Rooms going on provincial tour to find war artifacts

Published on April 18, 2014
Anne Chafe, director of The Rooms’ Provincial Museum Division, holds a locket that was given to her grandmother by her great-uncle in 1915 when he was a soldier in the First World War.
— Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Starting on Monday, an antiques road show is hitting the province's highways. It's not on the hunt for million-dollar vases or antique cars, but for objects and stories that tell the province’s history during the First World War.

“To us, every object or archival document has a story to tell and has a value,” said Anne Chafe, director of The Rooms’ museum branch.

“So we don’t place monetary value on things; the story is what is of importance to us.”

The First World War Road Show and Tell is a project leading up to the opening of a new exhibit at The Rooms to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beaumont Hamel.

The idea is to record family stories and learn about objects that people are willing to lend or donate to The Rooms for the exhibit.

“We’d like to see some uniforms and we’re always interested in medals. We want to see maybe a knitting pattern that somebody did to knit socks or sweaters or helmet liners. We want to see sweetheart pins, what was sent home.”

A particular focus of the tour is collecting stories about the experience on the home front.

“With the First World War we know about the battles, the details of the battles and the soldiers themselves,” said Chafe. “But oftentimes the homefront gets forgotten — the women left behind, what were they doing to serve the country, the families that were waiting anxiously for news, what was happening politically, economically and socially at home.”

The tour will run from April 21 to June 12, with stops in 12 communities across Newfoundland and one in Labrador.

The team will include curators, archivists and the museum director, and a team to take photographs of objects and scan documents.

At each stop, there will be a presentation in a community hall, legion or local museum to inform people about the project. Then the team will set up in a community centre for a day.

Chafe says everything from letters to lockets is welcome. Everything, that is, except guns and munitions. People should bring in photos of those instead.

She describes the road trip as something of an exploratory mission to learn what treasures are hidden in people’s attics and family annuls.

“We want to make sure this isn’t the big Rooms coming in from the big city and try to take everything. Everyone can keep their things and we’ll have a discussion about maybe lending them.”

Chafe says she knows how much family heirlooms mean. She has a small locket, sent to her grandmother in 1915 by a brother stationed with the Newfoundland Regiment in Edinburgh, Scotland, prior to shipping out to France.

“To be able to touch something and say it belonged to this person. … I mean, words sometimes can’t describe it. Emotions start to take over.”

The new exhibit at the rooms will occupy 5,000 square feet on the second floor of The Rooms.

While its opening is scheduled to correspond with the Beaumont Hamel centenary, the exhibit will be much broader than that single battle.

“In our exhibit we want stories. This is not going to be an exhibit about the strategy of war, the battles, how many feet they advanced, how many were killed,” she says. “We’ll have some numbers like that. But the main part is soldiers’ stories, families’ stories, politicians’ stories.”

After the tour’s final stop in mid-June, the team will set up in a temporary exhibit in The Rooms where people can bring artifacts and stories until January 2015.


Tour dates:

April 21-22: Bay Roberts

May 5-6: Grand Bank

May 6-7: Marystown

May 7-8: Wesleyville

May 8-9: Trinity/Bonavista

May 12-13: Springdale

May 13-14: Grand Falls-Windsor

May 14-15: Twillingate

May 15-16: Fogo

June 4-5: Stephenville

June 5-6: Corner Brook

June 10-11: Northwest River

June 11-12: St. Anthony