Canadians given 6 months to purchase Sask. soldier's Victoria Cross before export

Canadian museums and art galleries will have six months to come up with the funds to purchase a Victoria Cross that was auctioned to an overseas buyer last year, according to the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Museums, galleries can make offer on medals sold to U.K. buyer for $660K

Lt.-Col. David Currie's medals, including a Victoria Cross, far left, that went up for sale. (Serge Gouin/segophoto.ca)

Canadian museums and art galleries will have six months to come up with the funds to purchase a Victoria Cross that was auctioned to an overseas buyer last year, according to the Department of Canadian Heritage.

The medal, regarded as the highest military award of the United Kingdom, was awarded to Saskatchewan's Lt.-Col. David Currie during the Second World War. Another eight medals of his were also in the auction grouping. 

They were auctioned in September to a private U.K. buyer for $660,000. The auction was loudly criticized by historians, veterans' groups and by the Currie family, who reached out to Ottawa — and directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — to purchase the medals, arguing they are part of Canada's heritage and should not go overseas. 

The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa attempted to buy the medals at auction but was out-bid.

But the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board stepped in on Feb. 5, delaying the export of the medals for six months. The board, which reports to Parliament through the minister of heritage, can impose export delays so designated organizations have the opportunity to purchase culturally significant pieces or collections that otherwise might be permanently on the way out of Canada. 

Currie, who was born in Sutherland, Sask., in July 1912, was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry during the 1944 Battle of Normandy, when he was a major in the Canadian Army. He was the only Canadian to receive the medal in the Normandy campaign.

His widow sold the Victoria Cross and Currie's other medals to a private Canadian buyer in 1989. That buyer put them up for auction in London in 2017. The selling price was $550,000 and, with the addition of commission to the auction house, totalled $660,000. 

The price required to keep the medals in Canada will be subject to negotiation between the auction winner and any would-be Canadian buyers. 

Currie's is the last Victoria Cross in Canada that is not on public display.

An undated photo of Lt.-Col. David Currie, who was a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross. (Submitted by the Currie family)