"What is this regiment of which we are so proud? It was born in bastardy. Legitimized, lived a brief exciting life, and was laid to rest in 1945.
But its spirit lives on in this association."
— Lt. Col. C.D. Williams, CD, QC.
Victoria, B.C., 1985
Situated in room 112 of the Regina Armories is a museum of unprecedented value. Packed with hundreds of uniforms, thousands of war medals, a plethora of guns, swords, grenades and inactive military shells, the Saskatchewan Military Museum covers Canadian conflicts as early as the South African Boar War.
Officially opened on March 1st, 1984, the Saskatchewan Military Museum was the private collection of retired Major C. Keith Inches. Having exponentially grown in the years leading up to its foundation, Major Inches decided it was time to find a permanent place for his collection and was granted room 112 in the Regina Armories in 1991. Once the museum was founded however, the growth only hastened. Today, the collection includes things such as World War I wooden crosses, assault boats, paintings, personal letters, horse saddles, memorial plaques, build-your-own bomb-shelter booklets and even radioactive material. The collection is so large, in fact, room 112 doesn't even hold a quarter of it -- probably not even an eighth. The museum has storage in a half dozen rooms spanning the entire armory, from the depths of the basement to its highest towers.
"Slowly," joked Kristian Peachey, one of the museum curators, "we are trying to occupy the entire building."
And it should. The collection housed in the Saskatchewan Military Museum covers a wide variety of treasures that punctuate the history of our country. From the blood stained shores of Dieppe, to the sweltering jungles of Korea, to the dry, arid sands of Afghanistan, the stories of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who fought for our country all found their way here.
Due to the small size of the museum, and limited manpower, Kristian finds it impossible to index everything that comes in. It's not uncommon for him to come in after work and find a new pile of boxes that were donated. Sometimes, packages even arrive to his place of work, full of war medals, documents, photographs and once, a gun.
"We just don't have the manpower to do it", Kristian said while discussing the museum's vast quantity of memorabilia. They do have a few volunteers, but they could use more. However, even if they had an army of volunteers, Kristian wouldn't have any idea where to begin with organizing the collection. There are some projects underway to get the museum growing, like expanding room 112, and setting up an ambient center full of World War I "period pieces", but without space and surviving off donations and government grants, these dreams might never become a reality.
That isn't to say the museum is going anywhere, however. While small, the museum has gained an incredible reputation across the country. It frequently gets calls from other museums and researchers wondering if they have certain war relic or information about a specific solider, which they usually do.
However, there are some things the museum keeps hidden away, and those are the "liberated items" from Nazi occupied Europe.
"One of our challenges is with German stuff. We do have some German stuff; grenades, flags and whatnot. There are a lot of sensitivities about those kinds of things, so we choose just not to [display them] at this time. I'm sure soon we can, but there are a lot of veterans that come through; a lot of 80-, 90-year-old men that we would rather just not offend." Kristian continued, "The Rifles, when they were storming through Holland and whatnot, they captured Nazi flags that were on top of bunkers. They would take up this entire wall. We've always talked about doing something where we fold it up so people know what it is, but you're not actually overly showing it."
The gymnasium outside room 112 is its own exhibit as well, one that is growing just as quickly. The armories gymnasium is spotted with plaques created by banks to commemorate soldiers that banked with them, as well as towns and communities that created plaques to honor those who didn't survive the war. As the decades past, however, many of these priceless bronze memorials have been melted down and destroyed. Kristian prides himself on the ones they were able to save, but wishes they could have saved more.
Two pieces strikingly stand out from the others, and they are sitting on opposite ends of the gym. They are two beautiful stained-glass memorials, one in honor of each World War. The World War I memorial is simple, and shows two angles surrounded by truth, justice and the freedoms acquired through sacrifice. This memorial is modest and humble, and shows the sadness of the war and the impact it left on the world.
The second is very different. In it, the stained glass shows a solider, wounded on a pile of rubble, with a destroyed city in the background. By his side is Jesus Christ, offering peace and salvation from the man-made hell the world had become. This memorial is much bigger, and much brighter, showing the pride the soldiers had to fight in the war, not the sadness and humility that the First World War had. The two memorials are both beautiful in their own right, and show a very different attitude and emotion from their time periods.
Being an old building, formally used by cadets and now shared with the museum, there have of course been some reports of paranormal activity. Some cadets have even reported seeing shadowy figures on the stairwells of the towers, but when they investigate they find nobody there. Kristian too has had a very nerve wracking experience, but he asked me not to write about it in detail. He did however say that he was "very freaked out", and has since moved the mannequins around in the museum for good measure.
It would make sense, however, as the building is full of personal belongings of thousands of soldiers from over a century. One room we passed through has whole bookshelves dedicated to war medals, United Nations medals, and Boar War medals and ribbons. Another has rows and rows of infantry, navy and air force uniforms. And yet another is full of swords, drums and tank shells. All of these rooms, and all of these things inside the rooms, have seen the horrors of war, have seen the darkness of the human heart, and have seen the sacrifice that must be made for freedom. These emotions do not go away after a person dies, and resonates in the halls of the museum. Nobody would be surprised if there were spirits here.
While small, the military museum is a treasure to Regina. Shadowed by the construction of the new stadium, the military museum has every possibility of soon expanding and becoming more popular. Kristian even hopes to decorate the front of the museum with more cannons (there is already one cannon to the south of the building), and military vehicles on display on the street corners. His father and grandfather served in the war, and he wants their tales of honor and sacrifice to carry on for many generations. He wants their spirit, and that of the hundred thousand soldiers that have died for Canada, to live on in this association, and never be forgotten.
If interested, you can learn more about the Saskatchewan Military Museum on their website.
A big thank you to my sister Krystal Safinuk for proof reading this article. I love you.