Curator of Halifax's Army Museum retires after 9-year 'labour of love'

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Ken Hynes, curator of the Army Museum, is set to retire at the end of July.  (Mark Crosby/CBC - image credit)
Ken Hynes, curator of the Army Museum, is set to retire at the end of July. (Mark Crosby/CBC - image credit)

Ken Hynes describes the Army Museum as the "soul of a nation, in the heart of the city," and for the last nine years, the retired soldier has put his heart and soul into preserving the past as curator of the Halifax collection.

Now Hynes is preparing to retire at the end of July from the museum, which is dedicated to people who served on and off the battlefield.

"It's been a labour of love," says Hynes. "We owe it to them to preserve and protect their memories and to commemorate the service and sacrifice given by them for all of us."

Hynes grew up in Dartmouth and joined the army in 1972, which paid for his education at St. Mary's University.

Submitted by Army Museum - Halifax Citadel
Submitted by Army Museum - Halifax Citadel

His career in the Royal Canadian Artillery took him around the world. He retired as a major in 2002 after 30 years of service. He returned to Halifax and took on a new role, as curator at the Army Museum in Citadel Hill, where he would walk literally in the footsteps of his grandfather, Cpl. Fletcher Bartlett.

Bartlett served within the walls of the Halifax Citadel at the beginning of the First World War, when it was an active military base and not the National Historic Site it is today.

"He was here for the Halifax Explosion, standing right over there," Hynes said, indicating the main courtyard. His grandfather told him exactly where he was when he felt the full force of the Halifax Explosion loudly rush over the citadel.

Submitted by Army Museum - Halifax Citadel
Submitted by Army Museum - Halifax Citadel

"I feel quite close to him when I'm here and I think of him quite often. It keeps his memory alive for me and the memories of those he served with and his comrades who spent days after the explosion recovering dead bodies and burying them and saving people from the rubble of the explosion.

"It was he who encouraged me and motivated me to become a soldier. And the rest, as they say, is history."

Submitted by Army Museum - Halifax Citadel
Submitted by Army Museum - Halifax Citadel

Hynes says he has made it his personal mission to ensure the stories of soldiers and "the human cost of conflict over a century" are presented honestly at the museum, from Canadian soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War, to the mission in Afghanistan and peace operations.

Part of telling the full story is reckoning with the military's history of discrimination against Indigenous and Black soldiers, he says, and the treatment of women in the male-dominated Canadian Armed Forces.

Black soldiers fought for the right to fight during the First World War, but first had to battle "a huge amount of institutional racism, societal racism, individual racism," says Hynes, pausing at a display honouring Black personnel.

"Their stories need to be told as well."

Another exhibit is a tribute to Hynes's one-time drill sergeant, Cyril Clayton, who served with the Black Watch — the oldest Highland regiment in Canada — and the Royal Canadian Regiment.

Hynes admits being terrified of Clayton during basic training, but says the drill sergeant, whom he describes as "a true leader who continues to give back," became the biggest mentor of his career.

"He taught me everything worthwhile knowing as a soldier," says Hynes. "Before I'd do anything, [I'd ask] 'What would he do?' And so it's very personal for me."

As the caretaker of military history, he feels responsible for expressing the human toll of war, from those who paid the ultimate price to those who returned home forever changed.

He says "the fight for freedom, democracy, truth and justice is worth it every time."

Once retired, Hynes plans to create a book on the history of the military in Nova Scotia from the perspective of soldiers.

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