Restored Penhold Curtain Goes On Tour

April 8, 2016
Restored Penhold Curtain

Unveiling the restored curtain in Penhold, Alberta. Left to right: Mark O’Neill, Eileen Ford, Stewart Ford and Dennis Cooper, Mayor of Penhold.
(Photo courtesy of Kristine Jean, The Innisfail Province).

The truly remarkable story of the Penhold curtain has added another chapter. Last fall, the newly restored curtain arrived back in the Alberta town where it had made its stage debut. The dedicated effort of donor Stewart Ford made the curtain’s return a moving and resounding success.

Mr. Ford’s role in saving the curtain cannot be overstated. “When I first saw it, I recognized it as a valuable piece of Penhold’s artistic and civic heritage,” he said. His passion to save the curtain galvanized the community of Penhold and the Canadian War Museum. He donated $60,000 for initial and subsequent conservation efforts.

The curtain has history, as they say. First World War veterans Arthur England and Harold Haste painted the curtain to commemorate the community’s war contributions. The scene depicts a ruined church in Albert, France.

Canadian soldiers marching to the 1916 Battle of the Somme told a story: the Golden Madonna statue hung by a thread to the church spire; when it fell, the story went, the “War to End All Wars” would cease. The statue toppled during the German 1918 Spring Offensive; the war came to a close within months.

The curtain hung in Penhold’s Memorial Hall for over four decades. Built by the Women’s Institute, the hall honoured local soldiers who served and fell at the Somme. The hall hosted visiting theatrical groups and entertainers, many of whom signed their names on the back of the 3.7 x 6.3 metre curtain. In this way, the painted curtain became a multi-layered record of Penhold’s social history — both front and back.

The curtain returned temporarily to Penhold for six months in November 2015, after which it will take its place in the Canadian War Museum’s collection, to be shared with all Canadians.