August 9, 2023

The Devin Tri-Color Camera

The Devin Tri-Color Camera

The Manitoba Museum is no stranger to cameras in our collection. We care for 103 of them, to be exact, ranging from the old tripod box cameras to some early digital cameras. But what was offered to us this year was very different from anything I had seen.

It was a 1930s Devin Tri-Color camera, made to take colour photographs in an era when artistic and journalistic black-and-white pictures dominated. Our newest camera donation became even more intriguing when I learned it was used in Winnipeg to take a very special picture.

The camera works by actually shooting three simultaneous black-and-white large negatives through three different filters (red, green, and blue), in different chambers. Additionally, inside the chambers are two reflective filters that allowed light through and reflected light to another chamber. As you can see, this makes for an oddly-shaped, heavy, unwieldly tank of a camera, one that could only be mounted on a tripod. But it worked!

In the hands of a professional, the results could be astonishing.

An angular vintage camera with a vaguely triangular-shaped back chamber behind the lens. Beside it blue, red, and green glass plates are displayed.

The Devin Tri-Color camera with its three glass coloured filters removed.

Three metal film holders lying flat on a light surface with green, blue, and red bars across the top.

Three film holders for three negatives to be used simultaneously. These would be placed directly behind the glass plate filters.

Photograph of the front page of an old newspaper featuring a large coloured photo of a procession moving down Main Street Winnipeg.

A clip from the May 25, 1939 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press found in a scrapbook in the Museum collection. H9-24-665

Our particular Devin Tri-Color camera was used to take a picture of the royal visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939. It was then printed in the Winnipeg Free Press as a colour image, the first time in North America that a news event picture was printed in colour on the following day.

The picture shows the King and Queen with the Strathcona Horse escort on Main Street just north of Portage Avenue. The picture was taken at 11:05 am on Wednesday May 24, 1939, by Maurice Lyall who worked for Brigden’s of Winnipeg. His negatives were made into enlarged positives which were then processed by employees at the Winnipeg Free Press. They were printed in the newspaper in colour, a mere 18 hours after the photograph was taken.

David McMillan, retired professor of Photography and the History of Photography at the School of Arts at the University of Manitoba, purchased the camera from Brigden’s around 1975, and he donated it to the Museum in 2023.

But what did the printed Free Press picture look like? Archives usually only keep black-and-white microfilm or digital copies of old newspapers, so the colour image would have been lost in this transfer process. Luckily the Manitoba Museum has a big collection of keepsakes from the 1939 royal visit, and I remembered having seen some scrapbooks as part of that collection. Sure enough, one of scrapbooks held a clipping of that original May 25 newspaper print, in the original colour.

So the Museum now has both the original camera and an original newspaper print of the picture the camera took. Together at last!

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Curator of History

Roland Sawatzky joined The Manitoba Museum in 2011. He received his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Winnipeg, M.A. in Anthropology from the University of South Carolina, and Ph.D. in Archaeology…
Meet Dr. Roland Sawatzky

A Rich Inheritance 

To celebrate Islamic History Month, I thought I would share this recent beautiful donation we have received at the Museum. This Persian carpet was made in the city of Naeen, Iran, likely in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Naeen workshops are known for making intricately designed carpets that feature a light-coloured background, often using blue as a contrasting colour. The carpets are woven and knotted on a cotton thread foundation with wool fibres, highlighted with light silk accents. 

Photograph taken from above. The large Persian carpet has been laid out. Along the lower right edge the Museum conservator kneels, carefully vacuuming a section of carpet through a mesh screen.

The Museum conservator carefully vacuums the carpet. The carpet is very large (16 x 10.5 feet)  and has many floral and bird motifs placed in symmetrical positions around a luxurious central medallion. At a count of 224 knots per square inch, the carpet has about 5,419,000 knots in total!  H9-40-33 

A close-up on the wool of the woven Persian carpet. A metal object is used to push some of the carpet aside, showing the white fibres amongst the wool fibres.

The shining white silk fibres stand out from the surrounding colourful wool. 


Persian carpets have a long history of excellence spanning centuries, and town manufacturers in particular are famous for perfectionism. The Naeen carpet industry began in the 1940s, and designers there were influenced by historic patterns from Isfahan, 150 km to the west. Isfahan flourished artistically during the Safavid dynasty (1501 to 1722). 

Islamic cultures from around the world are incredibly diverse, with long histories that have influenced many parts of the globe. Winnipeg is home for many people who continue to honour and celebrate these histories. This carpet was donated by Zahra Sahhafnia, who moved to Winnipeg in 2015. The carpet was an important part of her family’s legacy and inheritance, and now it is also part of Manitoba’s history.

Thank you Zahra! 

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Curator of History

Roland Sawatzky joined The Manitoba Museum in 2011. He received his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Winnipeg, M.A. in Anthropology from the University of South Carolina, and Ph.D. in Archaeology…
Meet Dr. Roland Sawatzky

The Story of Yee Chung Yen 

Last year the Rempel-Ong family donated the “Head Tax” Certificate of Yee Chung Yen, a distant relative. The family and Museum staff have been able to piece together some parts of his personal history. 

Yee Chung Yen (1895-1982), later known as Henry Yee, was born in Longgang, Shenzhen District, China, and immigrated to Canada in 1917. He was forced to pay a $500 “Head Tax” to enter the country, part of a racist Canadian policy to restrict Chinese immigration. By the time the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed back in 1885, over 15,000 Chinese labourers had come to Canada to work on this difficult, nation-building project. After the work was done, restrictions were put in place to severely limit Chinese immigration. The “Head Tax” was implemented from 1885 until 1923, and was then replaced by the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred all Chinese immigration until 1947. In 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for these discriminatory laws and the hardship they created for Chinese Canadians.  

Despite the burdens of the Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act, Yee Chung Yen persevered. By 1923 he was working at the Subway Café at 250 Osborne St in Winnipeg, which was managed by a Mr. Yee Too. Yee Chung Yen later owned Yee’s Café in Portage la Prairie in the 1950s. The Chinese Exclusion Act had severe consequences on his personal life. Yee Chung Yen was married in China before he arrived in Canada in 1917, and the couple had two children, but Yen would never see his family again.  From 1923 to 1947 his wife and children were barred from entering the country because of the Exclusion Act, Yen was never able to return to China, and they didn’t reunite afterwards.  

Photograph of a Head Tax Certificate. Along the top reads, “Dominion of Canada / Immigration Branch – Department of the Interior”, and in the bottom right corner is a identifiaction photo of a serious-looking young man wearing a dark suit.

Head Tax Certificate of Yee Chung Yen, 1917.

Surviving certificates are extremely rare today, and they help tell the story of resilient Chinese immigrants from the early 20th Century who were subjected to discriminatory Canadian policies and attitudes. H9-39-967 

Photograph of the backside of a piece of paper. In the centre is stamped, “IMPORTANT / It is necessary that this certificate be carefully preserved as it is of calue as a means of identification”. In the bottom left corner is a registration number and certification stamp, date, and signature.

Head Tax Certificate, 1917 (reverse).

On the back of the certificate is the 1923 Chinese Immigration Act (or Chinese Exclusion Act) registration stamp. It indicates that Yee Chung Yen was registered and under observation by Canadian authorities. The Act came into effect on July 1. Though other Canadians celebrated Dominion Day at that time, Chinese Canadians called it “Humiliation Day.”

Like other Chinese immigrants, he was not allowed to bring family to live with him in Canada, and his movement outside of the country was strictly regulated. This system was in use for all Chinese Canadians until 1947. H9-39-967 

Yen was instrumental in helping Mr. Don Wing Ong settle in Portage la Prairie in the 1950s. Refugees from mainland Communist China, Don and his wife Kwan (Anne) and their son Bill made it to Hong Kong, and would eventually all live and work in Winnipeg. Bill graduated from medical school at the University of Manitoba and became a well-respected doctor in the city.  When Yee Chung Yen became ill and then died in 1982, Don paid some of the medical bills and the funeral expenses. Don quietly visited the grave of Yee Chung Yen at Brookside Cemetery every year until Don’s own passing in 2019.

Six historical photographs documenting the life of Yee Chung Yen from childhood to adulthood.

These photographs document the life of Yee Chung Yen (1895-1982).

Clockwise from top left: 
1. Circa 1900. Yee Chung Yen with mother in China. H9-40-10 
2. 1920 in Victoria, BC. H9-39-988 
3. 1923, working at the Subway Café on Osborne St., Winnipeg, MB. H9-39-984 
4. 1930s. H9-39-994 
5. Circa 1952, at Yee’s Cafe, Portage la Prairie, MB. H9-39-981 
6. 1970s, Winnipeg. H9-40-3

Photogragh of a citizenship card with identifiaction details and a photograph of an older man wearing a suit and bow tie.

Certificate of Canadian Citizenship, 1960.

Yee Chung Yen (Henry) received full Canadian citizenship in 1960, 43 years after arriving in Canada. H9-39-968 

The story and images of Yen Chung Yee will soon be featured in the Winnipeg Gallery digital kiosk.

Along with pictures and documents related to Yen, the Rempel-Ong donation includes many items that recount the story of the Ong family as they immigrated and settled in Canada.

We hope to feature their story on video soon. 

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Curator of History

Roland Sawatzky joined The Manitoba Museum in 2011. He received his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Winnipeg, M.A. in Anthropology from the University of South Carolina, and Ph.D. in Archaeology…
Meet Dr. Roland Sawatzky

The Tryzub: Ukrainian Canadian Veterans, Branch 141 (Part II) 

When the Ukrainian Canadian Legion Branch 141 building closed on Selkirk Avenue at the end of March 2022, Vladimir Putin’s military invasion of Ukraine was a month old. I visited the Legion building and was shown the flag of Branch 141, and I was struck by the power of the symbols, given the current conflict.

Though this flag has its origins among Canadian veterans from the Second World War, history has come around to give it new symbolic power. 

The Ukrainian Canadian Veteran’s flag. The top half of the flag is light blue, and the bottom half is yellow. In the centre is a dark green maple leaf with a gold symbol on it – the Tryzub, or Ukrainian “trident” symbol. In yellow thread on the upper half of the flag is stitched, “Ukrainian Canaidna Veterans”. In light blue thread on the lower half of the flag is stitched, “Br. 141 / Royal Canadian Legion”. The flag has a gold fringe around the edges.

Ukrainian Canadian Veterans Branch 141 flag, likely designed in the late 1940s. 

The flag includes the Ukrainian flag colours, with light blue above, and yellow below. In the centre is a dark green, organic maple leaf, and within this lies the now famous Tryzub, or Ukrainian “trident” symbol. A green maple leaf might be surprising, but today’s abstracted red maple leaf on the modern Canadian flag was only adopted in 1965, after the Branch 141 flag was created. The organic maple leaf was first adopted by Lower Canada in the 1830s, and has been associated with the Canadian military since 1860. 


The golden Tryzub currently used as a symbol of Ukrainian independence has a much deeper history. It is based on symbols over 1000 years old that appeared on coins minted for Volodymyr the Great of Kyiv in 980 CE. The Tryzub was adapted for use in the coat of arms of the Ukrainian National Republic in 1918, after the fall of the Russian Empire during the First World War. When Bolshevik forces took over the country in 1920, the Tryzub was replaced by Soviet symbology, most notably the hammer and sickle. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic existed from 1920 until 1991. 

Close-up photograph of a dark blue book cover with Urkanion text in dark-coloured lettering. The Tryzub, or Ukrainian “trident” symbol is in the lower middle of the cover.

The Tryzub is seen here on the cover of a Ukrainian language phrasebook published in Winnipeg in 1931.

The publisher was Frank Dojacek, a Czeck immigrant to Winnipeg who started the Ruthenian Booksellers and Winnipeg Music Supply store on Main Street in the 1910s. He supplied products to the large Eastern European population in Manitoba, and knew seven languages. H9-7-23 

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine once again declared its independence, and the Tryzub was instituted as part of the “small coat of arms” in 1992. It has continued as a symbol of independence for 30 years. 

 Today, during the war between Ukraine and Russia, the Tryzub is recognized by many as a symbol of Ukrainian resistance to aggression and invasion. Seeing it joined with the maple leaf on the Ukrainian Canadian Veterans flag suggests new symbolic associations, such as the current support of Ukraine’s war efforts by the Canadian government, as well as Ukrainian Canadian heritage in Canada.   

 It’s important to note that national symbols often get hijacked by nationalist groups, far right elements, and other extremists for their own purposes. Symbols are open to interpretation, but at the same time act as a focus for emotions.

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Curator of History

Roland Sawatzky joined The Manitoba Museum in 2011. He received his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Winnipeg, M.A. in Anthropology from the University of South Carolina, and Ph.D. in Archaeology…
Meet Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Ukrainian Canadian Veterans, Branch 141 (Part I) 

After the Second World War, hundreds of branches of the Royal Canadian Legion were established across Canada where veterans of the war could gather and socialize. These branches became important community hubs of activity, from wedding socials to charitable fundraising, to having a beer with a buddy.  

The Ukrainian Canadian Veterans Branch 141 sold its building on Selkirk Avenue this last March, and though the Branch lives on, the building and its 70 years of social activity is history. I was able to visit the Legion branch as it was closing, and Ron Wachniak was kind enough to show me around and offer a few items for the Manitoba Museum to preserve and exhibit. 

A framed black and white photograph of a brick building exterior with a sign reading, “Ukrainian Canadian Veterans / Canadian Legion B.E.S.L.”. Written on the frame surrounding the photo, writing reads, “Ukrainian Canadian Veterans / Branch 141 / Royal Canadian Legion / Our First Home / 608-610 Selkirk Avenue / 1948”.

The first Ukrainian Canadian Veterans building, on Selkirk Avenue.

This served as the home of the Legion until the 1970s, when the new building at 618 Selkirk Avenue was built. 

A framed black and white photograph showing a group of uniformed men standing alongside neatly lined up empty wheelchairs. Written on the frame surrounding the photo, writing reads, “Legion - Mark Ten / Wheelchair Presentation April 20, 1975 at Branch 141 Royal Canadian Legion.” Written along the bottoms are the names of those pictured including S. Zloty, President Branch 141.

Branch 141 engaged in numerous fundraisers to provide funds and equipment to hospitals and veterans in need. Here the Legion presents 40 brand new wheelchairs. 

A black and white photograph showing seven women in dark Women’s Auxillary uniforms standing beside a woman in a white nurse’s uniform around a vintage television set placed on a small desk.

The Ladies Auxiliary to Ukrainian Canadian Veterans, Branch 141, presents a portable TV to patients at Deer Lodge in 1969.

Fundraising was an important part of Legion life for everyone involved. 

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Curator of History

Roland Sawatzky joined The Manitoba Museum in 2011. He received his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Winnipeg, M.A. in Anthropology from the University of South Carolina, and Ph.D. in Archaeology…
Meet Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Making the Old New Again, but Still Old! The Winnipeg 1920 Cityscape

One of our most popular exhibits at the Museum is the “Winnipeg 1920 Cityscape”. Built in 1974, it used to be called the “Urban Gallery.” It’s the immersive experience of this gallery that makes it so popular. People love to walk through the buildings, turn corners, step through doors, discovering bits of history as they explore.

Black and white video footage of traffic on a street in the early 1900s projected onto a faux building exterior. The footage is labelled "Portage Avenue".

But in my time at the museum I noticed a few issues with this family favourite. The biggest problem? Very few people knew what they were visiting! People called it the “old town,” “the prairie village,” and even “the mining town!” In fact, it was always meant to represent Winnipeg in the year 1920. Through the years, our Learning and Engagement team has done a great job of interpreting the space for school groups, but there was very little interpretation for the casual visitor. Many of the buildings were based on fictional places, so we need to update the gallery so they are based on real Winnipeg businesses and institutions (and people). Finally, the gallery kind of felt like a ghost town. But Winnipeg in 1920 was Canada’s third largest city, bustling with people of many backgrounds!

We had work to do, to educate visitors while enlivening the space.


New projections in Winnipeg 1920 highlight the busy streets of Canada’s third largest city.

This year, you’ll notice some changes. Eleven all new, realistic mannequins inhabit the space, and more are on the way. Audio dialogues can be heard in three of the rooms, with people discussing the Strike of 1919 and the upcoming provincial vote of June 1920, in which some women could vote for the first time. Panels will provide historical context for people and businesses. Video projections on various buildings bring the place to life with film and slides of Winnipeg from the period. Wait till you experience driving down Portage Avenue in 1920! You’ll be thankful for today’s traffic laws.

"Winnipeg Headlines 1920" projected onto a faux stone wall. To the left is a backdrop of an old Victorian-style building.

A series of 1920 headlines from the Winnipeg Tribune stream across a stone wall.

A terracotta grotesque smiling down from a building corner, illuminated by a street light below.

This fine fellow is ready to say hello to any visitor to the Tribune Building. And he’s got some friends…

View of a room in the Winnipeg 1920 Cityscape. In the far corner is an enclosed desk with a typewriting on it, with a sepia photograph hanging on the wall behind. to the left of the desk is another chair. A sign hangs on the wall above it reading, "Dominion Immigration Building / Welcome to/Bienvenue / Winnipeg, Manitoba".

When you visit the gallery, check out these spaces, which are all new or have important changes. Can you see what’s different?

  • Dominion Immigration Building
  • Sing Wo Laundry
  • Train station landing, Sleeping Car Porter
  • Colclough & Co. Drug Store
  • Boarding rooms, upstairs
  • James and Foote Photography, upstairs
  • Tribune Newspaper Building (look up!)
  • The Allen Theatre
  • Garvin Parlour and Dentist Office


The Dominion Immigration Building at the Canadian Pacific Railway station welcomed thousands of newcomers in the early 20th century.

And that’s just the start!

This project has been generously supported by The Manitoba Museum Foundation and the Province of Manitoba through the Heritage Grants Program.

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Curator of History

Roland Sawatzky joined The Manitoba Museum in 2011. He received his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Winnipeg, M.A. in Anthropology from the University of South Carolina, and Ph.D. in Archaeology…
Meet Dr. Roland Sawatzky

William Beal, Renaissance Man of the North 

This last summer the Museum installed a new permanent exhibit about William Beal in our Parklands Gallery. Beal was a settler from Minneapolis who arrived in the Swan River Valley north of Duck Mountain in 1906, and homesteaded in the Big Woody district. 

William Sylvester Alpheus Beal (1874-1968) is best known now as a photographer, and left behind dozens of high quality images of his fellow settlers in the region. But Beal was much more than a photographer – he was the “Renaissance Man” of Swan River, a true intellectual. Besides having his own photo studio, he was a professional steam engineer and oversaw engines at various logging operations. 

Photograph of a vintage box camera and various bottles of photography developing chemicals.

William Beal used a camera like this one to photograph the people of Swan River Valley. He developed the 5 X 7 inch glass negatives in his own studio using chemical mixtures. Eastman Kodak camera, circa 1903, and chemical bottles. H9-5-716A. Copyright Manitoba Museum. 

He was also an amateur astronomer and constructed his own telescope; he formed a literary and theatrical society, and organized musical recitals; he organized and served on the local school board for 37 years; he was an assistant to the local doctor, providing a type of vaccine injection to locals during the 1918 Influenza pandemic; he was an electrician and fine carpenter; and he was renowned for owning a vast library. Evidently the only thing that didn’t interest him was farming, but he nevertheless cleared land, harvested crops, and received his full homestead grant.  

Black Settlers in Manitoba

The racism William Beal experienced in the United States denied him his chance of becoming a medical doctor. Though he formed close friendships in the Big Woody district, he was the only Black man in the area, and experienced racism there as well. 

In the early 1900s the Canadian government actively prevented immigration of Black people to Canada, through misinformation campaigns, bribery of officials, and arbitrary requirements not asked of white immigrants. In 1911, 200 Black farmers from Oklahoma were finally able to enter Manitoba at Emerson, after a rigorous and delayed inspection. It’s not known what hurdles Beal faced when entering Manitoba back in 1906, but after he settled in Big Woody district, he was there to stay, and contributed so much to the local community. He passed away in 1968 at the age of 94. 

Black and white vintage photograph of a couple in front of a makeshift hanging backdrop. The moustachioed man is sitting, wearing a dark suit and tie. At his shoulder stands a woman wearing a button-up blouse and long skirt. Both have serious expressions and are looking slightly out of frame to their left.

Abe and Dora Hanson, Big Woody district, Swan River MB c. 1917. Photo by William Beal. 

A family on a wooden porch in front the door of a building. A man sits on a chair with a toddler on his knee. Beside him stands a woman holding a smiling baby. A rifle is propped against the doorframe beside them.

Percy and Emma Potten with children, Evelyn and Bert, Big Woody district, Swan River MB 1915. Photo by William Beal. 

A man and a woman sitting side by side in front of a make-shift hanign backdrop. The man is bundled up, wearing a dark jacket and neck kerchief. The woman is wearing a light-coloured top and apron with a lightly-patterned skirt and a neck kerchief. Both are looking directly into the camera with serious expressions.

Roy and Hilda Sedore, Big Woody district, Swan River MB c. 1916. Photo by William Beal. 

Billy: The Life and Photography of William S. A. Beal, was published in 1988 by Leigh Hambly and Rob Barrows, a former Manitoba Museum photographer who grew up in the Swan River Valley. It features detailed research on Beal’s life and many of his photographs. 

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Curator of History

Roland Sawatzky joined The Manitoba Museum in 2011. He received his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Winnipeg, M.A. in Anthropology from the University of South Carolina, and Ph.D. in Archaeology…
Meet Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Resilience During the Great Depression

In the 1930s the people of the Canadian prairies experienced both an economic collapse and an environmental disaster. The stock market crash came first, in 1929, followed by a decade of drought in central North America. Wheat prices plummeted, and many crops were totally destroyed. Two thirds of prairie residents would eventually require “public relief” to survive.

With farms failing or deserted, and local economies in crisis, there was simply no cash to be had. How did these victims of disaster provide for their families? Many abandoned their livelihoods or farms and moved across the country, looking for work. Others took what aid they could find, including government work projects or vouchers for food and coal. Everyone became resilient and creative in their day to day lives.

The exhibit about the Depression in our new Prairies Gallery showcases artifacts of thriftiness and determination in desperate times.

A child's size skit suit on a dress form. The skirt and jacket are made from a heathered grey material, with a few flowers embroidered on the lapels of the jacket. A button-up white shirt is underneath.

Gwendolyne Dowsett received this wool suit when she was 11 years old. Her mother made it with material from three pairs of boys’ pants. The family won a prize of $2.50 for the outfit in a Neepawa thriftiness contest. TMM H9-11-952

A wooden bookend made of wood of varying shades of brown and orange. On the front is a bison on a hill top.

Kusti Saarinen made bookends to sell during the Depression. He collected discarded wood cigar boxes from tobacco shops to use for inlay material. TMM H9-7-425

A portion of a bed quilt made of squares alternating in white and cream. Each square has a round "flower" shape made of patchwork pieces of colourful fabric.

Julia Alice Tallon used cotton flour sacks for the base of this bed quilt. The pattern is called “Dresden Plate,” popular in the 1930s. TMM H9-29-494

A wooden toy hay wagon with yellow wheels, a green base, and a red wagon top.

Reverend George McMillan made wooden toys, like this hay wagon, for his children during the Depression years. TMM H9-36-909

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Curator of History

Roland Sawatzky joined The Manitoba Museum in 2011. He received his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Winnipeg, M.A. in Anthropology from the University of South Carolina, and Ph.D. in Archaeology…
Meet Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Remembering Private David Thomas of Peguis First Nation

Sepia photograph of a young man wearing an army uniform and hat.

In recognition and celebration of National Indigenous History Month, we’re featuring an artifact from Private David Thomas, a Peguis First Nation soldier who died in the First World War. An exhibit featuring his story and a handkerchief he had sent to his sister from Europe was on display in November 2020. Unfortunately we closed to the public that week because of a COVID-19 province wide lockdown, and no one was able to see the exhibit! We’re putting it up again in November, 2021, and then it will become part of the Parklands Gallery “Impact of War” permanent exhibit.

David Thomas was only 18 years old when he left his home at Peguis Reserve to fight in the Great War in Europe. He joined the 108th Battalion (Selkirk) in 1916, which was soon shipped out to England. A year later he was killed in the Battle of Passchendaele, in Belgium. Private Thomas died on October 26, 1917, the first day of the assault, possibly a victim of a poison gas attack. The 27th Battalion (City of Winnipeg), was finally able to capture the village of Passchendaele on November 6. Over 4,000 Canadians died and almost 12,000 were injured in two weeks of horrific fighting.

Private David Thomas, 1916. Courtesy Karen Schnerch.

Private Thomas likely purchased this beautiful handkerchief in France. He sent it to his sister Mary Ann, who was living at Peguis Reserve. It is embroidered with a maple leaf and crown, and the words “Honour to Canada.” After learning of David’s death, she framed the handkerchief and it was displayed in Thomas family homes for over one hundred years. It was donated by the family to the Museum in 2020.

A framed silk handkerchief with lace detailing.

Framed silk handkerchief, 1917. H9-39-91. Image copyright Manitoba Museum

Close up on the centre of the handkerchief. Embroidered in the middle is a maple leaf with a royal crown in the centre and the word CANADA below, followed by the words "Honour to Canada".

The central crest features a maple leaf inset with a crown and the word “CANADA.” Below, the term “Honour to Canada” is embroidered. H9-39-91. Image copyright Manitoba Museum.

A black and white studio portrait of a young couple and baby in attire from the early 1900s. The young man stands beside the young woman who is seated with a baby on her lap.

David Thomas’ sister Mary Ann, her husband Frank Smith, and their daughter in 1912. Mary Ann received the handkerchief as a gift from David. Image courtesy Terry Overton, grand-niece of David Thomas.

A black and white photograph of a lone soldier trudging towards the camera through the mud and puddles of a battlefield.

First Nations Soldiers

Over one-third of eligible First Nations men and women in Canada voluntarily enlisted during the First World War. More than 50 First Nations soldiers received recognition for bravery during combat. While there was a shared sense of camaraderie with non-Indigenous soldiers during the war, they returned, having been stripped of their Treaty rights, to a country that provided no compensation or support for First Nations veterans after the war.


The Battle of Passchendaele, where David Thomas was killed. Also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, the fighting raged on with British, New Zealand, Australian, and Canadian troops pitched against German forces for over three months. “Battle of Passchendaele – Mud and Boche wire through which Canadians had to advance.” CWM 19930013-512, Canadian War Museum

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Curator of History

Roland Sawatzky joined The Manitoba Museum in 2011. He received his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Winnipeg, M.A. in Anthropology from the University of South Carolina, and Ph.D. in Archaeology…
Meet Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Exploring Black History in the Museum Collections

To celebrate Black History Month, I wanted to share an important collection that helps to illuminate Black history in mid-20th century Manitoba and Western Canada.

From the 1980s until 2010, the Manitoba Museum was the recipient of donations related to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a Black union of railway workers. (For more information, click here to read History blog Black Railway Workers and the Winnipeg General Strike)

A former curator described the museum materials as documenting “how the members of the various Black organizations…were instrumental in creating a strong social network that eventually changed the social climate in Winnipeg for Black citizens.” The solidarity of these organizations provided an important structure to counter the discrimination against the Black community in Winnipeg.

Sepia photograph of a smiling young Black man wearing a railway worker uniform. He is standing outdoors in front of a building entrance with his arms crossed in front of his chest.

This unidentified railway worker was photographed outside the Main St. entrance to the CN station in Winnipeg. Date unknown. Copyright Manitoba Museum, H9-37-208 N14036H.

The cover of a document, the agreement between The Canadian Pacific Railway Co. and Sleeping Car Porters, represented by The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, effective June 1st, 1945.

1945 Union Agreement between the CPR and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Copyright Manitoba Museum, H9-36-942b.

A photograph of a large group of primarily Black adults and children smiling outside of a brick building. Text above the photo reads, "Pilgrim Baptist Church". Text below reads, "We the Officers and Members of Pilgrim Baptist Church cordially invite you to worship with us."

The Pilgrim Baptist Church, 1952, from the Souvenir Program of a meeting of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Founded in 1924, the church was deeply intertwined with the other organizations and provided an important place for the safe expression of faith. Copyright Manitoba Museum, H9-37-195.

A poster for an Elks' Banquet & Dance, taking place on Friday, No. 29, 1963 at the Russian Hall.

Elks Poster, 1963. The Black Elks of Menelik Lodge #528 (IBPOE), was part of a North American organization promoting civil rights and community support. Copyright Manitoba Museum, H9-37-9.

Hand-written tickets to a Ladies Auxiliary fundraising and social event, 1956. The Auxiliary of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, established in 1945, had a great impact on the community network, especially as it related to challenges to racial discrimination in the workplace. Copyright Manitoba Museum, H9-36-975f.

A blank membership application card for the Canadian League for the Advancement of Coloured People.

Membership application card, late 1940s. The Canadian League for the Advancement of Coloured People, Winnipeg Branch, was founded in 1945 at Pilgrim Baptist Church. Copyright Manitoba Museum.

Two smiling Black men sitting together. One holds a walking cane.

Former railway workers Junior Hobson and Jimmy Stevenson, circa 1990, Winnipeg. Photography by Robert Barrow, copyright Manitoba Museum.

Finally, the Porters’ Social and Charitable Association started in the late 1930s at 817 ½ Main Street, and acted as a social hub and meeting place for organizations.

The collection includes artifacts and 22 boxes of archival materials and photographs dating from the 1910s to the 1960s. Part of the collection was used to create the exhibition “Back Tracks to Railroad Ties: The First Journey, The Early History of Black People in Canada” in partnership with members of the Black community and the Archives of Manitoba, and shown at the Manitoba Museum in 1994. The Museum collection is available for researchers by appointment (COVID restrictions apply), and the Archives of Manitoba also includes a large associated collection.

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Curator of History

Roland Sawatzky joined The Manitoba Museum in 2011. He received his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Winnipeg, M.A. in Anthropology from the University of South Carolina, and Ph.D. in Archaeology…
Meet Dr. Roland Sawatzky