An exhibition called British Columbia’s War, 1914-1918 will open at the Sooke Region Museum in November with the aim of educating area residents about the contributions of their forebears in the First World War.
The project, mounted in recognition of the centenary of the cessation of the conflict, is a collaborative work of the Royal B.C. Museum and it’s Sooke counterpart who have both dug deep into their archival collections to unearth powerful materials that serve to put a personal face on what was a traumatic global tragedy.
“The Great War had a monumental impact on the formation of British Columbia as a political entity, with its own emerging sense of identity,” said Jack Lohman, the Royal B.C. Museum’s CEO.
“The Royal B.C. Museum’s collections help show how the province coalesced around this event, as soldiers and nurses from all corners and various ethnic groups of the province signed up for service.”
The exhibit began touring the province in March 2016 but is slightly different in each community as partnering museums have contributed their own materials to help tell the stories that matter to visitors from their region.
In the Sooke Region, more than 80 young men registered for service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, a number that represented more than 10 per cent of the male population of age to join the military. Of those, 15 lost their lives.
“For example, we have a scroll that was discovered in 1953 when the cenotaph was moved from its old location. The hand-written scroll was quite damaged but we managed to restore it and it has the names of the men who volunteered almost a 100 years ago. Without artifacts like this, those names could easily be forgotten,” said Montana Stanley, collections and exhibits manager at the Sooke Region Museum.
“You always learn a lot as you put together these exhibits … building them in a way that will let people better understand what happened back then and appreciate the sacrifice these men made.”
One display that dominates the entrance to the exhibit is a painting created by Sooke artist Vera Theussen in 1977. She created the large canvas and donated it to the Royal Canadian Legion in Sooke in commemoration of the First World War and as a way of bringing to life the savage inhumanity of that war.
“In this painting, we see the horrors faced by the men in the trenches. It brings the stories to life in a way that just reading about it could never do,” Stanley said.
That’s not to say that other items on display won’t add to the experience.
“We have the original paybooks from the war, with the lists of men and their pay packets detailed and we have some other artifacts as well that help to give the war a personal aspect that you just can’t get from books. For example, there are references to the technological advances brought about by the war and the fact that some of the equipment like gas masks that were given to the soldiers were really untested prototypes.”
The exhibit at the Sooke Region Museum will be on display during regular museum hours from Nov. 9 to Feb. 10.