Nova Scotia

100 years and 2 fires later, WW I treasure discovered in Tatamagouche

A well-timed renovation at the Odd Fellows lodge in Tatamagouche, N.S, has led to the discovery of a century-old banner stitched with the names of the village's war dead.

A banner with the names of WW I soldiers was found at the Odd Fellows Lodge

Members of Odd Fellows Liberty Lodge in Tatamagouche, N.S, found this banner behind a cabinet where it had sat for decades. (Submitted by Jimmie LeFresne)

A well-timed renovation at the Odd Fellows lodge in Tatamagouche, N.S, has led to the discovery of a century-old banner embroidered with the names of the village's war dead.  

When lodge members began taking down walls and emptying rooms earlier this year, they came across the banner rolled up behind a cabinet. On it are 12 names of soldiers who fought and died during the First World War. 

There are 12 names carefully stitched onto the banner. (Submitted by Jimmie LeFresne)

The red, white and blue banner is about a metre wide and two metres in length. In addition to the names, it's embroidered with the dates 1914-1918 and a maple leaf. The members also found a hand-stitched Union Jack flag. 

"It's almost like finding a lost piece of treasure or a lost piece of art," said Jordan Swan, a member of the Odd Fellows who was there during the discovery.

"So it was definitely kind of exciting and probably nothing that you'd ever experience again."

The banner and flag now hang in Sharon United Church and will be the focal point of the village's Remembrance Day service on Sunday.

Jimmie LeFresne, an Odd Fellows member, said he was able to determine the banner and flag are from the First World War not only by the names and dates, but by the moth-eaten fabric that has yellowed with age and is nearly falling apart.

He believes they were made by the Rebekahs — the women's auxiliary in Tatamagouche. He said the level of detail and care put into the banner is remarkable.

"Those lodge members way back then put so much into the remembrance of these people that were fallen," he said. 

The Odd Fellows lodge is trying to learn more about the soldiers listed on the banner. (Submitted by Jimmie LeFresne)

The Odd Fellows building dates back to 1913 and is still standing, despite two fires that threatened to bring it down. The banner and flag survived the fires, too.

They're smoke-damaged and fragile but remarkably intact.

LeFresne said all the soldiers on the banner lived in the village, and many of the names are recognizable. While they don't know the story behind every name just yet, they've been able to learn about one — Harry McLellan.

The 24-year-old was killed in Belgium by a bomb 45 days before the end of the war.

The banner and Union Jack Flag have been hung at Sharon United Church for this weekend's Remembrance Day ceremony. (Submitted by Jimmie LeFresne)

Swan hopes the community realizes the significance of the discovery.

"I just hope that people really get the gravity or the importance of such an old find and how neat it is for what it is ... and what it's survived and endured, kind of like what our ancestors did during the war," he said. 

But what will happen to the banner and flag now that they're out of hiding is still uncertain.

LeFresne said they're so fragile they likely can't be on display for too long. He's hoping the community offers input and advice on where and how to keep them safe.

About the Author

Emma Smith

Reporter

Emma Smith is a journalist from B.C. who has covered rural issues and Indigenous communities. Before joining CBC Nova Scotia in 2017, she worked as the editor of a community newspaper. Have a story idea to send her way? Email emma.smith@cbc.ca

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning