Artful Blogger

EXHIBITION LAUNCH: You don’t have to be from New Brunswick to like this show (but it helps)

Clifford Billiard of Saint John joined the corvette HMCS Camrose in 1941 as a stoker, second class. Photo: Rebecca Mawhinney, L2004-7.12

By Paul Gessell

New Brunswick royalty — or at least those N.B. expats in Ottawa who aspire to lofty heights — came out in droves this month for the opening of an impressive exhibition at the Canadian War Museum.

There was at least one federal cabinet minister from New Brunswick (Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield), a multi-partisan clutch of MPs and senators, high-level bureaucrats, and other expat boys-and-girls-who-made-good, including John McAvity, the New Brunswick lad who has, it seems, been executive director of the Ottawa-based Canadian Museums Association since Confederation. (Well, almost).

Additionally, a coterie of cabinet ministers, MLAs, and bureaucrats journeyed from New Brunswick to the national capital to catch the opening and to frolic at a “New Brunswick kitchen party,” complete with old-time fiddlers, step dancers, and a few embarrassed looking stuffed shirts frogmarched to the front of the museum’s cafeteria for a jolly round of clacking spoons on knees.

Merriment abounded, although there were a few complaints that the guests invited to the kitchen party were then invited to sidle up to the cash bar for a drink and to pay $4.99 for a plate of Irish stew or fish and chips.

As a part-time New Brunswicker, I can tell you that I have never been invited to a kitchen, rumpus room, or back deck party in Moncton, Fredericton, Shediac, or Saint John and been asked to buy my booze or nibblies. As well, I have yet to witness New Brunswickers clacking spoons in Fredericton, Grand Falls, or Edmundston. But maybe N.B. expats do things differently once they hit Ottawa. And as we all know, Ottawa is not awash in cash these days — just ask all the pink-slipped employees of the fisheries department.

Anyway, these 200 or so partiers were attending the opening of New Brunswickers in Wartime 1914-1946. The exhibition tells the stories of so-called “ordinary” people from that Maritime province during the two world wars. Those stories of fighting soldiers and their families back home are told in photographs, film clips, text panels, and an amazing assortment of artifacts, including uniforms, gas masks, and recruitment posters.

The exhibition was created by the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John in 2005. It has been touring the province off and on since then and now is in Ottawa until April 9, 2012. Although the exhibition deals with the stories of New Brunswickers, their stories are really the same stories as those of all Canadians who were sent to the frontlines of Europe or toiled in an armaments factory at home.

Expect to see more exhibitions from “the provinces” at the museum in coming years as museums across the country husband their dollars better by researching and mounting exhibitions jointly. The National Gallery has been importing art shows from across the country for decades. Let’s hope the gallery collars the planned Lucian Freud exhibition tentatively planned in 2013 for the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton. That show has the potential to be the art exhibition of the year in Canada. Maybe New Brunswick royalty could gather again for a kitchen party, this time at the National Gallery, to celebrate the occasion. And maybe the gallery could even throw in some free canapés.

New Brunswickers in Wartime 1914-1946. Until April 9, 2012. Canadian War Museum, 1 Vimy Place. www.warmuseum.ca