Nfld. & Labrador

This Royal Newfoundland Regiment drum is a history mystery

A rare musical instrument on display at the regiment's museum has sparked a search into its origins spanning decades and provinces.

Drum surfaced in Ontario in 2000, but how it ended up there is anyone's guess

Frank Gogos, the museum chair, is proud to have such a rare instrument on display. (Cec Haire/CBC)

An antique drum that appeared on the doorstep of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's museum last year has sparked a search into its past that spans decades and provinces, raising more questions than answers in the process.

The instrument was welcomed with open arms upon its arrival, particularly because of its relatively newer vintage than most of the museum's objects, which date to the either the First or Second World Wars.

"We don't have a whole lot of items from the post '49 Royal Newfoundland Regiment, so to have something as special as a bass drum coming in to the museum, it got us pretty excited," said Frank Gogos, the museum's chair.

The big drum, meant to strap onto a musician's chest for a marching band, was in great shape, with red lettering, a caribou appliqué and numerous stains, or what Gogos called, "a really nice patina."

"We know this drum is fairly old, and it's been played well, and a lot," he said.

But beyond those simple facts, it's proved difficult for Gogos and his colleagues to pin down much more about the drum. 

Tim Shea received the drum as a gift from his wife, who found it in an antique shop near London, ON. (Cec Haire/CBC)

A history buff helps out

Even its former owner is at a loss for much of an explanation about the drum's origins.

A self-described history buff originally from St. John's, Tim Shea was gifted the drum by his wife almost 20 years ago, while the pair were living in London, ON.

"She came across it in a little antique shop just outside of town. And me, being a Newfoundlander as well as a history buff, she said 'that's your gift,'" he recalled.

"I've been dragging it around ever since."

The drum survived moves to St. Catherine's and Peterborough, always occupying prime display space in their homes. But when the couple retired and moved back to St. John's, it became the victim of downsizing and was passed on to a friend, who in turn gave it to the museum.

While that accounts for the drum's recent adventures, what happened prior to its appearance at that Ontario antique store is a mystery to Shea.

"The dealer that we bought it from back in 2000 had no prior knowledge of it at all. He wasn't even sure where he got it," said Shea.

A still from archival footage from the museum archives, of the drum in use during a summer camp in 1964. (Submitted)

A few clues

Back at the museum, with little to go on, Gogos and his colleagues managed to assemble a few clues about the drum's past, traced through archival video.

"It first appears in our collection in 1964 during a summer camp being held in Makinson's, and there's a very clear shot that year of the drum being played and used during parades." he said.

Markings inside the instrument reveal more hints: Gogos discovered handwriting, visible through a tear on the drum's skin, confirming the drum was, in the 1950s, owned by the 166th Regiment Band.

But concrete answers as to where the drum originally came from, and how it ended up in Ontario, remain elusive.

Despite those lingering questions, Gogos and the museum do know one sure thing: they're happy to own it, and have it proudly on display.

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