Museum exhibit and Union Cemetery tour commemorate First World War memories

CalgaryParadethumbMost are familiar with the movie Back to the Future, where Michael J. Fox’s mind is blown by how much history has changed in 30 years.

Calgarians will be able to have the similar type of experience in their own backyard, with the Military Museums of Calgary opening its latest exhibit, Wild Rose Overseas: Albertans In The Great War, on July 28.

“Most Canadians, have some connection to the First World War, so it’s (the exhibit) for Albertans to rediscover their own family history, in addition to learning more about Alberta’s contributions overseas,” said Rory Cory, senior curator at the museum, when asked why the museum specifically chose to focus on Alberta’s role in the war.

The new exhibit will showcase 350 artifacts and tell the personal stories of soldiers involved in the war. Since many if not all of the soldiers from the war have passed on, Cory and his team have spliced together previously recorded audio interviews from 15 veterans to tell their stories throughout the gallery.

CalgaryParadeIt was customary that each Calgary regiment in the First World War take part in a parade before it departed for its overseas service. Here is the 31st Infantry Battalion—a unit mobilized in Calgary—marching toward city hall in May 1915 to take in the farewell remarks from Calgary Mayor M.C. Costello, as well as be inspected by the mayor. At the conclusion of the war multiple parades were held to honour the sacrifices made by the soldiers.

Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives NA-1165-2. “One of the things that I’m very adamant about with exhibits I put together is it’s not me just me telling the story, but the voices of the veterans are also part of the story.”

And the stories told won’t just be about pistols, uniforms or medals. No, the stories will focus on a soldier that the items belonged to and what that person did once he returned from the war — if he returned.

One of the most interesting stores in the exhibit is that of the Shearer brothers from Medicine Hat, Alta. All three brothers enlisted in different units and only one of them returned home.

“That gives sort of a cross-section to what was going on overseas at that period of time,” Cory said. “It’s a tragic story, but the brother that did come back went on the lecture circuit in both Canada and the United States.”

Other highlights in the exhibit are a German helmet from Vimy Ridge, complete with shrapnel holes, and a full Canadian Naval uniform from the First World War.

The Military Museum receives about 54,000 visitors annually, but communications co-ordinator KC Richards feels they will be busier then normal this year because of the interest in their booth at the Calgary Stampede.


Other activities going on at the Military Museum during the fall include, a symposium on the First World War being held on Sept. 24-25, as well as their annual lecture series, which starts in September.

The City of Calgary is also doing its part to commemorate the First World War by hosting an exhibit of its own, located on the west side of council chambers, on the main floor, from now until November. There is also a volunteer led guided tour of Union Cemetery from 2-3:30 p.m. on Aug. 4.

Amanda Borys, in her eighth season doing tours, will be leading the free tour that focuses on a number of events that happened in 1914 and not just the First World War itself.

Some of the events covered by the tour include the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, the Hillcrest Mine disaster, women’s fight for the right to vote, and the opening of the Palliser Hotel. Of the talking points on the tour, Borys calls the portion on the six victims from the sinking of the Empress of Ireland her favourite.

“I just think there is so much more tragedy to her (the boat) story then the Titanic, yet, no one’s heard of the Empress of Ireland and there’s movies about the Titanic,” Borys said.

For more information on the Military Museum visit

For more information on the Union Cemetery tour visit

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