From the outside, the former guardhouse just off Highway 97 appears to retain the well-worn textures and colours that harken back to the early 1940s, when Vernon Military Camp housed thousands of soldiers training for duty overseas in the Second World War.
Inside, it’s a different story.
In the spring of 2013, the building was declared surplus to needs and the keys were handed over to Francois Arseneault, who spent the summers between 1978 and 1980 at the oldest army cadet training camp in Canada.
After his summers in Vernon, Arseneault became interested in cadet history and began collecting photos, shoulder flashes, cap badges and other items related to army cadets in Canada.
On a shoestring, a museum opened its doors for the cadets to view some of their history.
In the years since, the collections have grown, with donations of photos, uniforms, documents and band instruments.
Many former cadets have contributed financially as well, and a yearly auction is a major fundraiser.
“It’s been a team effort,” said Arseneault, who works with a committee consisting of Mitch Steck, Maria and Graham Brunskill, Lisa Devine and Cory Schultz.
Dale Dickie of West Kelowna designed and built a diorama of the camp. Dan Emde upgraded the wiring and replaced the fluorescent lights with LED lights. Francois’ father-in-law Eric Otto has built cabinets and performed carpentry magic.
Visitors to the museum will be surprised at the scope of the collections housed inside. Glass cases display uniforms. Video screens loop historic footage. There’s a library with a collection of books for cadets to spend some time with in the evenings as well as a number of hands-on displays and challenges, including a working “Buzzer Practice Cadet Type” Morse code transmitter and Second World War civilian gas masks.
Because the training centre now includes all three elements — air, sea and land — new displays represent this change in those who attend.
Overseeing the recent renovations and creating new displays is summer student Marina Craig, who is attending the University of Northern British Columbia, where she is studying outdoor recreation and tourism.
In her second year at the museum, Craig is enthusiastic about the additions and changes that are taking place, especially the installation of three air conditioners to make the museum more comfortable in the summer.
Craig notes that an expansion of the gift shop will permit both cadets and visitors to take home unique souvenirs.
“Last year, our bestsellers were decks of playing cards that featured edible wilderness plants,” said Craig.
Also available are pins, mugs, canteens, T-shirts, poppy seeds and tree ornaments. A small fridge will offer bottled water to visitors.
For Arseneault, who also created a website (www.armycadethistory.com) to archive the history of Vernon Cadet Training Centre, the museum is designed both for cadets who are attending summer training and for former cadets as well as the general public.
“I hope to inspire the cadets by showing them their history,” said Arseneault, “to bring back memories of former cadets and to educate the general public.”
The official reopening of the Vernon Cadet Museum takes place at 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 2, and the public is invited to attend. Parking is available on the west side of Highway 97, and visitors enter through the tunnel.
The museum will be open to the public from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except Mondays.