In 2013, Blue Rhino Design was engaged by The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum (RCRM) to develop two new galleries plus an immersive experience (an Afghanistan Observation Post) as part of a major expansion project. In 2014, to continue the vision developed for the renovation of the museum, the Blue Rhino Design team created a new mobile-friendly website and branding for The RCRM.
In collaboration with the museum’s curator, Blue Rhino Design developed an Interpretive Content and Experience Plan for the re-creation of an Observation Post like those used in Panjwai district, Afghanistan; an Infantry Gallery presenting the history of The Royal Canadian Regiment from 1883 to the present; and a gallery on the history of the 4RCR (reserve force battalion), Perpetuated Units and Militia in southwestern Ontario from 1812 to today.
The purpose of the museum is to give visitors an appreciation of the history, traditions and contributions to Canada of The Royal Canadian Regiment. Broadly speaking, there were three dimensions to revealing the history of The Royal Canadian Regiment. The first related to the display and interpretation of historical and contemporary artifacts including weapons (rifles, handguns, machine guns and bladed weapons), uniforms, badges and flags. Also in the Museum’s collection are period and contemporary photographs, battlefield equipment (radios, flare guns, etc.), and curiosities like a scarf knitted by Queen Victoria for the Regiment.
The second dimension related to telling the rich and complicated history of The Royal Canadian Regiment and its contribution to Canada. This history spans numerous wars and battles from the War of 1812 to the Northwest Rebellion to the two World Wars. Reflecting Canada’s international commitment to peace, the more recent history included the Regiment’s involvement in peacekeeping missions in Cypress and Kosovo as well as its participation in Afghanistan.
Both the artifacts and the military history were fairly standard for a military museum. However, our third contribution to the Museum was, we believe, relatively unique to military museums: we gave voice to the soldiers’ experience in war and peacetime. In this regard, we were not concerned with geopolitical struggles or battles won and lost, but rather with the lived experience of the individual soldier. To achieve this insight, we used amateur photos taken by the troops in Afghanistan along with recorded interviews that focused on the soldiers’ sense of accomplishment, their frustrations, their fears and their hopes.
We wove these three dimensions – artifacts, military history and personal stories – into a coherent whole, using an entire range of design techniques from standard display cases to a diorama to digital interactive experiences to an animated video in the style of Ken Burns.
At a pre-opening presentation to attendees at a conference on military museums that was hosted by The RCRM in the spring of 2013, the reaction to the Observation Post was overwhelming. One elderly veteran exclaimed that “it is so real I can almost smell it!” Another visitor was so affected by the exhibit that she was moved to tears. A third soldier couldn’t even enter the exhibit it was so evocative.