by Treva McNally
The militia has a long history on PEI beginning in 1780 when the Island’s first Militia Act was passed. It has been through many changes since then before emerging as the Prince Edward Island Regiment, a reserve unit based at the Queen Charlotte Armoury at the west end of Water Street in Charlottetown. Outside the Armoury, a vintage tank and armoured vehicle are on display; inside is the Prince Edward Island Regiment Museum where artifacts from a long military history are carefully preserved.
You will be disappointed if you expect to see displays of weaponry. This museum reflects the men and women of Prince Edward Island who served in Canada’s military, and gives a sense of life in Canada during wartime. A framed display features Christmas cards from 1916 reflecting patriotic themes and soldiers’ sentiments about being away from home; a Star Weekly cover from World War II shows a man in uniform with an admiring female; and posters ask everyone to buy War Savings Stamps, Certificates, and Victory Bonds.
Some marvelous uniforms are on display, such as the 1930 PEI Light Horse Mess Dress Uniform made of red and gold serge with a white leather helmet topped with red and gold plumes. Another is the North Nova Scotia Highlander dress uniform complete with bagpipes, sporran and beautiful pin which holds the tartan sash in place. The walls are filled with displays of military insignia, badges, and gleaming brass buttons, including a Canadian Officer Training Corp badge from St. Dunstan’s College which later became part of the University of Prince Edward Island.
The story of the Regiment is, in some ways, the story of PEI. The first depiction of trees as the symbol of the province appear on an etched breast plate from the early 1800s worn by members of the P.E.I. Volunteer Militia. One of the few pieces of weaponry in the museum is an 1807 six pound field gun which looks like a small cannon. It was shipped to PEI in 1812 from England to be used for local defense but was used by the Post Master on ships bringing the Royal Mail to PEI from Pictou, NS to signal residents that the mail had arrived.
The Regiment Museum has made the best use possible of all available space to display its treasures which go right up to the ceiling and cover every wall. It is well worth a visit—for many older visitors, it will be a walk down memory lane; for younger visitors, it will give a better sense of why Canadians observe Remembrance Day.