Wayne Dupphinee, curator with the Lt. General Ashton Armoury Museum, was part of the corps of volunteers on hand on Saturday at the museum for an event dubbed “Muskets to Machine Guns: The Evolution of Military Firearms.”
The presentation showcased about 40 of the museum’s 300 weapons in a presentation that spanned more than 150 years of firearms development and the role that these weapons had in Canada’s history.
“We have this fantastic collection, and once a year we bring out selected weapons that people can actually touch and hold. It’s a terrific opportunity to provide some context to history in a way that just reading about the events can’t accomplish,” said Dupphinee.
As one example, he cites the reaction he gets from visitors when they first lift a First World War vintage Lee Enfield rifle.
“These rifles are very heavy in comparison with today’s weapons. People are amazed at their weight and I’ve had more than one person mention that it’s hard to imagine troops trying to run through the mud of no man’s land carrying this weapon. It brings that history to life in a way.”
Collin Wyatt, another of the museum’s curators and one of the folks who clean, maintain and curate the facility’s weapons collection has always had an interest in firearms and echoes Dupphinee’s sentiments that these weapons are not being celebrated for their own sake but explained within the context of history.
“We show visitors the Brown Bess, for example. That’s a muzzle-loading, smooth-bore musket that was used during the War of 1812. It helps to bring the events of that war to life as people hold the (10-pound) weapon.”
All of the curators on hand at the armoury event acknowledged that the controversies surrounding firearms, particularly in light of the prevalence of mass shootings in the United States, has created the need to ensure that people understand that a historical knowledge of firearms does not translate into an advocacy for guns on any level.
“These weapons are here to teach history and the role that these guns … these tools …. had in sharing our history. It is not a celebration of firearms, but rather an effort to educate and create understanding,” said Peter Laursea, another arms curator at the museum.
In addition to the firearms in the museum’s possession, they have a significant collection of vintage clothing and uniforms, Second World War memorabilia (including an impressive display of “trench art”) and several dioramas depicting everything from a Second World War radio intercept decoding room to a First World War trench dugout.
“We also have 11 vintage military vehicles that are licensed by ICBC as roadworthy and we take them out for events and exhibits, along with some fantastic static displays,” said Dupphinee.
More information on the Ashton Armoury Museum can be found atashtonarmourymuseum.com/the-armoury.