An Exceptional Group of Friends

May 1, 2014

It’s an all-volunteer group that in 1985 conceived of, and helped spearhead the Passing the Torch campaign, which raised more than $16.5 million to fund the building of the new Canadian War Museum and the development of its exhibitions. It has also directly donated more than $1 million for projects that enrich visitors’ experiences and enhance the Museum’s collection. So what else could they be called but Friends of the Canadian War Museum?

Museum visitors encounter the Friends as volunteer interpreters — many of them veterans — in the Museum’s galleries. And visitors also benefit from the Friends’ support of Museum projects through acquisitions, archiving, education and research. The Friends’ impact has earned them a very special friend: His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, is Patron-in-Chief.

Photo montage: Some of the War Museum’s exceptional “Friends”

The Friends’ 700-plus members share a passion for preserving and sharing the legacy of generations of Canadians who fought for their country. About 70 Friends volunteer as Museum interpreters; an equal number assist Museum staff behind the scenes, either in the Military History Research Centre, or in the Friends office, where they organize events, produce the quarterly newsletter and manage their own website. Although these volunteers all live in the National Capital Region, the Friends organization has truly national appeal — 40% live outside the Ottawa-Gatineau area.

The most recent Friends-funded project is a catalogue of the LeBreton Gallery, where military equipment ranging from a Voodoo fighter jet to 19th century artillery pieces is displayed. And, starting this year, the Friends will make a substantial contribution to the ongoing research, acquisition and conservation of medals and artifacts for the Museum’s Medal Stories Website.

Preserving Canada’s Military Heritage

Many Friends have a military connection. The Friends’ President, Douglas Rowland, served fourteen years in the Royal Canadian Navy (Reserve) for a time on continuous naval duty, attaining the rank of Lieutenant Commander. “When I was a boy, everyone in my family fought in World War Two,” he says. “My father, my aunts and uncles. And then after the war, my mother joined the army reserve and became a sergeant in intelligence, doing photo interpretation.”

Mr. Rowland, who was a Member of Parliament in the ’70s and has served on or chaired the boards of a wide range of non-profit organizations, was inspired to volunteer at the War Museum by a remarkable encounter. “I was taking a friend through the galleries, and there was a man in a blue blazer with a lot of medals,” he explains. “It was Ramsey Withers, and I said, ‘My God, the Chief of Defence Staff comes in here to guide people.’ He said, ‘Yes, I’m a living artifact and so are you.’ I signed up to be a Friends volunteer interpreter, and gradually moved on to the Board and became President three years ago.”

Interested in learning more about the Friends of the Canadian War Museum? Please call 819-776-8618 or visit