Canadian War Museum brings restored theatre curtain, an unusual cultural and military artifact, home to Alberta

November 6, 2015

Ottawa, Ontario, November 5, 2015 — The people of Penhold, Alberta will welcome home an important piece of their past today when they unveil the meticulously restored theatre curtain that served for decades as the dramatic centrepiece of their Memorial Hall. The hand-painted drop curtain, created in the wake of the First World War and now part of the Canadian War Museum’s National Collection, will be unveiled this evening at a special Remembrance ceremony to dedicate the town’s new cenotaph.

“The Penhold Curtain is a testament to our community’s sacrifices during the First World War as well as a record of cultural life on the Prairies in the post-war years,” said Mayor Dennis Cooper. “We are very grateful to the Canadian War Museum for safeguarding this important symbol of our history, and for bringing it home so we can see the results of its restoration. We are equally grateful to Stewart Ford, the local businessman who researched the curtain’s history, wisely convinced us to donate it to the Canadian War Museum in 2006 and generously funded the conservation work.”

Mayor Cooper, Mr. Ford and other leading members of Penhold and the surrounding communities will be on hand for the unveiling and dedication ceremony. They will be joined by a number of dignitaries, including Her Honour, the Honourable Lois Mitchell, CM AOE, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta; Nicole Goehring, MLA Edmonton Castle Downs, and Government Liaison for the Canadian Forces on behalf of the Province; Don MacIntyre, MLA Innisfail-Sylvan Lake; Heather Sweet, MLA Edmonton-Manning; Chris Strong, District President of the Royal Canadian Legion; Major-General (Ret’d) Lewis MacKenzie; and Mark O’Neill, President and CEO of the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Museum of History.

“On behalf of our Museums, I would like to extend our most heartfelt thanks to the Town of Penhold for this wonderful gift, and to Mr. Ford for donating the cost of the restoration,” said Mr. O’Neill. “The Penhold Curtain is an extremely rare cultural and military artifact, and a valuable addition to the National Collection. Very few hand-painted theatre curtains survive, and this one is unique both for illustrating an iconic scene from the First World War, and for what it tells us about the community after the war.”

The Penhold and District Women’s Institute commissioned the 3.7 x 6.3 metre curtain for Memorial Hall, a community centre built in 1919 to honour local residents who served in the war. Its creators, Arthur England and Harold Haste, both veterans from nearby Red Deer, painted on the curtain an image that would have been familiar to the many young men from the area who fought in the 1916 Battle of the Somme: the bombed-out ruins of the Notre-Dame de Brebières Basilica in nearby Albert, France, with its Golden Virgin statue hanging precariously from the spire. A legend grew among soldiers that the war would end when the Virgin Mary fell, but although it came down in the German 1918 Spring Offensive, fighting continued until the fall.

“The front of the curtain, a memorial to all those from the Penhold area who served overseas, reminds us that commemorative artifacts come in many shapes and sizes, not just bronze or stone monuments,” O’Neill said. “In contrast, the reverse side became a blank canvas for members of the many local and travelling productions that performed at Memorial Hall over the years. Their signatures, drawings, jokes and other inscriptions prove that we can find personal stories from the past in the most unexpected places.”

This treasure trove of community narratives was almost lost when the curtain was placed in storage in the 1960s and forgotten. Workers rediscovered it during renovations of the Memorial Hall in 2004 and brought the stained, faded and damaged roll of canvas to Stewart, who recognized its significance and dedicated himself to preserving the Penhold Curtain.

The Canadian War Museum will display the curtain for six months at the Penhold Multiplex.

The Canadian War Museum is Canada’s national museum of military history. Its mission is to promote public understanding of Canada’s military history in its personal, national, and international dimensions. Work of the Canadian War Museum is made possible in part through financial support of the Government of Canada.


Media contacts:

Avra Gibbs Lamey
Senior Communications and Media Relations Officer, Canadian War Museum
Telephone: 819-776-8607 
Mayor Dennis Cooper
City of Penhold
Telephone: 403-318-2046 

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