NEW RICHMOND, Que. -- As local historian Rachel Dell guides us around the Bay Chaleur Military Museum at the Gaspesian British Heritage Village, she shares stories -- not only of her community, but also her family. Dell's great-grandfather served in World War I; her grandfather served in World War II. She points to uniforms and medals with pride and remembrance.
There's the uniform of Peter Cobley Welsford Campbell, who served in World War I. His brother, Arthur Prentice Campbell also fought in the Great War, and within the same month both brothers were awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field. Unfortunately, Arthur Prentice was killed in action in Cambrai, France, just one month before the war ended. Brother Peter Cobley survived and returned home to the Gaspe.
All of the uniforms, medals and memorabilia on display, plus the stories that accompany them, have been donated by local families. They tell of the military history and contributions of Gaspesians (residents of Quebec's Gaspe peninsula) who served in both World Wars, the Boer War, Korea and Vietnam.
As time distances us from the details of these conflicts, the museum keeps the stories and sacrifice of those who served personal and real. There is a wedding dress made from parachute silk, personal journals, and even a recipe for "Troop Train Cookies."
Also on display is the identification tag worn by RFM Clement Cyr, from New Richmond. Cyr enlisted in the Royal Rifles of Canada with his two brothers, and was sent to defend Hong Kong against attacks by Japan in 1941. After spending three years and eight months as a prisoner of war, he died of food poisoning shortly after liberation.
Another Hong Kong veteran was Gander the dog, mascot of the 1st Battalion of Royal Rifles. Gander showed great bravery time and again, defending his troops by barking at and charging the enemy. In his most spectacular (and final) act of loyalty, when an enemy grenade landed near a group of Canadian soldiers Gander grabbed the grenade and ran, taking the explosive out of harm's way. The grenade exploded in Gander's mouth, killing him, but saving the lives of many soldiers.
The Military Museum is one of 24 buildings on the 32-hectare Gaspesian British Heritage Village site. The village takes you back more than 200 years to relive the history of the British settlers of the Gaspe coast including Loyalists, Scots, Welsh, English and Channel Islanders. Some 400 Loyalist settlers arrived in the Gaspe around 1784. They quickly integrated with the French, Mi'gmaq and Acadian communities, and together they have formed a rich culture.
Other buildings on the site include Gendron General Store, a blacksmith shop, schoolhouse and post office. The village boutique is housed in a heritage building, the W. H. Willett store, which was built in 1910 by the grandson of Loyalist William Willett. Throughout the summer there are demonstrations and guided tours given by knowledgeable staff. Visitors can follow the trail down to the lighthouse for a fabulous view of Chaleur Bay.
NEED TO KNOW
The Village is open from mid-June to mid-September, with special activities during the winter. The don't-miss Traditional Days Bluegrass Music Festival is at the end of August. See chaleurmilitarymuseum.com, villagegaspesien.com and quebecmaritime.ca.