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Many Canadian veterans settled in Osoyoos following the First World War
There were few residents in Osoyoos at the time of the First World War, none we know of who went overseas.
But after the First World War many soldiers settled in the South Okanagan on land the government designated for Veterans under the Soldiers Land Act.
When World War II broke out in 1939, Osoyoos had a greater population and many local residents joined the armed forces, particularly the B.C. Dragoons, a unit that played a major role in Northern Italy and the Netherlands. Those who could not go overseas, often those too young or too old for the army joined the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers (PCMR).
The PCMR acted as the first line of defense and also as peacekeepers in local communities. The names of locals who went overseas in World War II are listed on a large plaque in the museum titled “Osoyoos On Service.” Following the war, the Royal Canadian Legion Branch # 173 was established as a gathering place for veterans of the community.
The Legion first held its meetings in the old Osoyoos schoolhouse, the log building now in the museum.
In 1946, Knudt Knudtson, a local rancher, donated the land the Legion stands on today, thus is named in his honour. The Ladies Auxiliary ran from 1946 to 1995 and was instrumental in sending fruit packages to various B.C. hospitals including the Victoria Veterans Hospital and the BC Children’s Hospital.
Today, Osoyoos strongest connection to the military lies in its residents. Many veterans have come from elsewhere to retire here.
As time marches on, some members are lost but the artifacts they leave behind are a constant reminder of the stories and lives of those brave men and women.
The artifacts that have been donated to the Osoyoos Museum are unique.
The collection has been amassed largely through the efforts of Dr. Robert (Doc) Ritchie and other Legion members.
The great variety of artifacts from the Army, and Royal Canadian Army, Navy and Air forces representing both World Wars and also more recent conflicts, include weapons, gun shells, medals, service buttons and pins.
There is also a large collection of WWII soldier’s equipment – the paraphernalia each man would carry on the battlefield – sewing, grooming and mess kits, dog tags, soldier’s pay and identity books – and a soldier’s barracks box.
Many of the “everyday” items Doc Ritchie states are now quite rare because they were mostly discarded after the war. Some of the more interesting pierces in the collection include “trench art” made from relics from the battlefield as well as art made by both German POWs in Canada and tiny dolls called “Woolies” made by British women during World War I.
There is also a collection of enemy souvenirs the soldiers brought home including Nazi badges and a phone dial reputedly from Hitler’s mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden.
We have a collection of military uniforms representing the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, a dress kilt and jacket from the Seaforth Highlanders, a Canadian Woman’s Army Corps uniform, an RCAF formal jacket, and many hats.
Perhaps the most unusual items in the collection are a Falcon missile used on Voodoo fighter jets and the Voodoo pilot’s flight suit.
We remember the war dead on November 11 and further honour their sacrifice through the collection of artifacts that have been left behind.
Next year is the beginning of the anniversary period commemorating World War I.
The museum hopes to develop a permanent exhibit in the new museum based on the collection of priceless artifacts it holds today.
SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
(This column was produced by Ken Favrholdt and Jay Edwards. Favrholdt is Executive Director/Curator of the Osoyoos & District Museum and Archives. Edwards was a Young Canada Works student in 2012)