What began as a fascination with the Canadian military led to a lifelong passion for collecting precious artifacts
Ihave committed my entire life to teaching history, and at 72 years old, I am still at it. While often being accused of “living in the past,” I have developed a strong interest in Canada’s military history. Growing up in Halifax, I was constantly exposed to a military lifestyle. My father, brother, uncles and in-laws all served in various branches of the Canadian military. Their involvements ranged from serving on the front line to support and administrative positions, as well as Cold War initiatives and peacekeeping operations. I tried the army cadets and summer militia programs, but discovered that I was the type who tends to run with scissors and did not play well with others. However, I quickly developed a keen interest in the Canadian military and have become a lifelong collector of related artifacts.
As a history teacher, I did my very best to spark interest in Canadian history and remind all of my students that there will come a day when our war veterans and historians will no longer be here. Remembrance Day, memorial statues and museums serve their purpose; however, they aren’t enough. Therefore, I took it upon myself to create my own collection and decided to approach it in a different light. I want it to act as a developing museum in order to allow our veterans’ voices to remain alive. I have assembled old uniforms, helmets, badges and equipment in an attempt to represent what it was like for soldiers who took part in warfare. Instead of focusing on famous leaders or prominent military figures, I do my best to show the bigger picture by focusing on the everyday lives of the men and women who served in Canada’s armed forces. In order to educate my audience in an impactful way, I allow them to hold, touch, smell and wear the items I use for my shows. The durability, distinctive quality and antiquity of the artifacts, I think, makes the experience much more meaningful for everyone. One of my more successful presentations is called, “The Music that Helped Win the War.” The items within this display consist of a WWII military jeep, accompanied by an army music system and large speakers that emit a very unique tinny sound. This presentation is a tribute to “The Army Show” of World War II era, a group of talented
Canadian men and women who entertained troops here at home and overseas. Two of its biggest stars were Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster, commonly referred to as “Wayne and Shuster.” With this antique sound system, I am able to play original 78-rpm records from the Second World War. My collection includes the music of Glenn Miller, Vera Lynn, Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters, Guy Lombardo, and Mart Kenney and His Western Gentlemen.
This type of music has the power to trigger old, forgotten memories in war veterans and their families. Seeing smiles, hearing laughter and witnessing a few tears is why I put the effort into making this collection.
Many of the items have been purchased at sales; however, some of them are given to me by veterans and their families who no longer have a need for them. As a historian, I also conduct interviews with war veterans in order to gain a better understanding of their lives. To further enhance the raw feeling of warfare, I have visited many battle sites abroad such as the sands of Juno Beach, the pebble-stone beach at Dieppe, the battle hills of Hong Kong, the tunnels at Vimy Ridge and the slopes of Monte Cassino in Italy, as well as historic locales here in Canada including the Batoche battle site in Saskatchewan and the Plains of Abraham in Quebec. While exploring each of these grounds, I realized how extremely vital they are to Canada’s history.
My collection should not be misconstrued as a glorification of war. I simply wish for everyone to remember and acknowledge the sacrifices our Canadian soldiers made and continue to make for us. I read this quote in Legion Magazine: “The way a nation remembers and honors its war dead is a measurement of its character and greatness.” My collection is the way I choose to honour our veterans.
While collecting and working with these artifacts, I sometimes connect with the people who previously owned them. It makes me wonder where their story began and how it ended. As fewer Canadian veterans remain who recall stories of WWI and WWII, we risk forgetting the sacrifices of the many Canadian soldiers who gave up their lives. One question I always ask my audience towards the end of a presentation is, “Given the millions of people, both military and civilian, who endured the gruelling years of war, is it not possible that among those who died, there might have been someone who would have come up with a cure for cancer? Could we perhaps have had another influential figure such as Mozart, Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa or even Wayne Gretzky?” War often takes our best and brightest individuals. Yes, sometimes I do live in the past, but only to keep the history alive for future generations. Lest We Forget!
Left: Sheet music for three very popular songs during the war years; Ed dressed in an original WWII uniform.
Top: a collection of Canadian regiment badges and a Canadian WWII helmet. Above: a Wwii-type Canadian army jeep, with early WWII loud speakers, largely used for addressing sizeable crowds of people.