On 14 October 2022 in Steenderen, The Netherlands, a grave of an unknown soldier was officially named after 77 years.
Lieutenant John Gordon Kavanagh was killed in action in the hamlet of Rha in April 1945. Due to the lack of his name tag, he could not be identified at the time. But after years of research, it was officially recognized that he was buried in the grave in Steenderen, and the tombstone with the inscription “unknown soldier” could be replaced by a stone with his name.
Although delayed 2 1/2 years by COVID restrictions, this was finally confirmed with a commemoration in the presence of two family members, dignitaries, invited guests, a delegation from the regiment of The Queens Own Rifles of Canada, students from the local primary school and residents of the neighbourhood.
The QOR contingent also visited the Rha Memorial, the Memorial at Wons, and other locations of interest relating to the Regiment’s actions during WWII.
By Cheryl Copson, QOR Museum Collections Officer. Cheryl has a BA in Archaeology from Boston University and a Masters in Museum Studies from the University of Toronto. When she’s not volunteering at our museum, she is a Collection Technician: Ancient Egypt, Ancient Near East and the Islamic World department at the Royal Ontario Museum.
Through this post, I will take you through some of the steps we take to properly care for, track, and make our collection accessible to the public.
First task – Numbering!
As a bit of a refresher from Part 1, once the legal title is transferred to the museum each gift is assigned a unique “accession number”. This is based on the year the gift came to the museum and what number gift it was for that year:
The first gift of 2020 = 2020.01
The 15th gift of 2020 = 2020.15
Then each object within that gift is assigned a unique “object number” based on its accession number. This forms a “tri-part” number:
The first object in the first gift of 2020 = 2020.01.001
The 15th object of the 15th gift of 2020 = 2020.15.015
Let’s get a bit crazier! If one object has two parts – say a pair of shoes – we go even further!
Shoe 1: 2020.01.001.1
Shoe 2: 2020.01.001.2
(Okay, that’s probably far enough!) We use these unique object numbers to easily track and maintain the vast collection. For those of you familiar with our collection you might also know that we have a “5-digit” numbering system….
In the past, the QOR Museum assigned a “5-digit” sequential number to objects. Example – the white “pith” helmet in our collection – Object Number: 01141. Each artefact still gets a unique number in this series however, unlike in the “tri-part” system it is not apparent when the artefact came into our collection or with what other material. We have been working hard to re-establish those connections, and where possible reassign a tri-part number.
Okay, let’s get cataloguing!
Once an object receives a number it is individually catalogued. This includes noting dates, previous owners, use, condition, dimensions, a detailed description, among other fields. We have many dedicated volunteers who catalogue the collection using paper forms like the one below.
These forms are then entered into the database. Why not enter straight into the database? Well, currently only one person is able to work in the database at a time. While this creates a little extra work, it allows us to double check information as it is entered off the paper catalogue sheets and ensure it is entered into the database in a consistent manner. Consistency is key when trying to search for collections for researchers or for exhibit updates! The catalogued objects then go to our photographer, Anne, who captures them in detail. The artefact images are linked directly into our database along with being uploaded to our Flickr site. Once complete the objects are ready to be put away.
Where do the objects live?
A small portion of our incoming artefacts go immediately on display. On average, museums generally display about 10-15% of their collections. This is due to (you probably guessed it) space! For the 85-90% of objects not on display, it does not mean they are any less valuable or important. In many cases these objects may be too vulnerable to light to be brought out for extended times, are used to rotate into displays, or are duplicate examples of material already on display.
For artefacts not on display they go into storage. In a historic house that means…closets! In a few previous posts we have mentioned that our office is a former bathroom (also used for archive storage). Not surprisingly, the third floor of Casa Loma has many closet spaces. For us, these now serve as collection storage. Objects are organized based on type into several spaces – Uniform Closet, Photo Room, and the notorious Closet B! Each room has shelving or racking with a unique assigned location code. When an object is put away, this location code is recorded and inputted with the rest of the aretfact’s information into our database. Anytime an artefact is moved, the location code is updated to ensure that we always have an accurate picture of where our collections are.
How are artefacts stored?
The storage requirements for artefacts vary depending on many factors including their material, size, and fragility. Each artefact is assessed when it comes in and determinations are made about the best way to store it. Some standard storage methods we use are:
Books – smaller books have custom covers made for them. This reduces friction between books when removing them from storage and allows us to label the spine with important information (i.e. title and object number!). Larger or more fragile books are stored horizontally in book boxes (as seen above in our Closet B photo).
Framed photos – placed upright on shelves (much like books would be stored) with partitions between them to ensure the backing on one frame does not damage an adjacent frame.
3D objects – placed in bags or bins to protect them from any dust and keep them organized.
What happens next?
More research! We are constantly revisiting collections to add additional information, upgrade storage, or refresh exhibits. Although many of our artefacts live in storage rooms, the QOR Museum has worked hard over the past several years to ensure much of our collection is available online. This is a good tool for researchers and family members looking for information and allows us to share our material worldwide. Many times we also receive information from the public through our website or social media on our artefacts or personnel pages. We welcome this wholeheartedly! As a volunteer-run museum, things can progress slowly sometimes – but we are always looking to grow and improve!
“Acquisition and Accessioning: Taking legal ownership of objects, especially (but not always) to add to your long-term collection through the process of accessioning: the formal commitment by your governing body to care for objects over the long term.
In legal terms, acquisition involves a ‘transfer of title’ from the previous owner to you. [It] gives you proof of ownership, and it assigns a unique number that will link each object to the information you hold about it.
Accessioning has a very specific meaning: it brings with ethical responsibilities to preserve objects over the long term…”
Collections Trust UK
Many of you will be familiar with our physical exhibits at Casa Loma, and many more of you will be familiar with our social media posting on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and of course this website. But much of what our volunteer team does is actually behind the scenes as we acquire, accession and catalogue new objects, and then either add to our exhibits or put them carefully into our collections storage so they will be safe and we know where to find them.
This post will explain our acquisition and accessioning process and Part II will explain what happens next.
Where do our objects come from?
Before we dive into the details, you might wonder where we acquire objects. The vast majority are donated to the museum as gifts – from serving soldiers, veterans, and relatives of former QOR soldiers. Occasionally they will also come from donors who have picked them up at flea markets and yard sales. From time to time we may actually purchase an item from E-Bay or online medal auction sites however our acquisition budget is extremely limited and so these are generally only very unique or rare items.
How do we decide what we want to accept?
Like most museums around the world, we have limited storage space and have to give careful consideration to what items we accept into our collection. Don’t get me wrong though – we are very grateful when people contact us with objects they think might we might want! From time to time however we have to say “thanks but no thanks.” This begs the question of how we reach those decisions.
First we have to consider the museum’s 1956 mandate:
“to encourage the study of Canadian military history and in particular the history of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, to rescue from oblivion the memories of its members, to obtain and preserve narratives in print, manuscript or otherwise of their travels, adventures, labours and observations, to secure and preserve objects illustrative of the civil, literary and military history of the Regiment, and to maintain a museum and a library.”
The museum’s interest also includes the six First World War Canadian Expeditionary Force Battalions perpetuated by the Queen’s Own Rifles and soldiers who served in them.
So clearly we’re looking for items related in some way to the regiment itself (or its perpetuated battalions), or to any members who served in it. And for the latter, these would generally be related to their service with the QOR.
There are exceptions to this. For example items that might illustrate a particular period during the regiment’s service which are not already in the collection. Recently we acquired a WWII two-piece mess tin from another museum. It was not connected any in way to the regiment or anyone who served in it but it was a common WWII object that we did not have in our collection. Another was a WWI Victory Bond Flag – again not specifically related to the QOR but certainly an important part of WWI history.
Once we’ve established that the object or objects might be relevant or useful, there are still some further considerations:
Is it legitimate?
Sometimes – particularly for sale on the internet – objects are represented as something they aren’t either intentionally or from ignorance. Sometimes half-forgotten family lore just doesn’t quite fit the facts. Is this “19th century” cap badge really from the 19th century? Does the condition of a medal ribbon and other “facts” seem reasonable?
For example a recent donor claimed a bugle (2019.08.001) had been played at the Battle of Ridgeway. The bugle cord that came with it was clearly not 150+ years old but the engraving of “Captain Sherwood’s Company” made sense. It also had the makers mark engraved on it and after some research we found that particular mark was only used for a five year period that spanned 1866. None of this proved that it was actually played at the battle but it did confirm that it was from the correct time period and certainly could have been played, so we agreed to accept it. We also need to have some assurance that the person donating the objects has the right to do so – in other words is actually the owner, or perhaps the executor of an estate.
How unique is it?
Generally we only need so many of the same items in our collection. When a wooden ash tray stand painted like a QOR soldier (2019.17.001) and used in the Sergeant’s mess was recently offered to us, it was a no brainer to say yes. However unless it was in mint condition (see below) we aren’t going to accept any more copies of Chambers 1899 history of the regiment as we already have six.
How big is it?
The practicalities of limited storage space unfortunately mean we just don’t have room to accept everything – and the larger the object, the more relevant this consideration.
What condition is it in?
Aside from storage limitations we also have a limited conservation budget so if something is in poor condition and may take considerable effort and expense to properly conserve and preserve it, then we certainly need to consider that carefully. If we already have examples of this artifact in our collection, we’ll also want to determine if the item being offered is in better or worse condition than those we already have.
Can we safely store this?
Occasionally safe storage is also a consideration. Live ammunition, or nitrate film – which has a tendency burst into flames under the wrong storage conditions – would be two examples. We recently had to find a way to safely dispose of the contents of a WWII polish tin which had become corrosive (not to mention the strong odour!) and threatened damaging other objects; however we did manage to save the tin with its paper label.
Can this still be used by the regiment?
Perhaps somewhat uniquely, our acquisition policy allows for the museum to send accoutrements in useable condition to the reserve battalion if they are needed. The most common example of this would be sergeants’ and officers’ crossbelts which are expensive and hard to source these days. These would be acquired and accessioned but not catalogued in the next steps of our normal process.
We’re going to accept them – now what?
Once we’ve taken possession of the objects we’ve agreed to acquire, we enter the donor and donation information into our accession database and assign it a number. The accession number 2020.02 would represent the second accession of 2020. An accession could be one item or hundreds of items as long as they are all being donated by the same person at the same time. An item (or object – I’m pretty much using the two interchangeably) could be a uniform piece, book, artwork, photograph, weapon, or collection of archival material such as correspondence or meeting minutes.
Once that’s done, our database allows us to quickly prepare a “Deed of Gift” which lists all the items, indicates that they person donating them is the legal owner, and legally transfers ownership (and copyright if held by the owner) to the Museum, to do with as it sees fit. It is critically important establish this ownership for the future. Luckily now, much of our administration can be handled by email including sending thank you letters and deeds of gift to be signed. Once the signed deed is returned to us, we scan it and upload to our database and also file the original copy in our office files.
The process for items that are purchased is almost identical except that the receipt is used to establish the museum’s ownership instead of the deed of gift.
The database also allows us to record the provenance or history of the ownership, as far as we know it. Provenance gives value to objects. For example a pair of WWII boots is valuable – but much more valuable if we know they belonged to Rifleman X who wore then on the D-Day landing and through to the end of the war. Or to record family lore such as “grandfather said he got the epaulettes off a prisoner of war he was escorting from the trenches to the rear areas.”
The objects are now ready for cataloging and storage but our Collections Officer will explain that process in Part II.
What if we don’t want the items?
Sometimes items offered to us have no connection to our mandate or other use to us. In that case we try our best to find and connect the donor with a more appropriate museum.
Sometimes some of items are of interest and some are not and so we can decide to accept some, all, or none. An example is a donation of 10 antique rifles – several were relevant but three were not but it was an all or nothing donation. We accepted all but eventually would sell the three and use the funding to supplement our acquisition fund. This was made known to the donor before making the donation and they were fine with this arrangement.
Sometimes we’ll accept donations for our education collection particularly when we might already have several in our museum collection. These can be used or tried on (for example uniforms) by visitors or school groups – definitely not a recommended practice for items in the actual museum collection.
And if all else fails, we just have to say thank you for thinking of us, but no thanks.
What happens next?
Next comes the detailed cataloguing of each items in the accession, including labelling and photographing, and then finding safe and appropriate storage, which is recorded so we can find it again when we need it! Our Collections Officer will describe this process in Part II of this blog series coming soon!
On 12 January 1866 No 11 Company “Upper Canada College” of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada (QOR) was formed under the command of Captain Frank C. Draper.
Draper seems like an excellent choice to fill this role as he was both a UCC Old Boy (1844-52) and had been a QOR officer since 1863. In 1874 he would resign his commission and become Toronto’s Chief Constable (i.e. Police Chief).
The following article is excerpted from “COLBORNE’S LEGACY: Upper Canada College 1829-1979″ by Richard B. Howard
“It is Difficult to Establish a Date on which the College Rifle Company, alias the Rifle Corps, later the Cadet Battalion, held its first official parade…..
The first hint of any military enthusiasm at UCC is mentioned earlier, when during the 1837 Rebellion, a troop of boys offered their services to the Lieutenant-Governor. …..
Early in Principal Cockburn’s regime, military drill was the subject of much attention in schools in England, Canada, and the United States. Ways were sought to promote what was thought of as a patriotic spirit. The aim was to foster love of country along with a disposition to defend it, and to develop obedience and discipline. The important habit of prompt obedience could then be carried over into the classroom. By 1865 drill had been introduced into schools in many Ontario centres, including Toronto, London, and Port Hope. The College was probably one of the earliest participants; it is known that in 1863 the older boys paraded weekly under a Major [Henry] Goodwin, a strict disciplinarian but “kind-hearted” and “cheery.”
In 1865 Fenian troubles were creating much unease in Canada, and several Upper Canada College students asked Principal Cockburn’s permission to transform the recently formed cadets into a company of the Queen’s Own Rifles.
In December of that year an unknown number of pupils were enrolled, and in January 1866 the company was attached to the 2nd Battalion, Queen’s Own Rifles.
Thus , Upper Canada College was possibly the second Canadian school to have an “official” cadet corps, following Bishop’s College School in Lennoxville, Quebec, whose corps was organized in 1861.
The Queen’s Own were called out on March 8, 1866 , and though the College boys were not specifically mentioned, they appeared at every parade and march anyway (they even had their own marching song).
On St. Patrick’s Day the company waited for any trouble arising
out of the parade, but nothing happened . When the Fenians actually struck at Fort Erie on June 1 , the Queen’s Own were ordered out to meet them. School was dismissed for the day and the College company reported for duty only to find that, by orders of General Napier, they must “…. remain in garrison to guard the armouries and official stores. Some students wanted to “desert” to join the battalion at the front, but evidently no one did.
“They performed the duty which was given them. ” After the raid there were plenty of volunteers in Toronto, and so the College company was released; but, just in case, it was “agreed that should the College bell ring at any time out of class hours, the members of the Company would . . . assemble at the Armoury.” The bell did, in fact, ring once, and the College boys were the first to report to the armoury, but it was a false alarm. A dense crowd gave them three cheers.
It has been thought that the Upper Canada College Rifle Company received “battle honours” for its passive though honourable role in the Raid. Not so. The Queen’s Own Rifles did not receive such honour; neither did the College. However, General Napier did give them honourable mention in his report, and it is true that they were called out for service (along with Bishop’s College School) — apparently the only time in Canadian military history this has happened.
Over thirty years later, the government decided to present medals to those who were engaged on active service in the Fenian Raid: the College Rifle Company, though denied the privilege of fighting, had performed some important functions, and all the members of the company still living received a medal.”
As of October 22, 1886, the Rifle Company officially became a Cadet Corps (#17) affiliated with The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. During the First World War, the Cadets’ association with the Queen’s Own had lapsed, and by 1923 two regiments, the Toronto Regiment (now the Royal Regiment of Canada) and QOR were requesting that the Corps affiliate itself with them. After some dispute between the three parties, the College settled on the Queen’s Own again by 1927.
In 1976 the compulsory “Battalion” was disbanded to be replaced the following year by a voluntary Cadet Corps. This lasted until 1988 when it was officially disbanded as of April 15th.
Over most of these 144 years, the connection between UCC and the QOR remained very strong. Many Old Boys went on to serve with the QOR – some even becoming Commanding Officer. Even today, the Regiment values this long and distinguished relationship between one of Canada’s oldest continuously operating schools and Canada’s longest continuously serving infantry regiment.
We don’t often share much of the day to day goings on at the Museum so I thought perhaps I’d write briefly about three recent visitors to the museum.
On September 25, I was pleased to meet Mr Robert Catsburg of Holland who is just wrapping up his third historical account of fighting which took place in Holland during WWII. POLDERFIGHTING is a detailed account of the 8th brigade near Oostburg, from 20 to 30 october 1944. It is based on the message log of the brigade, containing all radio messages and numerous other sources including many German and Dutch.The volume amounts 300 pages and will be translated and published in Canada in 2016 or 2017.
Robert shared a draft of his book which made clear the incredible amount of research he had done on the British, Canadian and Germany units involved, and on the significant impact this had on the local Dutch population.
We were happy to contribute in a small way to his project (the QOR were part of this action) and are certainly looking forward to a copy of the English translation when it is completed!
The strangest of coincidences led me to meeting Mark Dalton at the annual Upper Canada College Association Day event on September 26. While he was looking for the UCC archivist, I overhead him mention he name to another staff member and took the opportunity to introduce myself. While we’d exchanged emails in the past, we’d never actually met but Mark will be familiar to many in the QOR family as the son of Lieutenant Colonel Elliot Dalton who was among, if not THE first to step ashore as a Company Commander on Juno Beach on D-Day. Incredibly, his uncle Charles commanded the other company in the first wave.
Mark told me he had actually planned to head over to Casa LOma to see the museum again so we met there and took a tour of our new layout and exhibits plus a bit of a “Curator’s backroom tour” as well. Mark snapped a photo of the piece of a landing craft that we have on display that was brought back by his father after the war. Mark and his wife and daughter are about to head over to France this week where among other activities, they will be visiting the Juno Beach Centre.
Mark has also kindly offered to temporarily loan us some albums that belonged to his father so that we can scan the information they contain and we are certainly looking forward to tackling that project!
During the following week I was very pleased to give a tour to Mr. Arthur Manville who is the Honorary Librarian of the Royal Canadian Military Institute (RCMI). Arthur has no military background but his interest in things military began in the mid-l960s when he was living in Ottawa and became an Associate Member of The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa Officers’ Mess. From that developed an interest in military history and he became an enthusiastic collector of British campaign medals. For many years he was a member of The Military Historical Society (London) and The Society for Army Historical Research (London), and then began writing in 1983 after a trip to India and Pakistan with the MHS visiting regimental centres. He is very much a student of military history and an amateur military historian, having had articles published in the above society journals, RCMI Year Books and for the past several years in RCMI Members’ News. He has been a member of RCMI Library Committee since 1996 and was appointed Honorary Librarian 2001. Arthur was accompanied on his tour by Mr. Jim Lutz who is a member of our Museum Board of Governors and the RCMI.
As we kick off the 2014 Winter Olympics, we thought we’d share a few snippets of sports related regimental history.
The following is an excerpt from the 1922-1923 QOR Association Annual Report.
Sports in the Regiment
A phase of development in the life of every regiment that is, perhaps, one of the most essential to its success, and perhaps one of the most neglected, it in the world of sport. “Playing the game,” win or lose, must be inculcated in the mind of any who take a part, and this last devolves upon efficient leadership. It is such an ideal that the QOR has endeavoured to induce and maintain, that its part in the development of National life may not be confined to the discipline of the parade ground but to include self-discipline in the everyday life of its members. The Queen’s Own Rifles Athletic Association, therefore, became a reality…
As we approach another holiday season, we’re sharing some of the Regimental Christmas Cards that will be on a temporary exhibit at the Museum starting 1 December. This first series is primarily from the First World War with one from 1941. The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada perpetuate the 83rd, 166th and 198th Battalions represented below.