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Argyle museum waves the flag – all 1,300 of them

Tiny rural museum’s flag collection is now second only to one in the National Capital Region. It received a generous donation earlier this winter

Every small-town museum hopes to flag down lots of visitors as tourist season starts.

At Argyle, flags are now their main attraction. But they aren’t all flapping in the breeze this spring.

Argyle’s Settlers Rails and Trails Museum has recently become home to the second-largest Canadian flag collection in the country, containing over 1,000 unique flags.

A large donation from an Ontario flag collector arrived in Argyle February 15 — National Flag Day of Canada — to add to the museum’s already sizable flag collection.

The museum’s founder has been an avid collector himself and over the years has accepted donations of many Canadian-themed flags from many places, and he welcomes the new arrivals.

“We were pretty excited about it,” says Shayne Campbell, now its president and executive director.

It’s now second only to one larger flag collection in Canada, contained in the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.

The gift of 276 Canadian-themed flags comes from a collection of about 3,000 flags of retired Anglican bishop, Ralph Spence of Hamilton, Ontario. When he donated the legacy collection to the Canadian Heraldic Authority in Rideau Hall in Ottawa, part of it was recommended to go to the Argyle’s museum too.

That’s because Campbell, a high school teacher from Teulon, is a well-known lover of flags himself and had amassed a sizable collection.

They were thrilled to receive this donation, says Campbell.

“Ralph’s never been to Argyle but he had the largest private collection in the country and when that collection was up for grabs to the major national museum, we were suggested as a flag collection museum on the Prairies,” he said.

Spence’s own collection contained about 3,000 flags, including many historical Canadian flags and flags gifted by the Queen.

“We were very excited to have a choice of what we could take from his collection to have here on the Prairies,” Campbell added.

The donation brings Argyle’s Canadian-themed flag collection to over 1,300 historic, corporate, sport, regional and special occasion flags. They will be displayed in groups such as flags flown on Canadian embassies around the world, and celebratory flags including those marking Canada’s 100th, 125th and 150th years.

“A lot of functions are most often represented with a flag,” said Campbell.

“Our flags tell the story of Canada. They tell the story of Canadian identity and what it means to be a Canadian, and how that symbolism is morphing and changing as the country grows.”

Future home

The Argyle museum itself will soon be changing and growing too.

It’s been housed in the Argyle Community Centre since 2013 while the board tries to acquire land elsewhere in the village for its permanent home.

When it does, the plan is to build a modern pavilion to house it and surround it with outdoor space for more displays and exhibitions as well as recreation facilities to attract and accommodate large groups of visitors. A greatly expanded agricultural display — to complement the hands-on interactive one they already have indoors — is planned.

“We’re looking at setting up gardens and plots and crops,” said Campbell. Other plans include showcasing arts and culture through theatre, interpretive dance, photography and visual arts.

It’s all about making ready their museum for telling stories about the past tomorrow, he said.

The successful museums are going to be the ones that can offer more than just static displays to view, said Campbell.

“We’re trying to take the step toward becoming a modern museum,” he said.

Argyle’s museum has always been the ‘little museum that could,’ championed by Campbell since he started it himself at age 12. That was on his family’s own property near Argyle. He called it the Argyle Prairie Museum. He gifted all its artifacts to Argyle in 2009.

In addition to its flag collection, the 700-sq.-ft. space contains exhibits about the community’s historic Brant-Argyle School, its former United Church.

There’s also a special display about local veterans, which includes a display of a uniform of Wellington Wilson, a First World War veteran Campbell has always taken special interest in.

He carries a penny around in his pocket to commemorate him.

“It’s an 1891 penny which is his birth year,” he explains. “I now live on his property and I’ve visited his grave in France.”

The museum is open to visitors the first Saturday of every month from 1 to 4 p.m. and also by appointment and for tour groups.

More information can be found on the Settlers Rails and Trails Museum website.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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