Friday, March 16, 2007

"From Your Soldier Patients..."

This week’s topic is a perfect example of why it’s important to restore meaning to the collections, and how people from all over North America are helping to do it. Every now and then I get an e-mail or phone call from someone with a particular connection to an artefact or event in Gananoque or the 1000 Islands. These little contacts do wonders for returning the stories to objects and photographs.

Back in November I posted a small piece about the military hospital on Leek Island in WWI and included this group photo of soldiers and nurses. Leek Island was a privately owned island volunteered to the Canadian government to be used as a convalescent hospital during the war. I was delighted to receive an e-mail from Pam Robertson, living in the United States near Detroit, who informed me that she was the great-granddaughter of Katherine Runyon, owner of Leek Island. Ms. Robertson's grandmother, Katherine Kip Brenneman, was a nurse at the hospital and this group photo was in fact her wedding picture. You can see Mrs. Brenneman in towards the centre in the white veil, with her new husband lying down in front.

Leek Island must have been a very special hospital and was certainly appreciated by the soldiers who recovered there. After being injured in one of the worst conflicts in human history, the Canadian soldiers surely thought themselves lucky to have been sent to Leek Island.

After Ms. Robertson’s e-mail, I took another look through a file of old and curled photographs marked “Leek Island” and I have included a few that show the wounded soldiers recovering amidst the splendour of the Thousand Islands in the summer. In one picture men clean freshly caught fish, in another, an amputee and others arrive at Leek Island. Perhaps they are arriving for the first time, perhaps they are returning from a simple boat ride – either way it would certainly have been therapeutic. In another shot, a contented looking soldier poses for the picture against a tree - happy, I’m sure, to be away from the carnage of the First World War. There are dozens more photographs which document the many soldiers recovering in the 1000 Islands.

One of the most poignant artefacts I have come across to date is this collection of pins. At the bottom is inscribed “From Your Soldier Patients, Leek Island, October 1st, 1917” Much as we would sign a card, the soldiers attached their regimental pins. Not all the pins explicitly state their units, but the ones represented are: The Royal Canadian Dragoons, The Kootenay Overseas Battalion, 1st Western Ontario, 2nd Eastern Ontario, Royal Canadian Artillery, Royal Montreal Regiment, Victoria Rifles, CMR Overseas, 8th Stationary Hospital Saskatchewan, Grenadiers (unsure which specific unit), 50th Cavalry, 10th Canadians, 4th Central Ontario, 20th Canadians, 3rd Toronto Regiment, 70th Canadian Battalion, 16th – perhaps Nova Scotia, a very impressive pin from the Black Watch – Royal Highlanders, Another Artillery, 18th Canadian, 28th North West, 75th, Canadian Engineers, Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry, 27th Battalion Winnipeg, 5th Mounted Rifles, 38th Ottawa, Canadian Medical Corps, 21st Canadian, 73rd Royal Highlanders, 60th, 70th, The French Canadians, 5th Western Cavalry, 91st Elgin. Again there are a few others I cannot make out, but this certainly shows the number of men from all over Canada that called the Thousand Islands home for a brief time. This must have been a very touching gift to the nurses at Leek Island.

My thanks, again, to Pam Robertson for sending the information on the wedding picture.


With a software package on its way and a few other ducks in a row, we have begun work on this summer’s exhibit. “Gananoque in the Gilded Age” is the tentative title. The exhibit, which will be in the main gallery at the Arthur Child Heritage Museum beginning in May, will explore the period 1860-1890, when Gananoque’s industrial economy grew rapidly and transformed the sleepy village into a booming industrial town. Over the next few weeks I’ll share some of the behind the scenes work that goes into creating this exhibit.

Also, coming soon, we’re launching an “adopt an artefact campaign.” The various artefacts and collections of artefacts will be displayed in the Gananoque Reporter and here at this site. My thanks to Anne Craig and the staff at the Reporter.