Preserving history one shoebox at a time at the Seaforth Armoury

It's a "cross between Hoarders and the Antiques Roadshow" at the Seaforth Highlander museum as staff and volunteers work to document thousands of newly found artifacts.

Armoury staff perform 'rescue archaeology' on thousands of found artifacts

(David Horemans/CBC News)

The Seaforth Armoury located in downtown Vancouver has just finished an intensive four-year renovation, including seismic upgrades. 

The Canadian Forces will use the building as a point of refuge should there ever be a major disaster in the city.

The battalion is also working to transform the Canadian Highlanders' home into a living museum. Their goal is to connect newer soldiers to over 100 years of regiment history.

Before the armoury's renovation started, Seaforth Highlanders Museum staff and volunteers scoured the building for historic material squirrelled away by soldiers.

Archivists packed four truckloads of art, photos and artifacts for documentation. Many of the boxes found had never been opened before.

Thousand of boxes hidden everywhere

Curator Capt. Robert MacDonald oversees the preservation of artifacts. He calls it "rescue archaeology — a cross between Hoarders and the Antiques Roadshow."

The titles listed on thousands of shoe boxes, crates and even pizza boxes often don't match what is inside.

(David Horemans/CBC News)

Everyone's story counts

Connecting soldiers, no matter rank, to artifacts is an important focus for the museum. 

MacDonald says this tobacco tin was carried by a private during the Battle of Regina Trench. He says Private Lord was hit by two rounds from a machine gun but escaped injury thanks to his tin. Lord carried the tin until the end of the First World War as a lucky talisman and never smoked the tobacco inside.

(David Horemans/CBC News)

History at every corner

The Seaforth Highlanders will be hanging their newest battle honour from Afghanistan during the reopening ceremony.

The museum's goal is to hang something from other famous battles like Ypres, Passchendaele and Ortona on every corner. MacDonald wants to "remind soldiers they are a part of history."

(David Horemans/CBC News)

Not all regiment history is written on paper.

Newly discovered pieces help document the history of the regiment in ways military records cannot.

For example, the signatures of soldiers on this First World War kilt protector give archivists more information about units and the battles they fought in.

(David Horemans/CBC News)

Mysteries and art abound

The armoury collection not only has military artifacts but also paintings, photos, sculptures, drawings and even furniture made by Canadian Highlanders. 

Trench art created by soldiers waiting to go into battle is often unsigned. Macdonald says the archive team regularly asks members and families for help to give credit to soldiers who created the pieces.

(David Horemans/CBC News)

Exclusive rooms and artifacts

The regiment's emblematic stag watches over the entrance to an area MacDonald calls "the most exclusive club in the world" — the Sergeant's Mess.

"The only way to enter here is through experience and merit," he said. The captain's father and grandfather also served with the Highlanders.

(David Horemans/CBC News)