First World War: Online stories from home front and frontline


- Lisa Abram

A screenshot of the new exhibit's homepage.

The story of the First World War is often one told about life overseas: the trenches, the training and the comradeship. But the war was also fought in the hearts and minds of those on the home front: the families and friends from Victoria, as well as in the rest of Canada.

Canada is marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle for Vimy Ridge on April 9. A victory for Canadian infantry but won at a terrible human price, Vimy is considered to be a turning point in the formation of a Canadian national identity. A new virtual exhibit of historical material—Victoria to Vimy—was unveiled today by UVic Libraries in time for this important milestone to commemorate the First World War.

Nearly 4,000 items of historical significance is a free online resource featuring over 3,700 digitized selections from the university’s archival collections. It includes letters, diaries, postcards, individual photographs, photo albums, scrapbooks, war records, audio-oral histories and artifacts. It represents the documents and mementos families kept, used, and cherished, providing comfort to loved ones and reminding returning soldiers of the battles they fought and the sacrifices they witnessed.

“In showcasing our implementation of this open-source exhibit software, our digital collection enables increased access to our rare and unique materials, furthering our strategic directions in support of teaching, research and open access to Canada’s documentary history,” says Lara Wilson, director of Special Collections and University Archivist.

Victoria to Vimy seeks to share the local stories and diverse perspectives of the men and women who lived through the Great War. Victorians Archie Wills, Joseph Clearihue (UVic’s first Chancellor, 1963-1966) and Theodore Monk enlisted to fight in a war far overseas. Stories of brave, ordinary Canadians from across the country are also told in this exhibit—captivating the public with personal war-time experiences from 100 years ago.

“UVic Libraries developed a number of new features to improve user experience, including our scrapbook viewer that allows you to examine each object in minute detail, and our download tool that allows you to copy images, pages, or whole books quickly and easily. We have even included curriculum guides so that teachers can work with this material in the classroom,” says Lisa Goddard, associate university librarian, digital scholarship and strategy.

Captivating stories about local families

Victoria to Vimy invites us to explore personal scrapbooks, photographs and postcards or listen to interviews with over 40 local veterans of the First World War.

Within the collection is a Victoria resident’s story of amazing luck. Born in London, England in 1888, Merlin Huth initially booked passage in 1912 to Canada on the Titanic, but changed to a different liner due to circumstance and logistics.

After this close call, Huth joined the military in 1914. He was wounded in battle and suffered an ensuing infection. He was evacuated to Egypt to patrol the desert on camel.

“Victoria to Vimy is an incredible online resource that tells the stories of Victoria’s citizens overseas and on the home front. It’s a really interesting site to explore since you get to see pictures, read diaries, and hear stories of those fighting in the trenches, while also reading the scrapbooks and letters of the brothers, sisters, wives and friends trying to live their lives in Victoria during the war. It’s really a touching multimedia experience,” says J. Matthew Huculak, postdoctoral fellow, who was part of the technical and design team.

Adding to the oral history richness are descendants of soldiers who continue to live in Victoria including members of the Clearihue and Destrubé families, with records on the latter highlighting this modern, multicultural family at the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth centuries.

Community engagement, with generous support

Students and teachers also have access to the guides and curriculum to learn more about the war, and the people who left the safety of their homes to fight in the mud and mire of the front. Part of that collection of materials are letters and photographs, recently donated to UVic Special Collections and University Archives by the Destrubé family.

UVic Special Collections and University Archives serves as a research and teaching resource for students, faculty, and the community at large. Its mandate is to acquire, preserve, and make accessible rare books, manuscripts, maps and plans, photographs, oral history interviews, and the records of the University and its predecessors.

Victoria to Vimy is sponsored by a World War Commemorations Community Fund grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage.


In this story

Keywords: war, Europe, community, research

People: J. Matthew Huculak

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