Remembering the past to enlighten the present and support the future: that’s a primary role of any museum.
Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives Finish the Fight! Vernon in the Great War exhibit is in full swing.
“We really wanted to commemorate the First World War and Vernon citizens who contributed to bringing it to an end,” said registrar and assistant curator Jesslyn Jarvis who sits at the helm of the helm of the six-month exhibit. “We thought this was a great time to do it.”
Finish the Fight opened at the museum Oct. 4 and encompasses much of the back portion of the museum. It remains open to the public during regular Museum hours until March 31, 2019.
Newspaper clippings from war-time Vernon and hand-coloured poppies by local youths adorn the walls. A saddle and 2nd Battalion Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR) smock fill one of the glass encapsulations. The other turns the focus to what happened at home when the men went off to the front.
“We’re very lucky to have such a collection,” Jarvis said as she admired the CMR garb. “It’s pretty impressive that, 100 years later, we still have these things and they’re in good condition.”
The vast majority of the items displayed, she said, belong to the museum’s private collection, while the remaining pieces are borrowed from an out-of-town collector.
Glass enclosures line the adjacent wall and tell stories of Vernon soldiers such as Herbert Denison and George Osborn, two of the estimated 1,000 local men who went off to fight. Of those 1,000, about 130 lost their lives in war.
“We want to focus on the people, not the war itself,” Jarvis said. “You can really see where they were and what they were doing in the war.”
And, being a city of only 3,000 people at the time, Jarvis said the impact of the First World War on Vernon was substantial.
“We played a significant role and we played our part in this war,” she said.
Wartime photos and postcards courtesy of the Vernon Military Camp play on a loop above the stories of local soldiers.
“It just takes the viewer on a journey through the war,” Jarvis said as images and white text on a black screen cycle.
A second glass pillar plays home to artifacts from the front at home: local women and children and their contributions to the struggle.
“There was a program called Soldiers of the Soil where young boys would start working to help with the labour shortage that occurred,” Jarvis said as she motioned toward the enclosure.
“We really wanted to focus on that as well,” Jarvis said of the home front. “It’s not the first thing you think of. There was a lot of sacrifices here.”
In the corner of the room, a replica trench is built into the wall. Sandbags are piled seven or eight feet high to cast an image of what many of Vernon’s troops would have spent much of their time behind.
“We give people a closure look at what it might have been like,” Jarvis said as the sandbag wall loomed above her.
From the immersive displays to stories of locals, Jarvis believes the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives is unexampled in its ability to share the local history of the First World War.
“We try to have a few Remembrance Day or military talks and events just before or after Remembrance Day,” Jarvis said.
“I think we have a unique ability to portray parts of the First World War. the museum is really about remembrance. We can really highlight Vernon’s contribution, Vernon’s entire history.”