As every member of the Regiment knows, the first soldier of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada to fall in combat was newly commissioned Ensign Malcolm McEachren of No. 5 Company. He was taking part in the Battle of Ridgeway on 2 June 1866 and died shortly after being mortally wounded in the abdomen by the American Fenian invaders.
One hundred years after that battle, the tunic he wore that fateful day was presented to The Queen’s Own Rifles by Old Fort Erie of the Niagara Parks Commission having been handed down by McEachren’s daughter.
After 152 years, it has obviously suffered its share of insect and light damage although without any condition reports surviving, its impossible to know when this damage occurred. We do know that it has faded from rifle green to almost olive drab – although not under the arms or at the back – and the light damage has also made the material brittle. And museum staff have often joked that the exhibit case it was stored in, was old enough to qualify as an artifact itself!
We can’t reverse the deterioration that’s taken place, but my goal from day 1 of becoming Curator in 2012, has been to find a way to preserve THE most valuable object in our collection for the future.
And now after 6 years it has finally become a reality! Thanks to a very generous bequest from the estate of the late Chief Warrant Officer Scott Patterson, we were finally able to place an order with Zone Display Cases for a custom-made museum quality case with frameless UV filtering glass, Abloy security locks, and an airtight exhibit compartment with desiccant tray to ensure a constant humidity level.
This week it arrived at the museum and last night our museum team set up the new case and moved the tunic into its new home which we hope will help to preserve this extremely important object for many years to come. In the new year, we will be redesigning the complete Battle of Ridgeway exhibit and of course this tunic and its new case will continue to have pride of place.
The Patterson bequest covered about 75% of the costs for this project and we are still hoping to raise the remainder before the end of our 2018 fiscal year. Thank you to all those who have contributed to date, and to those who would still like to help, you can make a donation online to the QOR Trust fund via CanadaHelps.
The morning of 2 June 1866 was hot and humid as the volunteers of the Queen’s Own and 13th Battalion marched down main street of Ridgeway, Ontario towards battle with the invading Fenian Army. 150 years later, Saturday 4 June 2016 was just as hot and humid but for the volunteers of the Queen’s Own Museum and Archives the biggest enemy was trying to assemble the army tentage as they set-up their display at the Crystal Ridge Arena in Ridgeway. The museum volunteers had been preparing since early spring when it was decided that the museum would participate in the commemoration event of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Ridgeway.
It was agreed upon that despite the risk, we would take one of our most important artifacts; the tunic belonging to Ensign Malcolm McEachren who fell in the battle that day and would become the first soldier to die in battle from the regiment. The tunic would be the centre piece of the display.
The volunteers also produced a set of pop-up signs and posters describing the battle and the part the Queen’s Own played in it.
At the last minute it was determined that the Snider Enfield rifle that was carried by Rifleman John Mewburn during the battle until he was shot would also be available to be put on display thanks to a generous and trusting owner. The rifle was taken back to the University of Toronto by his student comrades after he fell in battle. It was held by the school for many years but it is said it was sold-off after a fire in the late 1890’s.
The day turned out to be a complete success; almost 500 people visited the display, the weather was perfect, the volunteers were able to to tell the story of the regiment and its soldiers, and all the artifacts were returned safely to the museum and their owners.
On Thursday March 31, we were pleased to host the launch of the “From Vimy to Juno” travelling exhibit and education program. The exhibit was created by the Juno Beach Centre in partnership with the Vimy Foundation and with funding support from the Department of Canadian Heritage.
Thanks to the Liberty Entertainment Group, operators of Casa Loma, the reception was held in the beautiful Casa Loma library with about 150 people present through the evening.
The formal remarks phase of the event was MC’d by Juno Beach Centre Executive Director Jenna Zuschlag Misener and included remarks by Jeremy Diamond, Executive Director of the Vimy Foundation; Major Shawn Stewart, Deputy Commanding Officer of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada; and the Juno Beach Centre Association President Mr Don Cooper. The formal portion of the evening was concluded by the Honorable Kent Hehr, Minister of Veterans Affairs who spoke and formally announced the Government of Canada’s support of this project.
We were also pleased to have three regimental skirmishers present and a brass quintet from the Regimental Band which performed throughout the evening.
A contingent of re-enactors from both WWI and WWII also provided excellent displays and contributed to the exhibit atmosphere with their period dress.
Thanks also to our museum volunteers who helped through the evening.
At the end of the night the exhibit was moved to the Austin Room on the third floor and accessible from our Museum area where it will remain until April 17 when it will then move on to its next location.
The exhibit includes a major educational component and JBC has worked with Lisa Kaplan at Casa Loma on how this can be effectively used by visiting school groups over the coming weeks.
We’ve been working hard to re-do most of our exhibits in our new locations on the third floor of Casa Loma. In addition we’ve been working hard to create an exhibit room that provides the history of the QOR since WWII. This room is still a work in progress but we hope to have ready for an official opening in the Fall.
We thought we share these photos to give you a taste of what you can see if you come to visit:
On Tuesday April 21st the Regimental Museum was pleased to host a private reception to launch our new “QOR Portraits Exhibit”. About 70 donors, members of the Regimental Senate and Trust, and other special guests joined the museum team for this event. Guests were received at the museum’s home, Casa Loma, by a detachment of Regimental Skirmishers, and a brass quintet from the regimental band provided entertainment throughout the evening.
Casa Loma very kindly provided the catering and refreshments and we were also joined by Liberty Entertainment Group (operators of Casa Loma) Vice President Pat Di Donato and Casa Loma President Lynda Washkau.
The exhibit which was originally conceived as a temporary exhibit, will now be a permanent addition to our Museum’s collection. The regiment is very fortunate to have 20 large portraits of our first 17 Commanding Officers, our first Honorary Colonel, and our last two Colonels-in-Chief.
The artist include some of Canada’s and the United Kingdom’s leading portrait painters:
Thanks to the generous donations of members of the regimental family, we able to reproduce high-resolution photographs taken by Christopher Lawson in 2010 (and one by Larry Hicks in 2015), onto high quality canvas working through Elevator Digital. An exhibit catalogue was also produced.
In the weeks prior to the exhibit, members of the museum’s volunteer team worked hard to ensure all the works were properly hung and labels mounted in time for this reception.
I would certainly encourage you to visit the regimental museum to see this new exhibit. Casa Loma hours of operation and entrance fees can be found on their website: http://www.casaloma.org
You can also check out more photos of the event on our Facebook page.
Note: An earlier version of this post indicated an incorrect date for the event which has now been corrected.