Musee Heritage brings home impact of war

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The cost to Canada of the last century’s two World Wars is almost too hard to understand or comprehend. In the First World War, it’s estimated more than 60,000 Canadians were killed in action. In the Second World War some 44,000 Canadians died. To commemorate Remembrance Day 2017, staff at the Musee Heritage have tried to bring the reality of those wars closer to home.

Most poignant is a framed scroll, which was privately donated to the museum. The calligraphy was done by Eugene Myles.

“Because we don’t want the light to destroy it, we only bring it out on Remembrance Day,” said museum archivist Vino Vipulanantharajah.

The scroll lists all the local soldiers who served in every military conflict from the first St. Albert Mounted Riflemen, who marched off to help quell the Riel Rebellion, on through the Boer War and on to and including the soldiers of the First and Second World Wars. The script on the scroll is an elegant Old English style with pointed tops on the letters and fancy curlicues on the tails. The names of the fallen are outlined in red.

It’s easy to count the names: 80 men are listed as St. Albert Mounted Riflemen; two men served in the Boer War; 61 served in the First World War and 193 served in the Second World War. Of those, 10 men are listed as having died in the First World War but new research has proved that it’s likely that 11 or 12 St. Albert men died in that conflict. Twelve St. Albert men died in the Second World War.

Still, those are just numbers until you realize the population of St. Albert at the start of the First World War was approximately 600. In 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, the town’s population was 697. Little St. Albert made a huge contribution.

“Every single family would have been touched. Everyone in the community would have had a family member or known someone who died,” said Musée Heritage education programmer Roy Toomey.

The museum’s focus throughout much of 2017 has been on the battles of 1917, including the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele and the Battle for Hill 70.

“1917 was pivotal year for Canada, when it began stepping away from the British Empire. We’ve tried to connect St. Albert to those events,” Toomey said.

Highlights from previous exhibits will be on display in honour of Remembrance Day. These include photos of some of the men who served in both world wars as well as some photos and old letters donated by the family of Brigadier-General Raymond Brutinel, who lived for a time in St. Albert.

“He had a house near what is now Green Grove Drive,” Toomey said.

Brutinel was a French investor, who tried to start a railroad between St. Albert and Edmonton. When the First World War began he went home to France but served with the Canadian army.

“He was a pioneer of mechanized warfare,” Toomey said, as he showed the museum’s photos of a tank-like machine-gun carrier invented by Brutinel.

“People forget about Brutinel, but if not for his invention, there would have been no tanks,” Toomey said.

A collection of First World War recruitment posters is displayed along with a payment chart showing a private in that war would earn $1.35 per day.

“Fight for King and Empire. Our Brave Soldiers Need Your Help!” reads one.

“The posters appealed to different emotions such as to a sense of heroism and also to guilt, as in ‘Daddy! Why aren’t you in the war?’ ” Toomey said.

On Remembrance Day the Musée Heritage Museum will be open from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. In addition to the exhibits, visitors can try their hand at a number of related crafts, such as making paper poppies and they may try on a uniform jacket from the Korean War.

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Susan Jones has been a freelance writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2009, following a 20-year career at the St. Albert Gazette. Susan writes about homes, gardens, community events and people.