Chronicling Chilliwack’s Great War

Chilliwack Museum and Archives will open a new exhibit, 'Chilliwack's Great War: At Home and Overseas' Monday at noon

Museum educator Brenda Paterson threads a needle while sewing a protective back to the Red Cross signature quilt which is part of the Chilliwack Museum's new exhibition

The Great War is remembered through a Chilliwack lens with a brand-new exhibit starting Aug. 4 at the Chilliwack Museum.

Exactly 100 years to the day after Great Britain and the British Empire entered the First World War, Chilliwack Museum and Archives will open a new exhibit, ‘Chilliwack’s Great War: At Home and Overseas.’

“It’s our major exhibit for the year,” said museum director Deborah Hudson.

At 2 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 4, during the opening reception, museum officials will commemorate the precise hour that the British Empire committed to the war effort.

The deadly conflict, which involved more than 100 countries, saw lives forever altered, and some fascinating remnants remain to show how local families were impacted by ‘the War to End All Wars’.

Hudson explained the museum officials had been researching the First World War for some time, including accounts contained in Chilliwack Progress archives.

The research began with the 99 names of fallen soldiers, as listed on the Chilliwack cenotaph in Veterans’ Memorial Park behind the historic museum building.

“That was the starting point, since not all the names ended up on that Cenotaph right away,” she said.

Thirteen names were later added. Museum officials also consulted the Sto:lo Veterans’ Memorial, which includes anyone from Sto:lo communities who served in war, not just the fallen.

The exhibit will showcase artifacts, archival documents, and photographs from the period, including personal letters to and from the trenches, wartime artifacts, items from local organizations involved in the war effort, and keepsakes of remembrance.

One of the many objects with stories to tell, that will be on display, is a Red Cross Signature Quilt that dates back to 1918.

“It’s pretty neat to see all their names and what their concerns were, and their willingness to step forward,” she said.

People who signed up, would have contributed to the Red Cross effort overseas by donating ten cents per signature, which was later sewed onto the quilt. Ladies got together in sewing circles for the cause, and this quilt was created at the Thornton residence, and later raffled off.

“It’s such a personal thing, someone’s signature,” said Hudson about the names that can still be read on the quilt.

“The signature exists in fabric form but it’s there. It was also an interesting fundraising tradition, the signature quilt, and was an important way of bringing people together to contribute.”

It’s important to have that “humanizing aspect” of the war recorded in this way, Hudson noted. Next week’s opening marks the 100th anniversary of the conflict.

They’ll mark the precise hour.

“We’ll dim the lights in the middle of the afternoon on what could be a gloriously sunny B.C. day, and take some time to reflect on the decision,” said Hudson.

“Of course it’s not meant to take the place of Remembrance Day, just time to reflect on the decision by Britain to enter the war. At the time, we had no idea what the outcome would be.”

The exhibit showcases Chilliwack’s contributions and sacrifices made to support of Canada’s military commitment overseas.

With the help of century-old items, artifacts, and historical documents, the exhibit depicts how the community proudly served, and how those efforts continue to be remembered, both at home and abroad.

“It was not just about the war effort at home, and the fighting overseas, it is also about people’s lives,” she said. “It’s about how they joined in and contributed to the effort. It’s also about those who remained overseas; those who lost their lives.”

In terms of object with emotional impact, Hudson points to some post cards that were donated by a Chilliwack family. The post cards were collected in a family album and contain their correspondence through the seasons, with messages to and from those serving overseas.

“They are visually heartbreaking,” she said. “It a personal aspect of war that brings it all to the fore.”

However, she underlined that although some information has been gathered on those from Chilliwack who returned home from the trenches, the research in this area will be ongoing at the Museum and Archives.

“It is hoped that the exhibit will help to generate further interest and family discussion regarding the First World War, and that we will collectively be able to add to more our knowledge of the many veterans whose faces may at the moment be unknown to us, and whose stories are yet to be told.”

Chilliwack’s Great War: At Home and Overseas, opening reception Aug. 4, 12 noon to 4 p.m. at 45820 Spadina Avenue.

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