New look for old artifacts

July 4, 2013

One of the Canadian War Museum’s most popular venues, the LeBreton Gallery, has received a facelift, making its collection of tanks, artillery pieces and other military equipment more accessible and visitor-friendly.

The open-storage exhibition and events space has come a long way since the bulk of the Museum’s heavy pieces were housed in an old bus garage known as Vimy House.

Today, the 3,300 square-meter LeBreton Gallery is the first thing many visitors see as they pass the southeast corner of the War Museum, where a bank of large windows affords a bird’s-eye view of the collection, from 19th century cannons to a 1960s-era Voodoo jet.

Last year, the Museum decided it was time to give the LeBreton — until then, more storage area than recognizable gallery — an upgrade. Some of the vehicles and other artifacts had no information panels, and what was there was on signs at floor level.

“While already popular, the exhibit really needed to be freshened up to provide a more meaningful visitor experience” said Sarah Dobbin, the project manager who spearheaded a 10-month redesign, transforming the space into a more exhibition-like hall.

They also added pictures to show many of the artifacts actually in use, making them more informative and linking them to their human stories. In addition, they raised the information labels off the floor, making them easier to read, and added more information.

“It’s been a really nice change,” says Dobbin. “The gallery still maintains a very open feeling that allows visitors to have an up-close encounter with the artifacts, yet at the same time we have added an exhibition label system that helps to better organize and protect the artifacts.”

Some items have recently been added to the continually expanding collection, including a variable-depth sonar used by the navy to hunt for submarines. The motorcycle collection, with its 1940s Harley Davidson WLC and German Zündapp sidecar bike, was tucked away in a back corner. It has been moved to a more prominent location.

The LeBreton Gallery is home to more than 150 artifacts, including a collection of tanks spanning the 20th century, an anti-aircraft gun used in the 1943 movie Corvette K-225 and a Dodge ambulance of the type that was used in both the movie M*A*S*H and the subsequent television series.

There are also sobering reminders of what the Museum is about: a bullet-riddled Iltis jeep in which two Canadian peacekeepers were wounded during an ambush in the former republic of Yugoslavia, and a heavily damaged Mercedes G-Wagen in which three Canadian soldiers and a journalist were wounded by a roadside bomb near Kandahar, Afghanistan.

It appears people, including families, are already spending more time in the gallery, and they’re reading more. “It lets you get up close to a whole range of artifacts and technologies,” says Second World War historian Jeff Noakes, lead historian for the project. “In fact, quite close in a lot of cases. It’s a big, open space so it attracts attention for that reason, as well.”