There’s no understating how deeply the military’s roots permeate throughout Brandon’s history, Don Berry said.
Although military units came in many different names and types, he points to local military organizations dating back to the 1800s and fighting in the Boer War in South Africa.
Carrying a long history in the Canadian Armed Forces himself, Berry currently serves as president of the 26th Field Regiment Royal Canadian Artillery / XII Manitoba Dragoons Museum.
The museum is located at the Brandon Armoury building on Victoria Avenue, and has been closed throughout much of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though out of sight, those behind the museum are striving to ensure it doesn’t become out of mind.
They’re hosting a virtual event Saturday.
Called the 40th Annual Vimy & Beyond Fundraiser/76th Anniversary Liberation of the Netherlands, the online event is free of charge and will include a tour of the museum space as well as breakout rooms featuring videos, an auction and other activities.
After touring military museums across the country, Berry said it’s safe to say Brandon’s is among the best.
"It’s so successful because of the people," he said, adding although he has been president for much of the museum’s history, there are a lot of people behind the scenes making it work.
The museum was established during Berry’s first stint as deputy commander of the 26th Field Regiment from 1977-81, during which the caretakers’ room became available.
They had a number of things "stuck in rooms" that might have otherwise been lost, so they decided to compile artifacts into a museum space.
This work came during a time in which veterans from the First World War were dying, with the museum providing a viable place for families to donate the wartime items they left behind.
Now, the same can be said for Second World War and Korean War veterans.
"A lot of people sell their stuff, and they become part of collections in the United States or something," Berry said. "Our goal is to preserve that history."
Further to preserving history, he said they strive to tell people’s stories through artifacts as much as possible, thereby retaining their full personal impact.
The museum initially focused on the 26th Field Regiment Royal Canadian Artillery and the XII Manitoba Dragoons, but later expanded to encompass all of Westman’s military history.
Working with museum staff and volunteers has been rewarding, Berry said, much like he believes those who work at any other museum might say.
"You’re volunteering and giving your time, but you think you’re leaving a legacy and you’re going to preserve something," he said, adding local military history feels like something worth maintaining.
Although Saturday’s event will be free of charge to attend, donations are always accepted, and Berry said they have a few plans for the museum’s future, pending they have the funds to follow through.
"I think that’s why the museum has been successful, is we’re always thinking ahead and planning what we’re going to do next."
They intend on constructing a new concrete pad next to the memorial garden east of the armoury building for a new outdoor artifact — possibly a newer howitzer soon to reach the end of its life cycle and become available for museums.
A closed-circuit security system for the memorial garden is also in the works, as well as an Indigenous display.
"We want to recognize them and how shabbily they were treated," Berry said, adding Indigenous veterans fortunate enough to return home from fighting overseas did so without the benefits awarded to non-Indigenous veterans.
Saturday night’s 40th Annual Vimy & Beyond Fundraiser will also serve as recognition of the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands. Last year’s event was scheduled to celebrate the 75th anniversary, but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virtual experience will take place from 6:45-9 p.m. and will be accessible at signin.webex.com/join. The meeting number is 182 142 8710 and the password to join is Vimy76.
Any alterations to this plan would be clarified online at the museum’s website, 12mbdragoons.com.
» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB