WarningThis information has been archived for reference or research purposes.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived on the Web is for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It has not been altered or updated after the date of archiving. Web pages that are archived on the Web are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats on the "Contact Us" page.

Letter to the Editor

Print PDF

For more information on accessing this file, please visit our help page.

In Doctor Serge Bernier’s two-part article “A Brief History of Canadian Forces Military Museums: 1919 to 2004” (Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 6, Nos. 1 and 2, Spring and Summer 2005), he discussed a number of issues concerning the way ahead for museums. Two of them were the placing of all of our “military heritage eggs” in one basket, notably the Canadian War Museum (CWM) in Ottawa, and the dedication of “cultural dollars” toward pushing the Calgary experiment by allowing Montreal and Winnipeg to concentrate their military heritage in one location. I feel that these issues are key, for if Canadian military museums are to flourish, and to provide relevant historical services to the Canadian military and the public, then a change in the manner of how Canada administers its military museums is due.

The opening of the new CWM in Ottawa was, on the national level, a very large step forward in that Canada now has a very modern and vibrant military museum. Unfortunately we have now put all our “military heritage eggs” in one basket, as this museum is located in central Canada, making access to those who live outside the region difficult, or at least somewhat problematic. To help correct this problem of geography, Canada needs to look at the example set by the United Kingdom and its Imperial War Museum North, established in Manchester in 2002. A CWM (West) could be built, thereby allowing audiences from that area of Canada the opportunity to enjoy a quality national level military museum such as that we now have in the east.

The smaller Canadian military museums need to start thinking about how best to meet the needs of their audiences in the 21st Century. The Museum of the Regiments is an excellent example of how to concentrate the military heritage of one city in a single location. In order for museums to survive and be a viable historical resource, they require accessibility and a throughput of visitors and patrons. Accessibility and numbers are two things one does not get when a museum is stuck on some out-of-the-way military base, or in the back room of an old armoury. Maintaining small museums for the benefit of a few new recruits or aged veterans to appreciate is not doing either the collections or the story they are purporting to tell justice. Grouping a number of military museums into one central location with public access is, in my view, more viable, and this concept should be pursued aggressively.

Since “numbers through the door” is key, these groups of museums should be in a location that people (read tourists) want to visit. Small bases and old armouries, no matter how open to the public they may be, do not generally foster an atmosphere where one would want to take the kids for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon.

Museums should not be just a collection of “cool” military trophies brought back from overseas tours and campaigns. There should be a well-thought-out and coherent story line to the museum. This is so that the casual visitor, and these are the majority of visitors to museums, can leave with a message of what the particular regiment or corps achieved, not just exposure to a barrage of old military artifacts.

A regional museum also needs an interesting and dynamic website. Internet technology has reached a point where many people now use it for much of their research, and when planning a trip to a city or researching Granddad’s old military unit, many people will look on the Internet to see what is available. A current and “user friendly” website will attract not only the casual visitor, but also the more dedicated enthusiast, who may wish to pursue more detailed research. The website should also be linked to the archival holdings of the museum, which could, in turn, generate more interest in the museum and stimulate off-site research.

Relocating regimental and corps museums from their traditional homes on military property may sound like a large step, and it is. But it is one in which the payoff will more than compensate for the move. By planning the move properly, certain artifacts can remain with the unit for the recruits and veterans to enjoy, but the bulk of them can be held at a location where the public-at-large can appreciate them. Dynamic thinking, new ideas, refreshed/modern displays, and, perhaps, even working in conjunction with municipalities and the corporate world can make this consolidation of military museums work. More importantly, however, it will bring the message of service and sacrifice to a nation that is thirsty for knowledge about its military history.

Warrant Officer W.E. Storey
Canadian Forces Geometrics Support Squadron
National Defence Headquarters

Warrant Officer Ed Storey is also a contributor to Frontline magazine.