Nfld. & Labrador

How and when? Museum puzzled over antique firearms theft

Patrick Collins noticed the guns were stolen on June 10, when he went to retrieve them to put the antiques on display.

Theft of family heirlooms on loan 'weighs heavily on us,' board chair says

A WWI vintage flare gun missing from the Conception Bay Museum in Harbour Grace. (Submitted)

In its four-decade history, the Conception Bay Museum in Harbour Grace had never had a break-in.

That is, not until some time before March 17, when Patrick Collins, noticed something was awry.

"I went down to do a tour with some kids and I noticed the back door had been pried open," Collins, the museum board chair, told the St. John's Morning Show

Collins and police took a look at the museum's inventory — thousands of artifacts — and didn't notice anything was missing.

On June 10, Collins went to grab antique pistols from the 19th century to put on display. That's when he noticed items were stolen. 

"They were hidden. They were stowed away. That's what we find very strange. Only a few of us really knew were they were," Collins said.

A duelling pistol missing from the Conception Bay Museum in Harbour Grace. (Submitted)

Even most board members wouldn't know where the pistols were, Collins said.

"We are baffled by this, and the fact that we've never, ever had anything stolen, to my knowledge ... we're bewildered."

Weapons have storied history

The firearms themselves have great historical value to Harbour Grace as whole.

The Godden family loaned three guns to the museum, along with a flare gun belonging to the Oke family.

That's a real heirloom, a real treasure that we lost.- Patrick Collins

"There's no way to put a dollar figure on it. They're invaluable to the families, of course, invaluable to our museum," Collins said.

"If they are out there, they are easily recognizable."

One of the missing firearms is a First World War vintage flare gun that was originally owned by Edward Oke of Harbour Grace.

Oke had loaned the flare gun to Capt. Erroll Boyd of the Royal Air Force so that he and travelling companion Lieut. Harry Connors of the U.S. Navy Reserve would have help in an emergency. The men embarked on the first Canadian flight from Canada to England on Oct. 9, 1930.

The pair made the trip successfully, and Boyd had the flare gun engraved and sent back to Oke in Newfoundland. The gun carries an inscription relating the journey. 

"That's a real heirloom, a real treasure that we lost," Collins said.

This 1855 Colt revolver is also missing from the Conception Bay Museum in Harbour Grace. (Submitted)

Two duelling pistols, which have been dated between 1813 to 1860, were also taken.

Some board members have looked around flea markets, and Collins has called around to collectors to no luck.

The families who loaned the museum their heirlooms have been understanding, he said.

But Collins said he and the board feel awful about the theft.

"It's under my charge and we certainly feel that the burden of reasonability ... that weighs heavily on us," Collins said.

Collins' worst fear is that the thief will merely throw the pistols away, and he is pleading with whoever took the antiques to return them. 

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from the St. John's Morning Show


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