$3.2-million donation to help create Canada's largest WW I exhibit

People in Newfoundland and Labrador will soon be able to really connect with their province's history after a $3.2-million donation was made to The Rooms to help launch the country's largest First World War exhibit.

The Rooms gallery to showcase Newfoundland contribution in WWI

A $3.2-million donation to The Rooms will lead to a new exhibit to open next year 2:40
People in Newfoundland and Labrador will soon be able to really connect with the province's history after a $3.2-million donation was made to The Rooms to help launch the country's largest First World War exhibit.
Eleanor Gill Ratcliffe was given the right to name a new exhibit at The Rooms for her donation of $3.2 million. She decided to name it the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Gallery. (CBC)

Eleanor Gill Ratcliffe made the donation to help create the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Gallery, which will showcase this province's contribution to the war effort.

Her donation was the largest individual contribution made to a cultural institution in Atlantic Canada, but Ratcliffe said she was happy to donate.

It's not about the veterans, it's about the whole memory of the province — the country.- Earl Ludlow

"Of course it feels privileged to be able to do that. I had the resources to be able to do it, I didn't think twice about doing it, so I had no idea if it was the largest or the smallest," said Ratcliffe.

Tom Foran, on the board of directors at The Rooms, said Ratcliffe's history with the arts community is long and generous.

"Elinor is almost a perfect patron of the arts. She's a true philanthropist, she's gentle, giving, she's kind, she likes to be involved but she doesn't hover over the exhibit or over the items that she's donated towards," said Foran.

"She's truly an angel in the philanthropic world."
The new exhibit will showcase the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's contribution to in the First World War, with a large part showcasing Beaumont-Hamel. (CBC)

As a result of her large contribution, Ratcliffe was given the right to name the exhibit.

She said a survey was sent out to people to find out what were the most iconic moments in the province's history and the number one response was the July 1, 1916 advance at Beaumont-Hamel on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

And so, it's named the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Gallery. The interactive displays will focus on those who fought — and died — and the people who left home.

Earl Ludlow, honourary Lt.-Gen. in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, said a large part of the exhibit will pay tribute to Beaumont-Hamel.

"It's not about the veterans, it's about the whole memory of the province — the country — it's the school children, it's about a place to go, a place to remember," he said.

"And that's what this is representing here today. It's a continuation of the past and how we will see things moving forward."

In addition to the exhibit at The Rooms in St. John's, a travelling version will be going across the province, as well as a website and programs for schools.

The entire exhibit will open next year on July 1, the 100th anniversary of Beaumont-Hamel.

With files from Taylor Simmons

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