Canada Day 9 – Fort Calgary & Military Museums

As the day was due to be wet and cold, we had targeted museums for the day.

Fort Calgary is on the western edge of the city and is where it all started. The fort was established by the then North Western Mounted Police (NWMP) who were the force establishing law and order and overseeing the implementation of Treaty 7, which formed the basis of agreement between the new settlers and the indigenous people of what would become south western Alberta. The fort was originally a rudimentary affair and nothing now exists of it – the site was later used for rail expansion and was only rescued from further development towards the end of the 20th Century. The fort’s outline is marked by art installations but there is not much to see. The museum alongside is however a fascinating place that explains the whole history of the site and the city of Calgary that it started.

The museum had a number of displays showing what life was like in and around the fort for the NWMP, who later became RNWMP and then merged with another force to become the modern RCMP that we know today.

As well as cells and a carpenter’s workshop, there were recreations of a typical surgery, drugstore etc that were similar to those we’d seen the previous day at the Historical Village. The displays then moved on to show 20th century Calgary as it developed into the city it is today.

When we emerged from the museum, the sky was throwing sleet and hail through a biting wind and we walked as quickly as we could to take shelter beneath the canopy of the impressive Central Library, before taking an Uber to the Military Museums – with all three of Canada’s armed services represented there.

We started with the Army Museum, which explained the army’s roles in wars and later UN peacekeeping and observer roles. The horror of the First World War were explained, including Canada’s mounted regiments, before then covering the army’s role in the Second World War and then the Korean War. A Ford jeep, as often seen in the TV series M*A*S*H was displayed, along with accounts of UN roles in the Balkan war and other global flashpoints. The displays referenced some actions that some may wish to forget but which reflected the sometimes -confused rules of engagement and poor oversight by the UN.

After the Army Museum, we went onto the Air Force Museum which described the early beginnings of flying in Canada, their role in the First World War and then a little more about the Second World War, where Canadian crews lost many thousands of men in the Allies’ bombing campaigns. Many Canadians were stationed in the airbases that once covered Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, with familiar airfield names like Leeming, Linton-on-Ouse, Dishforth and Middleton St. George (now Teesside International Airport).

Some very moving film footage was also being shown in a small theatre. As well as a film depicting a tragic raid over Berlin, in which local Alberta airmen were lost, a second film showed another airman’s experiences and his risky journey into USSR-occupied Germany to find the grave of his brother who was lost in that Berlin raid. Finally, incredible but chilling footage was shown from Luftwaffe fighter aircrafts’ gun cameras. The film showed the cannon fire from these fighters damaging and destroying Allied bombers. It was moving to realise that we were watching the last moments of some bomber crews’ lives in that footage.

By this time, the museums were not far from closing for the day and so we had little time to discover the Naval Museum. Being rather smaller than a naval vessel (and very much inland) the hall had various gun turrets, torpedoes, gun shells and an array of scale models of Canadian naval vessels. Given that my uncle visited Canada in the Navy at the very end of the Second World War, it is a shame that we hadn’t had enough time to see it all. I hope to put that right in Halifax…

Finally, after getting back to the hotel, we had some time to relax before going to our restaurant for an evening meal. We had booked into the revolving restaurant near the top of the Calgary Tower. While smaller in diameter and a little older, it brought back memories of dining at Auckland’s similar restaurant in its Sky Tower. Although already dark by the time that we were dining, it was still fascinating to watch the city unfold far below us. Our helpful waiter was very happy to help identify landmarks and the mix of period buildings and modern skyscrapers in the downtown area was very apparent, as was the network of enclosed elevated walkways that are characteristic of the city and which come in useful during its harsh winters.

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