A new digital exhibition offers a glimpse of life in Canada during the Second World War. Based on clippings in a scrapbook made in the 1940s by the mother of Canadian wartime journalist Jack Calder, the exhibit considers how the home front and battle fronts were connected.
Calder, who worked as a reporter for the Chatham Daily News prior to enlisting, was a natural storyteller and was among the first to document the war from the front lines sharing details of raids, take downs, and even encounters with the royal family.
Through her work on the Chatham Coloured All-Stars, librarian Heidi Jacobs became well acquainted with the work of Calder, who documented the All-Stars’ barrier-breaking season in 1934. It was Dr. Jacobs’ research on Calder that led his niece, Patricia Calder, to reach out to Jacobs and eventually share her grandmother’s scrapbook documenting the life of Jack Calder.
Jack Calder at War: A Canadian Mother’s WWII Scrapbook is a result of Calder and Jacobs’ conversations. It features newspaper clippings, photographs, telegrams, and letters which were sent between 1940-1944 while Calder served in the Royal Canadian Air Force. But this web exhibit also incorporates Patricia Calder’s fictional imaginings of what her grandmother might have thought as she collected material and assembled her scrapbook.
“While war stories are often told through discussions of battles and strategies, victories and defeats, the lesser explored stories of war in Canada are the ones that happened far from the battle fields and war rooms,” Jacobs explains on the exhibit website. “These stories took place in the smallest corners of the home fronts like the dining tables where families gathered to read telegrams, pour over newspaper articles, and, as was the case with Agnes Calder, to make a scrapbook to somehow preserve the story and the life of someone deeply loved and mourned.”
Jack Calder at War: A Canadian Mother's WWII Scrapbook is a collaboration between Jacobs and Patricia Calder for the Leddy Library’s Centre for Digital Scholarship. It is another example of how familial records can help preserve historical contexts.
Leddy Library’s archivist and wartime scholar, Sarah Glassford, assisted with the project. She says that the Calder family’s scrapbook is a great way to organize information and preserve mementoes relating to the life, military service, and death of Jack Calder but it also serves a greater purpose.
“As an object, it is a repository of memory, full of evidence about who Jack was and what he did,” Dr. Glassford says. “But it is also a deliberate act of storytelling and memory-keeping on the part of Jack’s mother Agnes.”
Unlike other history projects that feature just primary documents, the inclusion of the fictional imaginings of Patricia Calder helps weave together two stories: the first, a story of a young Canadian man at war in Europe, and the second, a fictional imagining of a mother waiting anxiously for updates of her son.
“Patricia Calder’s creative writing in this exhibit amplifies that whispering second voice, giving us the opportunity to imagine what Agnes’s war years, and her emotional state when creating the scrapbook, might have been,” says Glassford.