I have always had an interest in history, especially the stories and history of our Royal Canadian Navy. But never in my dreams did I ever think I would be gathering a large collection of historical photos from veterans of the RCN.
This unexpected journey began in 1997, as commanding officer of a cadet corps named after the corvette, HMCS TRENTONIAN, I wanted to teach my cadets about their namesake ship. This led me to Bruce Keir from Scarborough, Ontario. Bruce served in the corvette and was a survivor of her torpedoing on 22 February 1945.
I visited Bruce at his home and we talked for several hours. He related many incredible stories from his service in TRENTONIAN. He then pulled out a very old scrap book. My heart jumped when he opened the book and started to show me over 180 photos from his fifteen months of service in TRENTONIAN. The pictures showed everything they did, convoys on the North Atlantic, invasion operations at Normandy, shore leave and daily life in his ship.
It was at this time I realized that the story of TRENTONIAN was nationally and internationally important. She was the last corvette lost in action during WWII and with an unprecedented pictorial record. I began to research and write my book, White Ensign Flying -The Story of HMCS TRENTONIAN.
Bruce and I met on several more occasions and he introduced me to many more of his shipmates. Before long I had collected and digitally scanned over 300 photos of TRENTONIAN.
With time, other RCN veterans approached me with their own personal photos and the collection of images began to grow. I digitally scan each collection at a high resolution so they can be published in print. When possible I go through the photos with the veteran and caption the photos and add tags so they can be searched by ship, location, event, activity, etc. I then return the original photos with a DVD of the scans to the donor.
So far, I have collected and scanned over 1000 personal photos from veterans of the RCN. The pictures range from the 1930’s to present day and depict and incredible aspect of the lives of our sailors. As these are personal pictures, they show what is important to the men and women that have served. This is a personal and unique depiction of the life of a sailor as compared to the official photos provided by the RCN.
When I collect the photos I explain to the donor that I will use them for my own research and writing. I will also make the photos available to anyone that is researching the RCN, and their photos may be published in other books, papers, reports. I am happy to say that several of the pictures have made the covers of magazines.
As part of the donation and safe keeping of this growing collection, I donate the entire digital images to several museums across Canada. This makes the collection accessible to any researcher and provides a unique perspective to the lives of our sailors. To date the collection is available at the Military Museums of Alberta in Calgary, The Naval Museum of Manitoba in Winnipeg and the Canadian Naval Memorial Trust in Halifax.
As I visit museums across Canada, this collection will be donated to other naval museums.
Anyone is welcome to donate to the collection. Several of the collections have been donated by the families of veterans who have passed, many times I have heard, “We don’t know what to do with Grandpa’s old photo albums.”
On my website , Twitter and Facebook, I post daily a photo from the collection with a caption and credit to the donor. The posted photos are archived under the “Photo of the Day” page on my website. You can also use the search bar to look for specific photos by tags. All posted photos include the digital file number. If anyone wants to use a specific photo, email me the file number and I can easily find the photo from the collection and email a high resolution copy for publishing.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss donating your pictures.
I am honoured that so many of our veterans have entrusted me with preserving their pictorial memories of their service. For me this has become a labour of love, a passion for protecting, preserving and making available to all, the incredible personal stories of our Royal Canadian Navy sailors, past, present and future.