WITNESS TO HISTORY – Bringing history to life through human experience

November 8, 2022

If only artifacts could speak — what stories they could tell! As museum enthusiasts, it is a thought that springs to mind often. What better response is there than to invite those who can speak to their experiences and help tell stories of the past in vivid and meaningful ways? That is the inspiration behind the Witness to History program, where we invite veterans and those with expert experience to the Museum’s galleries to share their first-hand knowledge with visitors.

Smiling Veteran and child in LeBreton Gallery, CWM

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These special volunteers also support events, like Remembrance Day, and share their lived experiences through the Witness to History school program. The school program allows students to interact with a veteran or member of the Canadian Armed Forces during a 45-minute presentation that also includes plenty of opportunities for questions. During the pandemic, the program pivoted online as a virtual experience to continue the offering for schools — a move praised by volunteers and participants alike for extending the program’s reach across Canada.

“Hearing from a veteran that served as a peacekeeper was so interesting! He had a well-organized presentation and answered all the students’ questions with good humour. It was an excellent experience!”       

Ontario, Grade 10 teacher

The program welcomes a range of experiences, with most of the volunteers drawn from active military service or veterans. For example, Reg served as an artillery officer in Korea, John is a retired defence scientist with 40 years of experience, Gail was a nursing officer at the height of the Cold War, Ryan served in Afghanistan and Rob served as a medical technician in disaster relief missions and overseas conflict zones.

In addition to helping visitors and students connect with history, the program is also valuable for volunteer interpreters, who sometimes live with post-traumatic stress disorder and find healing in the practice of sharing their stories. When Ryan joined the team of volunteer interpreters over the summer, he said that “volunteering helps me take agency in my journey.”

Kathryn Lyons, the Museum’s Manager of Public and School Programs, further attests to the program’s success: “The Witness to History program connects visitors and students to the most important part of military history — the human side. These volunteers bring life to the displays and school programs in ways that cannot be matched. Their knowledge and lived experiences spark curiosity, expand understanding, and touch hearts.”

Thank you to the donors supporting this program. We are grateful for your generosity.

Generously supported by The Royal Canadian Legion.