One of those people who silently stays in the background being quiet about what he does and downplaying the full extent of work he accomplishes, simply explains Larry Lajeunesse. He is a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Fort Garry Horse Regiment, who joined as a private in the spring of 1961, after high school. By the fall of the same year, he was on the officer track.
Now and for the last few decades, he has been part of the Fort Garry Association and most particularly has served as one of the Directors of the Fort Garry Horse Museum. Originally started in 1978, he has helped build it up to its current state along with many contributing members and volunteers. For someone such as myself who has visited the Bow Museum in Calgary, the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg, the National War Museum in Ottawa, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, this museum stands well to these other great historical collections for what it has and represents. The space is small and can hardly contain all the photos, books, documents, and paraphernalia related to the Fort Garry Horse Regiment and the ongoing cavalry and armoured unit within the province of Manitoba. The museum is now located in what was actually the accommodation for the past full-time custodian of the armoury and now has been converted to capture the history of the building and the people who have passed through the doors.
Each room represents a different era. It would be very difficult to even try to explain the amount of information that is displayed in this museum but there are some interesting highlights. The living room hosts World War I. In it, you can not only find a cavalry statue of a mounted horse but also a mock tunnel of the terrible subsystems that was used in combat. As well, there is an interesting display of the Unknown Soldier. It was one of eleven Fort Garry Horse soldiers who died at Rifle Woods outside of Moreuil, France. A French police officer, Christian Perrault, stepped on a bayonette. He heard the crack and then started to dig. He found the remains of a soldier who was then given a proper burial. The remnants of what was found with the soldier’s body were sent back to the regiment, including collar dogs, buttons and other FGH insignia.
Word War II is represented in one of the bedrooms. In this room, you can see pictures of the D-Day landing craft where the Fort Garry Horse sent in two squadrons. There is also an American bazooka used by the Allies and an AK47 that belonged to the East Germans. The East Germans gave the AK47 to museums when they were disbanded. There is also an interesting story of how the Americans had not joined the war effort until 1941. They were not able to sell actual tanks to Canada and so they took off the guns off and they were shipped to Canada as scrap metal. With these partially-equipped tanks, the regiment trained drivers and mechanics as there were very few people who knew how to fix a broken down tank back then.
The second bedroom, proudly displays uniforms from the past including the classic-looking ceremonial blue patrols but also some white ones as well. More recent uniforms such as fatigues and dessert pattern cadpat uniforms that were worn in Afghanistan are displayed. At the back of the room is a special gun which was called the assassins pistol in World War II as it had a silencer and had luminous sights.
The hall way is full of a variety of pictures. In the hallway are the medals of Colonel Cox. He was the Commanding Officer at the start of the war in 1939. However, he was too old to go into battle and so R.E.A. Morton became the Commanding Officer who happens to be the father of a famous Canadian historian, Desmond Morton. More recent photographs represent what the Fort Garry Horse has contributed to in Afghanistan.
Closets throughout the apartment have been changed into shelves holding binders upon binders of photographs and boxes of letters written during the wars. The back laundry home has been switched over to a work area where displays can be worked on. The kitchen area has been converted into the library. Larry Lajeunesse has spent countless hours of his own personal evening time collating the names of each person who has ever served in the regiment. There are over eight full binders filled with nominal rolls for each year. They represent many men and women who have joined and become part of the Fort Garry Horse Family. As well, there are original photographs of the real Winnie the Bear, named after the city of Winnipeg, who was the mascot for the Fort Garry Horse Regiment before it became the basis of the famous books Winnie-the-Pooh Bear written by A.A. Milne and illustrated by E. H. Shephard.
The library holds numerous books on Canadian History and regimental histories of Canada. Some of them were written by John Marteinson include “The Gallant Hussars,” and “The Canadian Armoured Corps.” He also started writing the 100 year history of the Fort Garry Horse eight years ago but unfortunately passed away. Mike McNorgan had collaborated with John Morteinson previously on “The Gallant Hussars.” When John passed away, Mike McNorgan and Gord Crossley, Regimental Sargeant Major of the Fort Garry Horse took over the onerous task of sifting through years of information, photos and stories. The book is finally to be released Friday, April 13, 2012 at McNally Robinson called “Facta Non Verba.” For more information, click here – http://www.mcnallyrobinson.com/product/category/0/item/716849/mcnorgan-crossley-facta-non-verba
Finally, one can not leave the museum without seeing the Guidon. The Guidon is a representation of the many battle honours the Fort Garry Horse Regiment has been a part of. One of the two Guidons stands proudly in a display case at the Manitoba Legislature near the entrance way. This Guidon is used on special occasions and will be used during the weekend of April 12 to 15, 2012 when the Fort Garry Horse celebrates its 100th anniversary with a number of events such as public parade at the City of Winnipeg and the Manitoba Legislature, followed with a formal cavalry gala event at the Fort Garry Hotel which also carries the same name sake. For further information, click here – http://www.fortgarryhorse.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=91&Itemid=99
Overall, the two directors, Larry Lajeunesse and Gord Crossley, represent the gatekeepers to the information and past of the Fort Garry Horse Regimental Museum and because of their hard work and dedication have made the past come alive. It is only when young people start to learn from the past that we can change the future.
Mary Mikawoz is a freelance writer, visual artist and photographer. She is also a teacher and new media specialist.