The St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre opened a major new exhibit in September 2014: Doing Our Bit: World War One from St. Catharines to the Western Front. This exhibit tells the story of the men and women from this community and their experiences of the war. During the process of developing that exhibit, in an effort to get a handle on who actually went overseas from the community, staff at the Museum compiled a spreadsheet of information taken directly from sailing rolls itemizing the men, their next of kin and the address of their next of kin. Unfortunately for today’s World War One historian, the attestation records from the war only included the address for next of kin, not for the soldiers themselves. This single fact, makes it difficult to accurately list every man from St. Catharines who went overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. Take as an example a man who emigrated to Canada from England whose parents continue to live there and who are listed as his next of kin. Notwithstanding this challenge, a list was created and continues to be developed, to create an accurate idea of all the men from the city who signed up to fight with the Canadian Army. Sadly, this list does not include navy and airmen as the records are not accessible for either of these two branches of the service. So unless we were aware of these men through other records, they were not on our list. The final list – which is still a work in progress – has almost 800 men and their pertinent information.
A compelling way to tell use this information is to map it to show the impact of the First World War on neighbourhoods and communities. For this, the Museum was fortunate to connect with Trevor Twining and Robin McPherson. Both strong advocates of Open Data and interested history fans, were willing to help make the mapping concept a reality. Trevor is a computer guru and local champion of Open Data and he was able to transform the table – using Google Fusion Tables – into an interactive map; and Robin, a member of the Municipal Heritage Committee, helped clean up and add to the information in the table. The map linked below is the product of this great partnership. Without Trevor and Robin’s enthusiasm and willingness to share their expertise, this would continue to be a pile of papers in a file. The map is still a work in progress. There is still information missing and we want to add more links to attestation records available through Library and Archives Canada and we continue to work with the data to make it a richer resource.
I am happy to say that this project – our first foray into the Open Data realm – was a pleasure to work on and I hope to continue to work these great community partners in the future!
To see the map check out this link.
Kathleen Powell is the Supervisor of Historical Services / Curator at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre