War stories

December 6, 2011

War is not only about combat, it’s also about people and their stories. On the front lines and on the home front, New Brunswickers experienced war through the lens of their own lives. A great many enlisted and crossed the Atlantic, while many more kept the home fires burning as they awaited the safe return of loved ones. The exhibition New Brunswickers in Wartime, 1914-1946, created by the New Brunswick Museum and will be presented at the Canadian War Museum December 13 2011, gives us an intimate glimpse into the lives of the province’s and by extension the nation’s inhabitants during the two great conflicts.


Ordinary people, extraordinary stories
Even though the great battles took place on other continents, the two world wars forever changed the face of Canada. Thousands of men and women left for war – and 100 000 never returned. Still more were wounded in body and in soul. Millions of Canadians who stayed home supported the war effort from afar: farmers fed the troops and their families; workers and tradespeople kept the factories rolling and the shipyards bustling.

A new exhibition presented by the Canadian War Museum lets us discover war through the eyes of New Brunswickers as they share their stories, their daily struggles, their adventures and their memories. Alice Murdoch, who entertained the troops in Saint John during Second World War. Charles Lawson, a high school teacher who enlisted in February of 1915, and died in Belgium in November of the same year. Margaret Pictou Labillois who, after serving in the Royal Air Force, became the first female chief of the Mi’kmaq Eel River Bar reserve and a Member of the Order of Canada since 1996.

Through a journey that leads from departure to return, the exhibition invites us to discover the lives of those who fought and of those who waited; lives that simply went on and lives that would never be the same…

Up close and personal
First developed by the New Brunswick Museum, the exhibition New Brunswickers in Wartime, 1914-1946 brings together an extraordinary collection of artifacts, images, artworks and interactive elements. In deciding to showcase this remarkable exhibition, the Canadian War Museum took on the tricky challenge of adaptation. As the Museum’s Senior Interpretive Planner Kathryn Lyons can tell you, piecing together the monumental work of another institution can be a daunting task.

It is essential to strike a balance between maintaining the character of the original version and offering something new to visitors. In the case of New Brunswickers in Wartime, 1914-1946, the greatest challenge had to do with space. How do you scale-up an exhibition steeped in intimacy, emotion and warmth…and transpose it to a much larger space designed to receive a great number of visitors?

The Beaverbrook collection provided military artworks that illustrate the stories and help them come to life, without changing the character of the original exhibition. The Museum also sought out the people profiled and followed their life stories to the present day. The intimate feel is maintained and the new exhibition is poised to fulfill its mandate: to tell stories that are at once personal and universal.

New Brunswickers in Wartime, 1914-1946 runs from December 13, 2011 to April 9, 2012, in the Lieutenant-Colonel John-McCrae Gallery of the Canadian War Museum.