The Canadian War Museum Highlights
Canada’s capital city of Ottawa is spoiled for choice when it comes to museums. Recently, a friend visited from out-of-town and wanted to visit one of our best, The Canadian War Museum. Who am I to say no? As an amateur historian and avid wargamer I discover something new every time I go. Here’s a quick tour and a sample of what’s in the museum with a focus on the WWII and vehicle collection.
Click for the official floor plan but, more clear perhaps, is this photo of the hub from which the five sections branch out. Each focusses on a different era.
The Main Galleries
- Early Wars in Canada: From pre-contact warfare and colonial Canada through to 1885, Louis Riel and the Northwest Resistance.
- South African and First World War: They fostered a sense of nationhood and earned Canada international respect, but at great cost.
- Second World War: 1930s through the end of the conflict, and its aftermath. The most extensive of the galleries.
- From the Cold War to the Present: Canada’s emergence as an international peacekeeper through to modern conflicts.
- Lebreton Military Technology Collection: Get up close to tanks, artillery, and other machines of war used by and against Canada and her allies in both peacetime and conflict.
Stars of the Show
The stars of the show are the veterans that are stationed throughout the museum. They are easily identifiable in their blue blazers and usually have their medals on display. As a high school teacher I’ve taken several classes to the War Museum. The most memorable moments for my students are from the time they spent talking to the veterans.
I primed my kids with the phrase, “Excuse me sir. I was wondering if you could tell me about your medals.” and then stood back as the veterans took over. They are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the museum. My kids learned more about history from the veterans in an afternoon than I could teach them in a whole semester. Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed! When visiting with a friend from out of town recently I learned how to bring a visit with a veteran to a respectful end: “Thank you for your service” wraps things up nicely.
As a history buff and gamer my favourite stuff in the museum falls into two categories: the dioramas showing famous scenes from history and the historical artifacts that punctuate key moments in history. Here’s a sampling.
Artifacts and Displays
Lebreton Military Technology Gallery, or Tanks!
This gallery holds endless fascination for me. Perhaps it’s because these are some of the vehicles and electrical systems my dad would have repaired at or behind the front, but also because you get to stand next to some of the vehicles that featured so prominently in the major conflicts. These lucky Panzer, Sherman, Stuart, and Churchills escaped mostly unscathed. They tell the story of the people who designed, built, and worked as their crew who, hopefully, made it home as unscathed as their vehicles. The older vehicles and the era they came from seem simple and understandable by today’s complicated standards.
WWII and Modern Era Armoured Fighting Vehicles
There’s a fine selection of all the main armoured fighting vehicles. From the early Panzer II through to the more modern Chieftain and Leopard it is both fascinating and sobering to see how the size and power of tanks have steadily increased since the early days of WWII.
There are dozens of novel items in the collection: a one-man, one-torpedo submarine; searchlights; every kind of field artillery; motorbikes with sidecar; and the three above WWII German gadgets. People are rebuilding old Schwimmwagen and using them as land and water commuters! And who doesn’t want to ride a halftrack motorbike that’ll go anywhere?
Other Cool Stuff
On the way in and out of the Lebreton Gallery there’s a great collection of WWII era nose art salvaged from bombers before they were decommissioned and broken down for scrap. On public holidays and many weekends the open central space of the gallery is set up with coloring books and games like giant Connect 4, Jenga, and Chess to give the kids a place to hang out while dad geeks out on the vehicles.
As you can see, well worth a visit! Drop me a line if you’re in town and want the tour. It wouldn’t take much coaxing to get me to visit the Canadian War Museum again.