It’s a long way from Afghanistan where thousands of Canadian troops battled and helped rebuild.
But creating an exhibit here in Calgary will offer people a closer glimpse at what the frontlines looked like for soldiers.
Doug Stinson, director of the Calgary-based Military Museums, says officials with the Department of National Defence reached out looking for a place to preserve and display artifacts from that war.
“They were sitting on a lot of stuff that came back from the closing of the mission in Afghanistan,” Stinson says.
“From Tim Hortons coffee cups from the air base to some vehicles and pictures and stories – they had all the stuff sitting in a warehouse in Ottawa and were looking for a home for it.”
The Military Museums – which is the nation’s second largest military museum after the Ottawa-based Canadian War Museum – accepted and once a major expansion is done will become the official home of Canadians’ Afghanistan experience.
The yet-to-be built Museum of the Mission in Afghanistan will add about 40,000 sq.-ft to the existing 100,000 sq.-ft. museums, which includes four regimental galleries – and display everything from documents to maps and radios presented along with personal narratives from veterans.
“We just hired designers and architects and museum specialists to do a master plan,” Stinson says. “Obviously, you don’t just throw up four walls and call it a museum. We are hoping to have the master plan early in the new year.”
Albeit years from becoming a reality, excitement is already simmering as plans are in the works and the museum’s senior curator and a consultant join forces to put together a travelling exhibit, which will include first-hand interviews with veterans and artifacts from the Afghanistan mission.
Over the next three to five years, it will travel to communities across the country, making stops anywhere from museums to cultural centres and legions, says Stinson, adding it will educate but also hopefully align with fundraising efforts required for the expansion.
“We want to create awareness and get the excitement going,” he says.
Details are still being hammered out, but Stinson says funds will likely come from the feds, provincial and municipal governments, as well as private and corporate donors.
He adds it is a great compliment for the Military Museums to be trusted with such an honourable duty to display the artifacts and share such important Canadian history.
Fearing that memories of efforts in Afghanistan might be fading for some, Stinson is grateful for the opportunity to showcase a tangible reminder of Canadian contributions and sacrifices in the conflict.
Of about 40,000 Canadians deployed to Afghanistan, 162 were among those fallen.
Many others were left suffering devastating physical injuries or mental anguish and PTSD after the mission, which began following the September 11 attacks and the subsequent U.S. War on Terror.
“We lost a lot of good people in Afghanistan,” Stinson says. “We want to preserve and educate and get the word out there.”
Recently, the museum unveiled the Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) III – recognizing its service during the mission, which saw Canadian Armed Forces members deployed between 2001 and 2014.
The impressively intimidating vehicle – dubbed ‘the green monster’ by some Taliban – is equipped with two machine guns, can hit speeds of up to 100 km/h and is built to take small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenade strikes.
The Military Museums – which has more than 200 volunteers – attracts about 50,000 visitors a year.
Of those, about 10,000 are school children.
Stinson says the expansion and all the exhibits it will house is just another reason he loves working there.
“I spent 32 years in uniform and I’m a history buff so it’s just the biggest thrill in life to work here – and such an honour,” he says.
“The history geeks and former soldiers – I don’t have to sell it to them but I love introducing (history) to new people,” he says.
The estimated date of opening for the Museum of the Mission in Afghanistan is 2023.
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