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Great Canadian Heritage Discoveries

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More important Canadian antique memorabilia the Museum has preserved.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

The most fabulous piece of folk art, commemorating the Boer War, we've ever seen, is this amazing huge and heavy bric-a-brac assembly honouring Lord Roberts.

Lord Roberts is identified with elaborate lettering under his bust portrait. "Bobs" was the British Empire's most famous and beloved soldier during the last half of Queen Victoria's reign. He spent most of his life soldiering in India, and came out of retirement to tackle the Boer War 1899-1902, after British forces suffered humiliating losses to the Boers.

Surrounding a litho cutout of the kindly general, is a collection of castoffs from a mechanical metal culture that was just hitting its stride at the end of the 19th century.

All the - mostly - metal artifacts, held fast in a bed of plaster, as well as its overall massive size, makes this a fairly heavy piece at 13 kg.

The bric-a-brac includes:

- watch dials, sprockets, springs
- screws, nuts, bolts, nails,
- washers, clips, chains,
- marbles huge & small
- bell caps, tap handles,
- duck, swan, people figurines
- light sockets, hinges, grommets
- .303 shell casings, bullets
- springs, buckles, safety pins
- drill bits, wrenches,
- locks, keys, hasps,
- buttons, coat hooks, buckles,
- sea shells, snails,
- labels, medalet, pin backs,
- boot, shoe, hand models
- glass panes & beads
- peanut, walnut, acorn
- cuff links,
- many unidentifiables

Countless smaller items are carefully inset into hollows, slots, crevices, holes etc. of larger items...

For a closer view, the glass panes in the corners are hotspots.

Look for: .303 shell, marbles, boot Look for: .303 & .22 shell casings, marbles Look for: pinback, swan, marbles Look for: walnut, peanut, pinback
Folk Art, Lord Roberts of Kandahar, 1900
Orig. assembly - Image Size - 74 x 89 cm, wt - 13 kg
Found - St. Jacobs, ON

This amazing creation would have taken untold hours to assemble by someone who thought Lord Roberts was worth the devotion of time and effort. Quite possibly, it was the work of a Canadian who had proudly served under the British Commander-in-Chief in South Africa during the Boer War.

No doubt it hung in a place of honour in his house for decades, the subject of astonishing conversation among all who beheld it, as it was at the rural auction where we found it.

And it has survived well for 100 years; only a very few parts - the most fragile - have fallen off.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Autograph, Lord Roberts, October 3, Pretoria - 1900
Orig. autograph book - Size - 9 x 13 cm
Found - Hastings, UK
Copyright - 1901

An ultra-rare, personally dated, original signature of Lord Roberts from the destination of his fabled March to Pretoria. Probably signed at Melrose House, his HQ, and today a museum. Battlefield autographs are the rarest of the rare, and the autograph book it was in, one of the most prized in existence.

Go to Boer War Autograph Book

Damascus, Ontario, Anyone?

The back of the frame offers some clues as to the place of its manufacture. The shipping crate boards came from a manufacturing company in Brantford, Ontario. "AMASCU" we believe to be the hamlet of Damascus, some 80 kms north, and near the auction site. When we try to remove the cross bracing we may discover who A.....BAY is, and see if he served in the Boer War and or World War I...

There you have it.

Insight into what Canadians do for excitement in their off hours... during those long, cold, and lonely, winter nights...

Don't all rush off, now, to buy real estate in Damascus, Ontario...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Biscuit Barrel, Lord Roberts - 1900
Orig. biscuit barrel - Size - 14 cm
Found - Bristol, UK
The finest biscuit barrel we've ever seen, in mint condition, wrongly labeled, by a dealer, as General Haig... She had never heard of Lord Roberts... Unforgivable...

Two of the most intriguing items, on the surface, are the swan and duck (one duck on the opposite side is lost) that were symmetrically placed to carefully guard the bottom of the portrait. They are hollow and made of some thin plastic material of the consistency of egg shell.

Was this a tribute to Lord Roberts' fabled reputation as an organizer (the March on Kabul, Kandahar & Pretoria) - always having "his ducks in a row"; the swan a testament to his legendary gracefulness as a man and a general; or the waterfowl a tribute to his sportsmanship and sense of fair play for enemy combatants and men of all races, creeds, and religions?

(On his personal coat of arms this Irish general selected two representatives of Britain's fighting forces for the honour of supporting his family's heraldic crest: a Scottish Highlander, and a Gurkha soldier from India's Northern Frontier.)










These boots were made...

At top left and right are also two prominent boot cut-outs, framing the portrait.

Were these featured so prominently to honour the general whose victorious foot marches were legendary? His men were proud to walk for Bobs, and only Bobs, with minimum rest periods, simply becaue he asked them to, on the road to Kandahar.

Notable here are also the .303 shell casings - were they souvenirs from the campaign in Africa? - a live pistol bullet bottom, a huge alley, and another leg and boot reminder.

Snail's Pace

To guess how long it took to create this assembly of mechanical bric-a-brac, see how many snails you can count on this section of the portrait frame - and the large sea shell bottom doesn't count...

There are more than a dozen...

Some are incredibly small, and all had to be carefully placed and glued down, one at a time...

Who? When? Where? Why?

This piece was found in the heart of Ontario's Mennonite country, home to a religious group of people who oppose militarism or military service of any kind.

No one knew anything about the frame other than that it was old and came from some estate...

So we set out to try to discover all the important questions about its authorship...


We spotted the biggest label left which suggested a British origin, and was somewhat of a downer since we hoped this might be a Canadian piece. But, we surmised, the frame was probably far too heavy and fragile to have withstood an ocean passage. We hoped the label was merely a pick-up from an imported item from the British Isles where a lot of Canadian goods and furniture were manufactured.

We kept looking...

Sure enough there was another label that advertised the National Drug and Chemical Company of Toronto, Ontario. And right below it the artist had inserted a bullet.


Elsewhere we sleuthed out a small pin back that advertised Grafton & Co. Clothiers. Established in 1853 in Dundas, Ontario, as a dry goods, millinery, and clothing store, by 1900 it had seven stores in southern Ontario, and had just set up a factory in Dundas to insure "high quality" for all its products.

So the piece was definitely Canadian in origin.

But when was it made?

The main lithograph of Lord Roberts was published in 1900 when Bobs was leading the victorious British (and Canadian) march to capture the Boer capitals of Bloemfontein and Pretoria.

So, though Bobs was famous long before then, his Canadian tie-in would date from the Boer War when Canadian units were first placed under his command, in December, 1899. Canadian infantry, artillery, and mounted units, served with him all during 1900. At the end of the year Bobs and the Canadian units all went home, convinced that they had beaten the Boers and that the war was over. When Bobs bade the Canadians farewell he said he had never served with better soldiers. No wonder the Canadian civilian volunteers loved him as fiercely as the British army and populace.

Perhaps enough for one of them to make this fabulous tribute portrait of their beloved commander. But not until his return home. The earliest therefore would be 1901.

We looked for more clues.

Then we found it. A small medalet right engraved "From BFSS Nelson Centenary Containing Victory Copper ER VII."

In 1905, during the reign of Edward VII, the British Empire celebrated the 100th anniversary of Lord Nelson's famous victory at Trafalgar aboard his flagship Victory, where he died at the moment of his greatest triumph.

Sadly, a hundred years later, Victory, docked at Portsmouth, was in a mess, rapidly deteriorating, and in need of urgent repairs. The British & Foreign Sailor's Society started a Save the Victory campaign. The members stripped the copper sheathing from Victory's hull, to get at her timbers, and made it into small memorabilia items, including medalets and plaques, to be sold to the public. The money would be used to recondition Britain's most famous ship and ensure she would be preserved for posterity.

This particular version of the Victory copper medal is fairly rare today.

So the earliest the work could have been made was 1905, during the reign of Edward VII (1901-1910).

We confirmed this when we found a tiny Canadian pin flag nearby below.

In 1905 the cartouche on the Canadian flag changed because two new provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, had joined Confederation, being created out of the wild western parts of Canada, formerly known as the North West Territories, and mostly populated by Indians, M├ętis, and Mounties.


But, starting in the 1890s, a horde of eastern European sod busters had flooded in, to turn the prairies into farms. The population swelled, resulting in the two new provinces.

The flag shows the three resulting columns of provincial crests right.

The previous cartouche left commonly found on china and souvenir flags, has two columns, usually containing only crests for four or five provinces, instead of the nine that made up Canada after 1905, so requiring the addition of the third column.

So was it made in 1905 then?

We kept looking for proof, pro or con...

Then we found another clue...

There were two tiny tin cut-outs advertising "King George's Navy" cut tobacco.

George V became king in 1910 when Edward VII died.

Which meant that the earliest that this piece was created was 1910, when tobacco advertisers jumped on the King George coronation bandwagon to promote the sale of their product.

Only four years later World War I broke out.

Bobs was still alive then, and, sprightly as ever, now at 82, was visiting the Western Front in Europe where his old Boer War subordinates, General French and General Haig were now in charge of the British war effort. Sadly Bobs caught a cold from the cold fall air after a late night out visiting General Foch, and he succumbed to pneumonia a couple of days later.

A heartsick Nation laid him to rest in the crypt of St. Paul's cathedral in London, UK.

And throughout the British Empire untold thousands of men of all races stopped to grieve privately for a man universally beloved and admired by men of every colour and creed. To understand how a man - and a general at that - can evoke such passions, you only need to read his autobiography "Forty-one Years in India." It was the publishing phenomenon of the age, when it appeared in 1895, being printed in 29 editions in only two years.

And somewhere in Ontario a man who shared that feeling set out with a mission to spend hundreds, if not thousands of hours, to craft a private tribute to a man he may have seen and personally served with, in Africa or India. Something that would outlast the man, and himself... A Salute for the Ages...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Boer War Display Flag (Bobs) - 1900
Orig. flag - Size - 56 x 66 cm
Found - Bristol, UK
Cotton printed flag featuring Bobs, Lord Roberts

This Union Jack, features "Bobs" pointing his sword to Pretoria.
The popular consensus was that once the capital of the Boers fell, they would be finished. Pretoria fell and Bobs came home, leaving Kitchener to do the "clean up."

Above in an artistic flight of fancy - home-based war artists are always behind the times about what's really going on on the battlefield - Bobs wields a sword in a most un-Boer War-like manner. "There they are lads; Go get em." It was enough to make any red-blooded Englishman - and hey, not a few Canadians - burst their britches with, well pride...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Boer War Display Flag (Lord Roberts VC) - 1900
Orig. flag - Size - 70 x 73 cm
Found - Harrogate, UK
Cotton printed flag featuring Lord Roberts and his victories

This large flag, featuring a portrait of the general supposedly surrounded by the battle victories he had rolled up in his year as director of the war in South Africa. But the flag makers got more than the Union Jack wrong; Bobs is wrongly labeled with Colenso and Spion Kop, both huge British defeats, as well as Belmont, and Elandslaagte, when he had no involvement in the war in South Africa at all. Bobs would not have been pleased with this flag at all...

Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996-1999-2005

Lord Roberts of Kandahar (1832-1914) - 5

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