Timely Great War exhibit in Langley opens to full house

Hundreds gathered at the Langley Centennial Museum Sunday to meet with author and historian Warren Sommer and his First World War exhibit.

Fans were lined up to see him hours ahead.

Emails were still being exchanged by event organizers at midnight, the night before the show.

Staff were literally running around putting last-minute touches (including a few little dabs of paint) on the show, as the doors were being flung open to the public.

Sound like the lead up to a huge concert or some other celebrity showcase.

Well, the fanfare was all for Langley historian, author and guest curator Warren Sommer and the opening of the latest exhibition at the Langley Centennial Museum.

The exhibit, entitled Sacrifice and Sorrow: Langley and the Great War, opened Sunday to a full house.

It was a timely opening, held on the same day as the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

“It’s tempting to trumpet the successes of the Canadian corps on the battlefield,” Sommer told the crowd.

“But, if anything, the message offered is one of sacrifice and sorrow. So many young lives full of promise were cut prematurely short; parents left childless, wives without a husband, children without a father, and each of the combatant nations rendered much the poorer for the loss of many of their best and brightest,” Sommer said, Sunday also marking the launch of his newest book – decades in the making – Canucks in Khaki.

The museum exhibit, which Sommer helped curate, is designed “to show not just how the war was fought, but how it impacted the lives of those who participated in it – whether as soldiers on the front lines, as nurses tending to their injuries (many of them so grievous as to defy description), or as civilians back at home: women, children, and old men who struggled to keep family farms afloat, who found employment in jobs formerly the exclusive domain of adult males, who knitted socks until their fingers were raw, and who organized endless whist drives, raffles, dances, and concerts, all in aid of the men overseas,” he elaborated.

Jeff Chenatte, acting cultural service manager for the museum, lauded and gave thanks to Sommer for his efforts to bring the “timely and important exhibit” to fruition.

“Of course, he is launching his book today, but from the decades of research that went into his book, there arose a need to exhibit, to assemble the vast array of artifacts that help tell the story of the Great War. To those ends, an agreement was reached to have Mr. Sommer curate the exhibit here today.”

Chenatte credited Sommer and museum curator Kobi Christian for putting together the “meticulously” identified collection of artifacts and elements in the exhibit.

The results: A room packed, wall to wall, with pictures, posters, information boards, and countless displays of artifacts from the Great War.

On Sunday, however, more than 250 people squeezed in between all the show elements to meet Sommer and admire the exhibit that Sommer said was made possible thanks to the generosity of other museums in the region: Chilliwack, Surrey, New Westminster, White Rock, Royal Westminster Regiment, and the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada museums.

“It’s admittedly a large exhibition in a small space,” Sommer said, encouraging people to come back and see it again when they have more time and space allowed.

The exhibit runs until July 16 at the Langley Centennial Museum, 9135 King St. in Fort Langley.

“Much has been said this week of the importance of Canada’s contribution to the war effort, and how it embodied the birth of our nation, but it was not without cost,” Chenatte said.

“I feel both Warren’s book and this exhibit illustrate the price that was paid. I truly believe that the effort of Mr. Sommer and Mrs. Christian have honoured those that fought so gallantly and gave so selflessly and commemorated the Sacrifice and Sorrow, which underpinned so many aspects of the Great War, and they did so in such a respectful and dignified manner,” he concluded.

• Click here to see more photos from the opening