5 questions with the Museum’s co-op students

Matthew James (left) and James Coe, Co-op students working at the CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum.

Matthew James (left) and James Coe, Co-op students working at the CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum.

CFB Esquimalt Public Affairs 

As part of the University of Victoria’s (UVic) Co-op program, James Coe and Matthew Kerr worked at CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum this summer. James is studying history with a minor in political science, and Matthew is studying history with a minor in business.

Since you both go to the UVic, did you know each other before you started working here?

Matthew: Yes, we’re both history majors, but we’ve known each other since kindergarten.

James: We went through the same schools together and ended up at UVic. When we joined the Co-op program, we saw that the museum had two positions. We thought it would be great if we both got the positions, and here we are.

What is your favourite area of history to study?

Matthew: I love studying the Cold War era, but I recently took a Veterans’ Oral History course at UVic, which interested me in modern European history.

James: I’m interested in American history; my favourite topic is the Cold War. After recent courses at UVic, I have developed an interest in the history of UN peacekeeping.

What’s an average day like at the museum?

Matthew: There are two kinds of days at the museum. On a weekday, we spend the morning researching and working on projects as volunteers running the museum for guests. In the afternoon we usually switch, working in the Visitors Centre or doing more project work. Currently, a big ongoing project is with the digital archives; the museum has 12,000 items in its archive, which all need to be transferred and organized in a new system.

James: Each day, we open and lock up the museum and raise and lower the flags, so there’s a lot of responsibility. Mainly we show visitors around on the weekend since the museum can get quite busy. We got a surprising number of international visitors to the museum; earlier this week, we had someone from Denmark. It’s cool to interact with people from all over the world and teach them local history and naval heritage.

What’s been the best part of working at the museum?

Matthew: James and I co-curated an exhibit at the museum on the Korean War. It was cool to do the research and write-ups for it, pick out the artifacts and put it all together.

James: I agree, but I’ve also really enjoyed working here on the Base more generally. It has been a unique experience. I feel pride from working on the Base and feel like I need to do my best every day since we represent the Base when people come to the museum. It’s been very rewarding, and I’ve learned a lot.

What’s your favourite thing in the museum?

Matthew: My favourite part of the museum is the HMCS Esquimalt display. It has artifacts from survivors, models of HMCS Esquimalt and the U-boat that sunk it, and a flag from that U-boat after it was captured. It’s a great exhibit that does a great job of telling the story of what happened. Overall, my favourite artifacts are the museum’s collection of ship bells. While bells have many practical uses and act as the ship’s heart, they are also used as baptismal fonts in onboard christenings. The names of the children baptized under this age-old tradition are inscribed on the back, and it’s always special when someone comes in to find their name or their child’s name on one of the bells.

James: I love the aircraft carrier room because of all the models there. I used to make a lot of model planes with my dad, so it’s just a personal interest. But my favourite artifact is the collection of medals. It’s been really interesting to see them all and learn about the history of the medal and the person who earned them.

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