirit of the sea never left her,” he told me.
For me the spirit of the sea is somewhere in the sea breezes that still quicken my pulse and fill me with a sense of adventure. It is in the stories I tell my daughter of another girl who once lived here and was also fascinated by the boats coming and going with the tides.
Despite her passing in 2009, the spirit of Molly Kool is kept proudly alive in the village of Alma, whether it be in the historical treasures at the A Peek at the Past museum, in the tales the locals remember of her, the monument to her achievement on the harbour, or in the Molly Kool House just within the boundaries of Fundy National Park, where Molly Kool Kitchen Parties mark the weekend’s beginning through the summer. Her legacy lives on in the recently established Molly Kool Award; an award created to celebrate local women who have made significant contributions to their community.
Read more about the Molly Kool Award here: http://www.connectingalbertcounty.org/culture--heritage/molly-kool-award
Special thanks to Ken Kelly and Steve Chrysostom for their assistance.
Jennifer Shelby lives with her family in the forests of Caledonia Mountain, where they attempt to cultivate their sense of wonder amidst the trees and raspberries. She can often be seen hauling her dog away from yet another porcupine, getting chased by the Cooper’s hawk along the Crazy Road, and searching for faeries with her daughter, Evening.