Canadian War Museum

We had a cracker-jack day here in Ottawa with Kim and Jason. We spent the better part of the day browsing the Canadian War Museum, something I have always wanted to see. It was well worth it. The exhibits, covering everything from the early days of Canada,with an emphasis on the conflicts that shaped our history, to the present, was educational as well as entertaining. There is actually a lot to see at the Canadian War Museum, almost too much for one day, although we did well getting through all the exhibits. Someday I would like to go back, there is almost too much for me to absorb in one day.

War Artists

One thing that got my attention was the magnificent Canadian war art on display. There are lots of pictures by reknowned Canadian artists, including Group of Seven members Arthur Lismer, A.Y. Jackson and one of my personal favorites, Alex Colville.

In fact, it was Colville’s painting, “Infantry, near Nijmegen” that immediately caught my eye when we entered the museum. I don’t think I ran, but I certainly marched double time across the floor to see the painting up close and personal. I have enjoyed that particular Colville painting in books and on the internet, so to see it in person was a thrill.

Alex Colville

Alex Colville is a Nova Scotia artistic treasure and perhaps one of our best known artists, and not just in Nova Scotia. His work as an official war artist during the Second World War is evocative, to say the least. There is just something about Colville’s work, that ability he has to somehow capture a ‘moment in time’ on canvas, and to take an ordinary scene and make it extraordinary that enthralls me everytime I see one of his paintings.

Alex Colville joined the Canadian Infantry in 1942. He was appointed an official war artist in 1944. During the war he painted and sketched in England, France, Holland and Germany. He was one of only a few war artists to visit Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945 after it was liberated.

But today it was Alex Colville’s painting of infantry soldiers trudging single file along a dike in Holland that caught my eye. From what I understand, they are members of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles and it is late in 1945, so these are no doubt battle hardened soldiers who are exhausted from the heavy action they have experienced liberating the Netherlands from German occupation.

The tired, yet determined look on the men’s faces bears witness to the struggles they were living. The painting itself is an action scene without any action. As I said earlier, something quite ordinary made extraordinary through Colville’s artist eyes.

While I enjoyed the entire museum, the exhibits and the other war art, seeing that Alex Colville painting “in real life” made the visit to the National War Museum more that worth while for me. That, and spending a day with Kimberley and Jason….

The War Museum is well worth visiting, and if you are a history buff at all, I suggest it may require more than one visit to absorb all that the museum has to offer. It does require a fair amount of walking but there are seats among the exhibits to have a rest or sit and admire the collections in each exhibit room.

Painting: “Infantry, near Nijmegen” Alex Colville
War Museum Pic: Wilkipedia Creative Commons

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2 thoughts on “Canadian War Museum”

  1. Thanks for posting this Robert. I have tagged this on my list of things to do and places to go. My grandfather and his brother were from Ireland and came to Canada as young boys with their strong willed Irish mother. They both went to war (France) and came back to their new home, Nova Scotia. I have a lot of their pictures and letters, a great reminder of how much we have and how much we take for granted.

  2. Thanks Michele, the War Museum is definitely a place to see. Kim tells me they change up the exhibits quite often, making it something new each time they go. I really enjoyed it. So much history, and we actually are taught so little of it.