Museum Renewal Project (surprises)


When we walk into work, many of us know exactly how the day will go.  There’s a routine.  In fact, for some of us, it’s Groundhog Day. 

It isn’t like that at our museum.  We start out each day thinking that the Museum and Archives cannot possibly hand us another surprise and yet… 

Recently, it came to us in the form of a framed photo. 

"Well, how about that!” we thought after the photo was removed from the old frame.  


The photo could have been in that frame for over 90 years.  It had probably sat on a mantle, cherished, and dusted regularly.  

We're grateful for these donations.  Part of the process of accessioning donations (recording them in our inventory) is cleaning them.  It's not cleaning in the traditional sense but, rather, removing contaminants (like dust with a soft bristle brush) and any corrosion.  While doing this cleaning, our Queen of Conservation removed the photo from the frame.  Instead of finding a regular cardboard or paper backing, the photo had been placed over a lithograph.  An unexpected treasure.

There are good days at the Museum when everything goes well (the Museum giveth) and then there are the other days (the Museum taketh away).  This was a good day.

The Story of Sergeant-Major Frederick Hall winning the Victoria Cross by Lieutenant W. Slater

William Slater (#493) was working as a tile setter when he enlisted as a private in 1914. Slater was promoted to corporal, then sergeant and in August 1915, was awarded a battlefield commission. In 1916, he returned to Canada to assist with the development of new overseas units and, in 1917, was seconded to the British Military Mission in the United States. 

Sergeant-Major Frederick Hall

Sergeant-Major Frederick Hall

The Story of Sergeant-Major Frederick Hall winning the Victoria Cross by Lieutenant W. Slater

It was expected that the Ypres salient would be the scene of great activity in the early spring (1915), and immediately we had taken over our trenches, we began to strengthen the front line which on our front was disconnected in many places…

 It was quite clear to everyone that something was brewing, and on the morning of the 24th we had just got back to Winnipeg Farm and were preparing to get under cover for the day when the air was filled with the cry of “Stand To”. We Stood To in some old trenches and were immediately enveloped in a cloud of gas which rolled towards us, while the bullets were hitting all around thick and fast. Being unprepared for gas warfare, this attack took a terrible toll, and right away we were all spitting and retching and vomiting and clawing at our mouths and throats in the throes of suffocation. It was at this moment that Col. Lipsett, the Battalion Commander, came out of Headquarters to our trench, waving his walking stick and shouting “Charge…” I was with Captain Bertram [and he] was one of the first to fall with a bullet in his foot…he immediately called, “Push on Sergeant, push on.” …

Making my way over to Sergeant-Major Hall, I told him what the Captain had said, and we laid our plans accordingly, but the fire from the machine guns and snipers and the coal boxes and shrapnel over head was so accurate that by the time we were half way down to the trees only 19 of us were left…

We discovered that our Battalion had held to its trenches in the face of the gas, and immediately continued on to their support. However, to do this we had to cross the open behind the front-line trench and in doing so met a very heavy enfilade fire from the left. 

 … Immediately on getting to the trenches we began to take charge of the situation, for the men in the trenches had suffered terribly, and it was up to us to “carry on.” Many were killed and wounded in this last dash to the trench and one of the wounded men called for assistance, so Private Rogerson went out to him, but was immediately wounded. On seeing this Lance Corporal Payne went to his assistance, but he was badly wounded, and then Sergeant- Major Fred Hall went out also, and was lifting the wounded man to bring him in when he fell shot through the temples.

It was for this act that I later recommended him for the Victoria Cross, which was granted.  

*William Slater returned to Winnipeg on May 4, 1916, and a long article was published in the Winnipeg Tribune on May 14, 1916, describing on how Sergeant-Major Hall won his Victoria Cross.

On 24th April 1915, in the neighbourhood of Ypres, when a wounded man who was lying some 15 yards from the trench called for help, Company Serjeant-Major Hall endeavoured to reach him in the face of a very heavy enfilade fire which was being poured in by the enemy. The first attempt failed, and a Non-commissioned Officer and private soldier who were attempting to give assistance were both wounded. Company Serjeant-Major Hall then made a second most gallant attempt and was in the act of lifting up the wounded man to bring him in when he fell mortally wounded in the head.
— London Gazette, no29202,23 June 1915

This is an excerpt from Holding Their Bit - Remembering the 8th Canadian Battalion (90th Winnipeg Rifles) 1914-1918 The Little Black Devils, a book edited by Ian Stewart and published by The Royal Winnipeg Rifles Museum & Archives in 2018.

Museum Renewal Project (our good luck)

Our good luck – although it really didn’t seem so at the time – came in the form of a mountain of inventory that we started sifting through during the summer of 2016.  

Over the years, the Museum had been accepting artefact donations that weren’t always relevant to the Regiment.  These items were interesting but, as a small, volunteer-run museum, the practical reality is that we have to focus resources on caring for and interpreting artefacts that are core to our story.  We’ve been looking at each artefact in our inventory and considering whether it fits with us, or whether another museum could offer it a better home.  

Our storage area was filled to capacity and then some.  For those who don’t know, when this project began, the Museum’s storage was located on the third floor of the Minto Armouries.  Years earlier, that space had been an apartment for the Armoury’s former caretakers.  As museum storage, however, it left much to be desired in terms of light and temperature control.

The storage space was a hot, airless place that summer.  It was dirty work clearing through decades of inventory.  Climbing up and down three flights of stairs to move items didn't help matters.  

The good news is that if we hadn’t been preoccupied with this work we would have started “cleaning up” the Archives.  While we would have gone in with the best of intentions, we would have nonetheless wreaked havoc on those archival records.  As we’ve grown to appreciate, archiving is a black art/science best left to experts or, at the very least, the supervision of experts.

A sad but fairly true account of how things would have gone (less the gorilla) is captured in the Library and Archives Canada document “A Guide to the Preservation of Archival Materials”. 


As the inventory cleanup marched on, thankfully the Empress Dragon – Guardian of the Archives – joined our team.  Under her leadership, we now have a proper archival system… and good archive etiquette (no gorillas in our Archives!).  

The bottom line is that the archives are the heart and lungs of any museum.  It is what let's us tell the story of the Regiment.  We invite you to come visit our archives and read about our soldiers' fascinating stories and lives.

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.