Archives for November 2020

Remembering From a Distance 

A young soldier’s letter collection reminds us why being apart for Remembrance Day matters

Remembrance Day ceremonies and events are not immune to COVID-19 and will be different this year. The National Ceremony Committee in Ottawa is discouraging crowds to gather in person, and the Napanee ceremony around the cenotaph at the Courthouse is moving to a streaming platform. Typing those words feels cold and disrespectful but for the service men and women we honour on this day, it’s exactly right. They fought and fight for the safety of Canadians, and we need to do the same.

There are many ways to honour veterans and the fallen outside of traditional ceremonies. Our vaults here at the Museum and Archives are evidence of that. We have everything from uniforms and boots worn by a local soldier to photographs and war correspondence. By preserving the objects and records that tell their stories, we’re always doing our part to ensure those stories live on and are remembered.

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2019.10.01  Artillery boots, William Beeman, 1914-1918
N-1811  Hazel H. Denyes, nursing sister [1916]
N-1832  Alfred Eklund of Newburgh, [1915]



Years ago, while researching a topic on the Second World War, I stumbled on a collection of letters written by Roland James Saundercook, a young man in active service for the Royal Canadian Air Force, and I have never forgotten them. His letters written home to his family are, at first glance, a mundane account of weather and troop movements. Dig deeper and you start to realize Roland Saundercook, not yet 20 years old, is feeling homesick and dreaming of the time spent with his family in Collins Bay. 

“How is Joannie coming at school now I hope good, sometimes I wish I was trotting 2 miles to the old school. I did[n’t] realize it then, but I had a lot better time then, then I do now and how.”

 

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Letter, Roland J. Saundercook to his family, October 20, 1944



Included with Roland’s letters is correspondence between various war offices and his family. Roland and his flight crew were missing in action over Germany after a nighttime flight exercise in March, 1945. The family received heartbreaking telegrams and letters about their missing son and the efforts the military was taking to locate him. In the following years, the family did everything in their power to locate Roland by submitting packages of information to various war offices, hoping a member of personnel in some office, somewhere, might connect the dots and send word Roland was found safe and sound. It wasn’t until March 4th, 1948, that the family finally received confirmation their son was killed in a crash that fateful night three years earlier in Germany when his plane went missing.

 

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Roland J. Saundercook outside his house in Collins Bay
Royal Air Force Station letter about missing air crew, March 17, 1945
Royal Canadian Air Force letter about Missing Research and Enquiry Service, March 4, 1948



Few people have read Roland’s letters. It is with great honour and deep respect that we share those letters here. These letters don’t tell the complete story of Roland Saundercook or the trauma his family endured, but a morning spent with his entire collection here will.

This Remembrance Day, truly honour the legacy of service women and men like Roland Saundercook and their families, by staying home, staying safe, and watching a live stream ceremony. 

Just ZOOMing Along

Confessions of a Curator

As a person who is reluctant to engage in much technology, this COVID world of streaming everything has kick started my anxiety sky high. While I understand our need for digital connections, my need for real world experiences weighs heavily as I struggle with the balance. To Zoom or Not To Zoom is the question these days.

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I am a history nerd to the max, I like to read a lot, I like to roam other museums, antique stores, used bookstores, and I enjoy CBC radio over television. Further to this, I cannot even tell you what is “binge worthy” and 6 months ago if you had asked me to Zoom anywhere, I would have assumed you wanted me to walk faster or join a fitness class!

My whole life is about unplugging and disconnecting.  If it requires me avoiding large gatherings, working by myself or in small teams, and burying my nose in a book, I am your gal.  So honestly, COVID and I are kind of made for each other.  Don’t get me wrong, I do engage, I have meaningful conversations, I like to laugh, and enjoy an afternoon coffee with friends…but I am BIG on the retreat back to solitude.

COVID has quieted our halls but the reality is that museums need people. We exist for people to come in and gaze, wonder, learn, and imagine. We are the place that wants to inspire and remind you of all the special things that the world around you values.  What is a museum curator to do when people stop coming? I have been thrown into a world where my very job is now reliant on me learning how to plug in and connect – how do I do this?  If the masses cannot come out to enjoy the collection on site, then I have to bring the collection to the masses.  This means things like Facebook and Instagram Lives, YouTube, and Zoom everything….cue my hives and nervous tick now!

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In the past 6 months, we have had to modify museum visitation- this includes how you experience exhibits, the Reading Room, and programs. We are now appointment based, we have removed contact points in the exhibits, we wear masks, and we have worked through about a thousand Zoom calls to figure this out.  Do you have any idea what planning an entire exhibit through Zoom is like? 

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In the meantime, I have been busy working behind the scenes. The quiet has given me time to clean up parts of the collection – we finished a significant conservation project with our textile collection this summer. We inventoried, wrapped, and photographed most of our quilt collection (105 items) and uploaded these images to our online database which you can check out here.

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A rather overwhelming project we have started is the inventory of the furniture collection.  The cleaning and sorting of 100s of these large objects is daunting.  Confirming associated provenance, applying missing accession numbers, updating the database and organizing the storage room is a big job. Funding from Young Canada Works has allowed me to hire a graduate intern to help me carry this heavy load. This project will take several months to complete. 

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As you can see, I am trying to balance the pull between online and unplugged. It seems like a fine line between my sanity and insanity. I go home fatigued and worried that the museum will somehow become irrelevant, which I guess just pushes me harder to get the collection out there in different ways. I hope this virus soon passes, I miss the noise and bustle of the museum. This time of year is always the  busiest with hundreds of school kids visiting us…there is a melancholy to the museum halls right now.  

WE ARE OPEN, we miss you, and book your visit today we have a couple new exhibits waiting for you.  Be sure to check us ZOOMing along with our digital holiday programs coming very soon!

Museum hours

Monday – Saturday: 10am–5pm

Macpherson House & Park hours

Open for tours in the summer

Archives Hours

Monday – Friday: 10am–5pm

Museum and Archives daily rate

Adults: $3
Children under 12: free

All service fees are based on a cost recovery model. Factors such as the physical condition of the records and copyright restrictions may prevent some or all of the reproduction processes from being offered.

Museum & Archives location

97 Thomas St E, Napanee, ON K7R 4B9

Macpherson House & Park location

180 Elizabeth Street, Napanee, ON K7R 1B5