In the quiet basement of the Nutana Legion in Saskatoon lies more than a century of history and memories.
Uniforms, medals, model planes, plaques and pins – even sweeping scenes of battlefields – fill the Artifacts Museum. On this particular day, dozens of school kids crowd around a uniform display listening to volunteer tour guide Malcolm Gibson.
“I try and relate to something today,” Gibson said.
“So for rationing in world war two, this is what you couldn’t get, this is what you can get, to even the clothing and the uniforms – how warm it would have been on.”
The Artifacts Museum started as an area largely dedicated to Second World War veterans. Gibson’s mother, now 86, is the last remaining member of the group that started the museum around 18 years ago. She still visits the legion every Thursday.
Gibson, 54, is a retired police officer and got involved as a tour guide through his love of history and his personal connection.
“My dad fought in world war two and I think it’s important for history to stay alive for people to understand the mistakes that were made,” he said.
Gibson’s father spent most of his life in Saskatoon, and was onboard a naval frigate during the war. In the museum is a book on that very frigate, which includes depth charts and other details about what happened with the warship during those years.
Almost all the artifacts in the two-room museum are tied to Saskatchewan, with many being donated by local Saskatoon families.
One display receiving almost immediate attention is a model First World War trench located in the middle of the first room.
“We even have it complete with the rats that were in there because it wasn’t dry like it’s depicted here,” explained Chuck Lochel, another volunteer guide.
“This is how they lived – they bunked down underneath here, they went to sleep down there – and even this little map with red lines shows actual feed trenches in the area at the time.”
Lochel spent eight years with the U.S. air force, including three years in Germany with NATO forces and a few more with northern NORAD.
The 76 year old is most impressed by the partial First World War field medical kit in a glass display near the front entrance. His eyes light up talking about its rarity as one of two kits with so many original instruments still included.
“Here is the rib spreader, the bone saw – this one was to get into the skull cavity – the tools that they used here, the pincers, the clamps and everything, this is what they operated with,” he said.
“We will not understand the things these guys had to go through, but this was the most expedient thing they had to save lives at the time.”
While Lochel and Gibson have lived all their lives in North America, their tours also include a focus on the people who fought against Allied forces.
“This should be remembered, we can’t forget it. Because you’re bound to, if you don’t pay attention to the past, you’re going to repeat your mistakes again,” Lochel said.
Free guided tours are offered by appointment. Volunteers are also on hand at the museum every Thursday, from 9 a.m. until noon, to show people around.
The museum will be open Remembrance Day.