The Military Museums of Calgary display First World War uniforms of Canadian soldiers, collected by Calgarian, Victor Taboika.
In his exhibition, Taboika has an endless row of mannequins dressed in the uniforms of those whose stories are untold.
Full of enthusiasm, Taboika carries a heavy item into the room.
“A new acquisition,” he smiles with pride, “a pack saddle used to carry the Vickers machine gun in the First World War.”
Taboika adds it to his extensive exhibit located at Cooper-Key Hall in the museum, where faceless figures come alive thanks to the photographs and stories behind them.Among them are the belongings of Sam Steele (1849 – 1919), an NWMP officer and a major figure in the history of Western Canada.
“This is [Steele’s] his hat, [he was] an iconic hero and Canada’s equivalent to Davy Crockett,” says Taboika, pointing to one of the many hats.
His deep-rooted interest in collecting different army items dates back to his childhood in Sherbrooke, Quebec.
“I came from a rural area that had provided soldiers to the First and Second World War,” says Taboika. He explains that it was George Dunsmore – a family friend and a combatant in the First World War who used to amuse a 13-year-old Taboika with his medals, stories and battle experiences.
“There’s two kinds of people: those who refused to talk about the war and those who were happy to share their journey with you, like George Dunsmore,” recalls Taboika.
The collector, now 60 years old, has saved army items and personal belongings from Canadian soldiers for more than 40 years. He used to store the uniforms at his house until he and his wife ran out of space.
When the time came, he dusted off his private collection and decided to move it somewhere else.
“An opportunity came about the house next door. We took it and I turned it into a showroom. We designed it in a way that it was cut out as a two-level gallery,” explains Taboika.
Later, in 1994, he opened his first gallery in Calgary.
Taboika’s exhibition displays army uniforms, cigarette holders, wooden shaving brushes, gas masks, and many other collectibles. For Taboika, sharing his acquisitions goes beyond exposing military items.
“We have around 18,000 kids coming in every year. This is our heritage. Those who served [in the First World War] represent who we are, how we speak and the clothes we wear today,” says Taboika.
“We have a clothing rack with army jackets so the kids interact with history. It excites an interest in history and excites an understanding of what happened.”
Taboika brought his exhibition to the Calgary Military Museums in 2015, where it’s expected to remain until 2018. By then, Taboika hopes to fulfil his long-term goal to set up a permanent gallery at the War Museum in Ottawa.
- By Ingrid Mir