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First World War uniform donated to Lethbridge museum after it was found in theatre basement

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WATCH: A significant find in a Lethbridge amateur theatre group’s costume collection has been donated to the Galt Museum & Archives in Lethbridge. Eloise Therien has the details on why the First World War uniform is a special addition to the museum’s collection. – Nov 9, 2021

A significant historical artifact is now in the hands of the Galt Museum & Archives in Lethbridge, after it was found in a local theatre basement.

Elaine Jagielski, president of the 98-year-old amateur theatre group Lethbridge Playgoers, said it all started in 2017.

Read more: Temporary exhibit at Lethbridge Military Museum highlights post-war social changes

“When the (Yates Memorial Centre) was going to be undergoing renovations, everything had to be cleared out,” she explained.

“These sorts of items, you know military uniforms, or anything along those lines we thought might have some significance for someone.”

More than 100 items were relocated from the Playgoers’ collection to experts at the Galt, who found one piece of particular interest: Mayor A.B. Stafford’s World War One uniform.

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Full-length portrait of Major A. B. Stafford in uniform. Courtesy: Galt Museum & Archives

“We do know military material is often marked either with a name or a service number and so that’s what we focused in on as we took items out,” explained museum collections technician Kevin MacLean.

“It was my colleague Kirstan Schamuhn who took the initiative to look under a piece of (tape) in a place that I may not have looked myself, to see that Major Stafford had his name (at the back) of his collar.”

Courtesy: Galt Museum & Archives. Courtesy: Galt Museum & Archives

“We just didn’t expect to find something so significant in the basement of the Yates theatre in 2021.”

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According to the Galt, Major Alexander Boswell Stafford was born in Nova Scotia in 1877 before moving to Lethbridge, Alta.

He enlisted in the war in 1915, where he would be sent to Europe to command the 39th Battery of the Canadian Field Artillery.

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“He had a business here in town as well, he was also a mason, and he was involved in many activities in the community here helping it to grow,” explained local historian Glenn Miller.

Stafford died in Vimy Ridge in 1917, and while it’s unclear how his uniform ended up at the Yates, those involved are extremely pleased with the find.

Photograph of members of the 39th Battery in front of the Lethbridge Exhibition Pavilion. Courtesy: Galt Museum & Archives

“We have a very small collection of Vimy material, and so to actually get an object that’s connected to the Vimy Ridge story, to build on the collection that we have here, was extraordinary, was remarkable,” said MacLean.

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Out of hundreds of military artifacts at the Galt, only about 10 per cent are related to the artillery, making this uniform extra special.

“All the artillery from World War One came from Lethbridge, but when you look at the Galt resources and artifacts, it’s hard to prove,” said Miller.

Miller encourages anyone who thinks they may have important historical pieces they don’t wish to keep in the family to find them a new home to help with Remembrance.

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