It’s fitting that the new Southeast Military Museum is going to have its grand opening on Remembrance Day.
The museum is spread out over two locations: the Royal Canadian Legion’s Estevan branch and the home of museum founder Craig Bird. It boasts a variety of military artifacts and displays that date back to the late 19th century, before the First World War; most items are from Bird’s collection.
The grand opening for the museum will take place at the legion following the Remembrance Day service at the Estevan Comprehensive School, and the lunch that follows the service. A ribbon cutting is slated to occur after lunch.
“I’ve been collecting the military (items) and been involved with that end of things, as well as the legion, for quite a few years, and I think it was a natural progression to get into this,” said Bird.
“I like displaying the stuff. I like people gaining some knowledge. I like talking about the history, specifically in the southeast, because we don’t have anything down here that addresses our contributions in the military aspect.”
The closest similar museum would be the Saskatchewan Military Museum in Regina. Bird said that museum has been a big help.
“I think people will be interested. It gives us an outlet for people who have relatives who have been in the military, but the family’s not interested in keeping that memorabilia. We can put it on display and keep it within the museum so that future generations can learn and appreciate what some of the families around here contributed.”
The museum will have artifacts from the Boer War in the late 1890s to the current military items, but the focus will be on the First World War and the Second World War.
“We have permanent display cases that we’ve built into the legion, and we hope to have a rotating display, so we’re going to rotate items around. We’ve got quite a number of things in our collection to rotate around. It will be different.”
This project has been discussed for a while, but Bird and others involved with the project started moving forward with it in May. Some of the items were on display Saturday after Bird finished his presentation on the Battle of the Scheldt. Once everything is up and running, then it will be a matter of maintaining the museum and rotating the displays.
“It’s a been natural progression with all of the stuff that I’ve been doing with the presentations and working with the legion. It was inevitable that we ended up at this location. It’s been a work and a lot of time put in to get it to where it is.”
Education is a big part of this project. He wants people to know about the contributions of this area to military conflicts, and the military history in the area.
“It spawned out of the cadets having a component of their program where military history is part of it. But you can only sit down and talk to the kids so much, and show them slides and PowerPoints. To get the kids a little more interactive with things, and to get them away from that computer screen and TV, it’s nice to be able to show them where they can actually see what you’re talking about, and have a look,” said Bird.
Bird would love to get photos of men and women who served in the military wearing their uniforms.
He also stressed it’s important to remember those who died in battle while serving their country, and those who returned to Canada after their service.
“They came back to our communities, were members of the community and built the community up to where it is today,” said Bird.
Many of the First and Second World War veterans became business owners, farmers, miners and even town and city councillors.
There are a number of veterans from the War in Afghanistan and other recent missions.
The remaining artifacts are at his home north of the city, and will remain there until a more permanent location can be found. It will be open to the public on Remembrance Day, with signs indicating how to reach his home.
Several other collectors and military historians, including Jeff Gudmundson, Larry Mass and Scott Paton, are also involved with the project. It’s a legitimate museum and a registered non-profit affiliated with the Saskatchewan Museums Association and the Canadian Military Museums Association. It has charitable organization status with Revenue Canada.
Those who wish to see the items can drop by the legion from about 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays, or contact Bird and book an appointment outside of the museum’s hours.