Family’s personal memorabilia from First World War to be displayed at Toronto church
Published Tuesday, November 6, 2018 9:05PM EST Last Updated Tuesday, November 6, 2018 9:33PM EST
A series of letters, post cards, and photographs will be displayed at a local church in North York to honour the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice, which ended the First World War.
Toronto-resident Sheila White’s maternal and paternal grandfathers, who were originally from Nova Scotia, served in the war. She said they didn’t know each other at the time.
White said she had what she called “spectacular artifacts” at home and wanted to share them with the public.
“They were sitting in a box and they need to be brought to light so the public can see them and really appreciate the service, the sacrifice and the day-to-day lives of the soldiers who fought for us and who fought for our freedom.”
The memorabilia will be part of a display at Don Heights Unitarian Congregation in the city’s Don Mills neighbourhood. The exhibit will include hundreds of items, including post cards, letters, historical photos and training booklets from both sides of the conflict.
Sheila White’s maternal grandfather was Capt. Glenn Harlan Keeler, who died of tuberculosis in 1936 due to exposure to gas during the war. He was 42 years old at the time.
While he was on his deathbed, Keeler wrote a 26-page memoir about his experiences. The diary, as well as 60 letters and some spurs from Keeler’s Horse named Tommy, will be featured in the display.
“The mail was so important,” White said. “The letters he received -- chocolates and apples. It meant the world to those guys.”
Also included in the display are a few artifacts from White’s paternal grandfather, Rev. Capt. William Andrew White, who was the first black officer in the British army.
In addition to letters from Canadians serving overseas, the church display will also feature German propaganda used to incite patriotism during wartime.
“The message was all those things that you read about in the French and British press, about us the Germans, were all false. That’s fake news,” John Kennedy, a professor at the University of Toronto, said.
Kennedy’s father served in the Second World War.
“He used to say, they were just boys. Just like us,” Kennedy said. “May it never happen again.”
A reception will be held to celebrate the opening of the exhibit on Nov. 10 ahead of Remembrance Day.
The donors providing the letters and post cards hope to donate their artifacts to a museum after the exhibit is over.
-With files from CTV News Toronto's Andria Case