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Canadian soldiers’ replica chalk cave carvings on display at the CTMHV


- the art pieces were created in France, just before the Battle of Vimy Ridge - 

by Sylene Argent

On Friday, a special ribbon cutting ceremony officially opened the Souterrain Impressions Exhibit at the Canadian Transportation Museum & Heritage Village, which will be open for public viewing until November 18. 

  The Souterrain Impressions Exhibit features 20 display cases featuring intricate replicas of carvings Canadian soldiers created during the First World War. The soldiers were hiding in a chalk cave before they took part in the April 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge.

  Exhibit Curator, Zenon Andrusyszyn, founded Canadigm in 2011 when he had become aware of the cave carvings through a TV program about chalk caves in France. He wanted to preserve the art pieces as in some instances, the soldiers died in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, soon after creating the carvings.

  Andrusyszyn received access to the cave through supervisory authority, Durand Group, a British historical research organization. Soon after, he and like-minded individuals founded Candadigm, then headed to France to begin documenting the carvings, at their own expense, literature on the exhibit notes.

  Dan Mansfield of the exhibit explained the carvings were scanned three-dimensionally and photographed with a high-resolution camera, so they could be capture for others to see, without damaging the originals. Mansfield became involved with the group as he knew Andrusyszyn and had heard they needed an individual on the team with IT knowledge. Research was also conducted on the soldiers and that information is displayed with the replicas.

  “It was an opportunity I could not pass up,” he said, noting his grandfather was part of the British Army. “For me, it was a good fit to honour him and all those men there [including the thousands who died at the Battle of Vimy Ridge].”

  The chalk cave carvings at Maison Blanche are located around two to three kilometres from the Vimy line, he noted.

  A farmer, Mansfield said, had used the cave to store garage for many years, which actually helped save the carvings from deteriorating. The carvings would be discovered in the early 2000s.

  Mansfield said the Souterrain Impressions Exhibit opened in 2015. It has been showcased at Museum London, the Mississauga Heritage Museum, at the Royal Montreal Regiment Museum, and at the University of New Brunswick. He said volunteers take time to move the exhibit from site-to-site, often via a rented truck.

  Understanding it would be a unique opportunity to host such an exhibit, Lisa Wacheski, Curator & Manager of Education at the CTMHV, said staff and volunteers of the local museum worked hard to clear a space.  

  Wacheski noted the CTMHV does not often get the opportunity to host different exhibits. She said all the work put in to secure the exhibit for the next several weeks, “was worth it. It is a big deal.”

  Judy Imeson, who works at Essex District High School, said she had visited the exhibit when it was on display in London. As a history enthusiast, she had asked if there were plans to bring the traveling display to the Essex area. From there, several Museums were contacted to see if there was enough space to display the exhibit.

  “I was the right person, in the right place, at the right time,” she said.

  A special Remembrance Day event is planned for Saturday, November 10.

  Visitors can view the exhibit by donation.

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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