Ninety seconds, $50,000: Artillery Museum wins medals at auction

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Article / February 21, 2020 / Project number: 19-0208

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By Jules Xavier, Shilo Stag

Shilo, Manitoba —It wasn’t Christmas, but Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA) Museum director, Andrew Oakden, received a special gift: medals once worn by legendary artillery officer Major-General Tom Strange.

The medals, one awarded to MGen Strange for his role in the Northwest Rebellion and the other for service in India, cost more than $50,000. They were purchased from Spink Auction House in the UK with funds raised by the RCA Senate, which works to promote and preserve the RCA’s heritage.

The fundraising was led by Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery Colonel Commandant Brigadier General (Retired) J.J. Selbie.

Mr. Oakden said staff at the auction house brought the medals to the museum’s attention.

“They likely saw him listed on our website as a great gunner and thought we would be interested,” he added. “That was true. A sizeable family collection of Strange medals were up for auction, including those of his son, Harry Strange. We were not successful with the bidding on those.”

“They had six hundred lots on the first day [of the auction],” recalled a beaming Mr. Oakden after unpacking the medals, both contained in plastic coverings similar to those used to protect prized hockey cards or comic books.

“They started at lot one and went to lot 600. The general’s medals were lot 501. They came up at 10:15 a.m., and bidding ended about a minute later. The auction started 3 a.m. our time, 9 a.m. in London.”

Given the prestige and historical value of many of the items up for bidding, he added, there were likely many large collectors involved.

“It’s possible we were bidding against other museums or Canadian Gunners who wanted to own them.”

In addition to the Strange medals, the RCA Museum also owns a published biography of the Major General entitled Jingo, The Buckskin Brigadier Who Opened Up the Canadian West, by James B. Lamb.

MGen Strange, the son of a Scottish military officer, was born in India in 1831 and commissioned into the Royal Artillery at age 20. He came to Canada in 1872 to serve as Inspector of Artillery and Warlike Stores for Canada and to command the Royal Artillery’s B Battery in Quebec, where he became a well-respected member of the local community thanks in part to his fluency in French.

Following a period of service in Kingston, Ontario – now home to the Royal Military College, the creation of which MGen Strange had advocated – he was forced to retire with the honorary rank of Major General.

Though he had developed a reputation for being uncompromising among other officers, MGen Strange was called out of retirement and left his Alberta ranch to organize the defence of the region with the outbreak of the Northwest Rebellion in 1885.

He led the Alberta Field Force, an untested amalgamation of militia, Mounted Police, and a number of civilians. After an unsuccessful attempt to enter politics, MGen Strange relocated to England, where he died in July 1925.

Major-General R.G.A. Luard, who commanded the Canadian Militia from 1880-1884, called MGen Strange “a father to the Artillery of Canada.”

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