Museum Renewal Project (the beginning)

Ground zero was April 2016.  The Museum Renovation Project was taken on by a small group of people with no formal museum background or training.  An interest in history: sure.  One may even say a passion in some cases.  An appreciation of the Regiment: absolutely!  A fearless approach to taking on new tasks: you betcha.  

Our intrepid group dove in (quite literally).  The team had backgrounds in logistics, administration, project management and even disaster management...  surely this was a solid foundation?  It quickly became apparent that it was not.  

Our confidence gradually eroded (sometimes crashed) as we began to appreciate the extent of what we didn't know... not to mention the sheer scope of work before us.

The project chugged along, focussing first more on physical work: creating a functional storage space, rationalizing inventory holdings and setting aside artefacts requiring safer keeping… modernizing operations. This was no small task.  It also created an explosion of activity (and dust, garbage, recycling) at the Minto Armouries where we are located in Winnipeg.

At this same time, we also started to attract the interest of folks who had been along the periphery of the Museum.  Liking what they saw, we were incredibly fortunate to attract volunteers with depth and breadth in archives, historical research and conservation.  Enter: the Empress Dragon - Guardian of the Archives; the Highland Historian; and, the Queen of Conservation.  This is when the rubber hit the road and the project really took off.  We'd also still be mired in the weeds without our Assistant Curator, Small Arms and Heavy Objects.  A further shout-out must go to Manitoba Museum curators who were able to offer advice, allay our fears and confirm our suspicions all in one go. 

This blog series covers highlights, funny stories and lessons learned from our museum renovation project.  We hope that you enjoy!

The Apartment at Minto Armoury

Years ago, the Minto Armoury had a live-in caretaker who resided in what was the apartment located on the 3rd floor of the Northwest corner of the building.

While the space hasn’t been used as an apartment for many years, its character has been preserved.  We're talking 1,300 square feet of soaring ceilings, tall windows, separate pantry, original fixtures and features… a time capsule from the 1940’s. 

Like many buildings in the Department of National Defence's inventory, Minto Armoury has been designated a Recognized Federal Heritage Building.  You can read more about why (its historical associations and its architectural and environmental value) and what that means for the Armoury on the Parks Canada Directory of Federal Heritage Designations

When a building has this many years in the rear-view mirror, you can’t help but wonder how many lives have been touched by events within its walls.  More so when you know that children grew up here.  Imagine being the kid who lived at the Armoury… what would it have been like having your friends over? 

From 1942 to 1945, George Hill was the chief caretaker at the Minto Armoury and lived in the apartment with his family.  George had a long military service, serving with both British and Canadian forces.  Born in England in 1882, he enlisted with the Brits in 1901 and served as a Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery until 1913.  George then crossed the pond and enlisted in Winnipeg in 1915 with the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps.  He served until 1945 with his last three years as the chief caretaker at the Armoury.  His son Harry, who lived in the apartment, described George as an avid rifleman and good marksman (photos of George later in life).

Old buildings are more than brick and mortar.  They are reminders of a city’s past and carry the narratives of the people who crossed its threshold.  Come visit Minto Armoury and our museum, and take a walk through Winnipeg's past.

"Johnny Canuck"

Johnny Canuck.jpg

Dripping sweat, “Johnny Canuck” from the 8th Canadians (90th Winnipeg Rifles) marches to the front, heavily burdened with his giant pack, 303 Lee-Enfield Rifle, wearing hob-nailed boots and puffing on a “gasper”, hopefully a Players.

Sketch by Stuart Stoddart DCM