Halifax museum showcases medical couple’s connection

From left, Catherine Blake and Barbara Sybbald, the granddaughters of the late Surgeon Cmdre Archie McCallum, and Arrabelle MacKenzie McCallum, with Naval Museum of Halifax Curator Jennifer Gamble. The visitors donated their late grandfather’s drill cane to the museum, along with a collection of photos and documents. Photo by Ryan Melanson, Trident Newspaper

From left, Catherine Blake and Barbara Sybbald, the granddaughters of the late Surgeon Cmdre Archie McCallum, and Arrabelle MacKenzie McCallum, with Naval Museum of Halifax Curator Jennifer Gamble. The visitors donated their late grandfather’s drill cane to the museum, along with a collection of photos and documents. Photo by Ryan Melanson, Trident Newspaper

Ryan Melanson, Trident Newspaper ~

Stadacona’s Admiralty House is currently home to the Naval Museum of Halifax, but the building’s deep connection to Royal Canadian Navy history goes far beyond the collections and artifacts now housed inside.

Prior to serving as a museum, the building’s former uses include a Royal Navy head­quarters Wardroom, and hospital, specifically as Massachusetts-Halifax Relief Commission Public Health Unit No. 1 from 1920-1924.

For recent museum ­visitors Catherine Blake and Barb Sybbald, the building’s time as a naval hospital and clinic is relevant to their own family history. Their late grandfather, Surgeon Commodore Archie McCallum, was working as a medical officer in the early 1920s when he met their grandmother, Arrabelle MacKenzie, who was one of the few female dentists in Canada and working at Admiralty House. 

The couple went on to marry, of course, and their wedding photo was among the items the sisters brought along to donate to the museum during their visit on May 27. The donation included several documents and paperwork from Cmdre McCallum’s career, along with a drill cane engraved with his name and rank.

The items will join the museum’s existing collection on Cmdre McCallum, which includes his medals, letters, photos and other documents. A small collection of items is also kept at the Archie McCallum Building, home to CF Health Services Centre (Atlantic).

“He was an interesting man and we’re lucky to have some letters he wrote and other items to show his family members,” said museum researcher Lisa McNiven.

The letters, mainly from later in his career, include correspondence with Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King concerning a nephew of the Prime Minister’s who died in the sinking of HMCS St. Croix, as well as an autobiographical accounting of his military career and accomplishments from the late 1950s, where he notes that the information should be saved in case his “wee granddaughters” one day have an interest.

The sisters were in Halifax to attend the Faculty of Dentistry Convocation Ceremony and to present the Arrabelle MacKenzie McCallum Bursary, awarded in honour of their grandmother on the 100-year anniversary of her being Dalhousie’s first female dental graduate in 1919.

Blake said she and her sister were excited to fit in a trip to the museum while in Halifax, both to connect with some of their family history, and to pass on some of that history through the donations. They also met with Lieutenant Colonel Rochelle Heudes, Commanding Officer CF Health Services Centre (Atlantic), and Chief Warrant Officer Gregory McDonald for a tour of the Archie McCallum building.

“We’re thrilled we were able to visit and that so many people were here to meet us and were interested in our family. We didn’t expect such a reception,” Blake said, and added she was happy to donate the items to a good home. “They belong here and we hope other people will enjoy seeing them.”

Filed Under: Top Stories

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