Calgary: Military Museums

By Richard White, September 4, 2014

Why is it that we wait until we have visiting family and friends to check out our local museums? I have been hearing great things about Calgary’s Military Museums for years. I drive by often and worked for five years almost across the street from it, yet I have never been in.  A few years ago when a history-loving nephew was visiting, I dropped him off and went to work, rather than joining him to tour the museum. Shame on me!

With my Mom visiting, we thought it would be an interesting activity for a Sunday afternoon. In fact last Sunday, we checked out the exhibitions at the Glenbow Museum, another place that I don’t make time to visit often enough.

The Military Museums lived up to it billing as a first class museum. It is actually seven small museums or exhibition spaces in one:

  1. Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Museum and Archives
  2. The Calgary Highlanders Regimental Museum and Archives
  3. The King’s Own Calgary Regiment Museum
  4. Lord Strathcona’s Horse Museum
  5. Army Museum of Alberta
  6. Air Force Museum of Alberta
  7. Naval Museum of Alberta

In addition, there is also the Founder’s Gallery and a theatre space, all located in a decommissioned school with major addition.  Though not a signature building designed by a famous architect the building is more than adequate as a museum space. And quite refreshing to see how modestly repurposed building can become a major public attraction without spending 100s of millions of dollars.

 

The entrance to The Military Museums is subtle in design and statement.  

Once inside the museum your attention is immediately captured by a large mural that consists of 240 separate images.  Each image tells a story that you can read at the video terminal. 

  I enjoyed the many personal quotes that captured the various wartime experiences.

I enjoyed the many personal quotes that captured the various wartime experiences.

  It is good to be reminded that only 100 years ago Canada was a much different place psychologically. 

It is good to be reminded that only 100 years ago Canada was a much different place psychologically. 

Mind-boggling

The exhibitions are very text-based, well researched with lots of very interesting stories and factoids. There are excellent supporting artifacts, visuals and displays.  If you read all of the text and watch all of the videos, I expect you could be there all day.  There is a mind-boggling amount of information to read and absorb.

The one thing that seemed to be lacking were “hands-on” experiences for kids. Where was the opportunity to dress up like a soldier? Perhaps a chance to walk in a military trench with loud noises of simulated gunfire, bombs etc. What kid wouldn’t want to climb up onto one of the planes or amoured vehicles in the Naval Museum of Alberta? A lesson could be taken from the Calgary Stampede where kids climbing on the Canadian Armed Forces vehicles on display is a very popular activity.

  There are numerous displays depicting life on the battlefield. 

There are numerous displays depicting life on the battlefield. 

  The collection of medals is impressive.

The collection of medals is impressive.

Balkans

The Naval Museum space is impressive.

Lessons Learned

One key lesson learned from the visit was the incredible role Canada and Calgarians played in WWI and WWII.  In many ways, Canada seemed to be a bigger player on the world stage 100 years ago than it is today. I had a similar aha moment at the Glenbow last week reading about the accomplishments of Lord Beaverbrook and his influence on the economy and politics of England in the early 20th century.

Another aha moment came to me when I read a telegraph and realized it was not unlike a tweet in that the text was abbreviated to just the essential words.  While we always talk about how the world has changed, in some ways it is not that different. The abbreviations of a tweeter are similar to “shorthand” that was all the rage in offices in the mid 20th century.

You can look through a submarine periscope and see for miles....downtown looks like it is just a few waves away.

Another display that documents the hardships of life in the trenches. 

The science of shell making.

Outside there are several tanks and amoured vehicles, unfortunately you can't climb them.

Last Word

The Military Museums’ visit also reminded me that Calgary should have a Museum/Attractions Pass if it truly wants to be a tourist city. Why there is not a pass that allows a tourist to pay one fee to visit not only the Military Museums and the Glenbow, but Fort Calgary, Heritage Park, Calgary Tower, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, TELUS Spark and the Calgary Zoo is beyond me!  

Calgary has an impressive line-up of museums and attractions that are under appreciated locally, provincially, nationally and internationally. We really need market Calgary as a museum/attractions destination if we want to be more than just the gateway to the Rockies in the minds of tourists.