Second World War Discovery Box deals with ‘difficult history’

Article / October 22, 2019 / Project number: 19-0258

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Ottawa, Ontario — The Canadian War Museum (CWM) is bringing the Second World War to life for students across the country with a new “Discovery Box” of artifacts designed to stimulate discussion in the classroom.

The project is a follow up to the CWM’s Supply Line First World War Discovery Box, which has been borrowed more than 1,900 times since the museum launched the initiative in 2014.

This year, the museum is circulating 20 Second World War kits and 30 First World War kits, which will be loaned to schools free of charge for two weeks at a time. Both are aimed at students from Grades 4 to 12.

Sandra O’Quinn, a Learning Specialist with CWM, said the Second World War box contains 23 artifacts, some reproductions, others authentic. There are hands-on objects and clothing, photographs and documents. As was the case with the First World War version, she added, they were chosen to spark students’ curiosity.

“A big part of the current curriculum in most provinces is teaching historical literacy skills and inquiry-based thinking,” she said. “So by giving them things that are curious and cause them to ask questions, it opens up a whole line of thinking for the teacher to run with.”

Feedback from the first round of Second World War kit loans is still being gathered, but Ms. O’Quinn said she suspects students will be fascinated by two artifacts in particular: a lifeboat ration tin and a “sweetheart pin.”

“It's a real ration,” Ms. O’Quinn said of the former. “We filled it with epoxy so that it won’t spoil. It’s got chocolate tablets, some crackers. You open it up and it still smells like chocolate.”

“Sweetheart pins were often given by a service person to their loved one,” she added. “They really capture the daily lives of Canadians at home during the war.”

Difficult history themes

One big take-away from the user feedback received, Ms. O’Quinn noted, was that teachers wanted more focus on the experiences of women and visible minorities in wartime. The museum has responded by incorporating the story of Japanese-Canadians who were forcibly relocated over concerns about their loyalty.

The product also deals with the Holocaust.

“Teachers don't want to shy away from difficult history so that's why we felt it was important to include those,” Ms. O’Quinn said.

Also among the artifacts is a helmet of the sort worn, not only by soldiers on the front, but also by Canadian Women’s Army Corps members and civilians volunteers on the home front.

“We have an image of a group of African-Canadians in the Dartmouth area and they're all wearing the helmets,” said Ms. O’Quinn. “It shows the diversity of those affected and of those participating in the war.”

The museum has also created supplementary materials to aid teachers, and they include first-hand accounts from Canadians who lived through the period to deepen the experience for students.

“I think there are a lot of opportunities to link those people with the objects and have even more depth of learning,” said Ms. O’Quinn.

Bookings for both First and Second World War kits begin November 1

Bookings were completely filled by schools in all regions of Canada for the first school term.

Reservations for the winter school term can be made beginning November 1.

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