Chilliwack’s military history spans back as far as the 1860s, when British troops guarded our borders.
But Chilliwack’s role as a military community was really solidified with the construction of the Canadian Forces Base in 1942. Today, 20 years after the base’s closure, its legacy has remained strong.
And the volunteers at the CFB Historical Society are ensuring that local history will never be forgotten. They’ve amassed about 29,000 military artifacts, countless stories, and a collective knowledge among its 108 members.
But Jim Harris, president of the CFB Historical Society, says they are always eager to learn more. Their goal is to gather, maintain and display archives as a way to preserve, relive and remember our history. And on Nov. 10, they’ll be at the Chilliwack Library to share stories with the public.
They will also be on hand to hear your stories, whether it’s a bit of family history, or sharing military artifacts and badges. Oftentimes, one of the volunteers is able to help fill in the missing gaps about items like medals, or help pin down dates or military genealogy.
And when their own knowledge isn’t enough, they go searching online.
Harris and a team of four other volunteers will be set up with a computer at the library, to help find out more on the spot. It’s a hobby and a passion for Harris, who is open to researching any artifacts or tidbits of information the public brings him.
People should feel free to bring in “pretty well anything at all, because then we all learn,” he says. “I can do the research — and I just love doing it — and I can get back to the person and let them know what I found.”
It’s a service the society provides, in keeping with the intention of preserving history. And the payment?
“We just ask them to pay it forward,” he says. “to do something for a veteran or veteran’s family.”
Harris, like many of the volunteers, is a veteran himself. He served with the Canadian Military Engineers for 34 years, retiring in 1994. He joined the Forces knowing that most of his family members had served, in both the First and Second World Wars. By the time he old enough to sign up himself, he had been orphaned.
“My father died when I was 13, and my mother died when I was five,” he said. “They (the military) became my family, and they still are.”
Interest in the military remains strong in Chlliwack, he said. There are soldiers still returning home from Afghanistan, and their stories will need to be shared as well.
Harris and the rest of the CFB Historical Society volunteers will be on hand at the library, Nov. 10, from noon to 4 p.m. For those who cannot make that time, visitors are welcome to their site at 45905 Hocking Avenue, in the Masonic Hall, every Saturday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.