It's a dream come true for Carleton County military enthusiast Aaron Bouma. He needs only step outside his Jacksontown home near Woodstock to see his long-held dream become a reality as his Carleton County Military Museum takes shape.
"I've had this dream for so many years," said Bouma, who has shared his military expertise with people of all ages at schools, legions, libraries and events for over a decade.
He said he broke ground on constructing the 22' x 22' structure to permanently house Bouma's vast and growing collection of military artifacts, equipment, uniforms, history and documentation in the spring of 2021. That summer, he laid the building's cement floor.
Construction continued in the spring of 2022, with the structure fully enclosed and the roof on as winter arrived.
Bouma, with the help of volunteers, contractors and tradespeople, will work on the new museum's interior over the winter months, including the installation of power, heat and insulation.
Bouma's schedule calls for installing the building's steel siding in spring in preparation for a grand opening in July 2023.
"I've been waiting to do this for years," he said. "It started with a push from others."
He said people began suggesting the idea of a museum following his exhibits and presentations.
As time passed and his military collection and widespread community support grew, Bouma realized the construction of the Carleton County Military Museum was feasible.
He welcomed donations of funding support and artifacts as the public shared his dreams of telling the Carleton County military story.
"It's amazing how many donations of artifacts I received, noting a recent contribution of First World War 1-era bayonets.
Bouma said his fundraising campaign is off to a strong start. He explained a $100 donation would see the donor's name wood-burned into the building and placed on a plaque inside the museum.
He said at least 25 donors had already stepped forward, and others can donate by contacting him.
Bouma is a familiar face throughout the Upper Valley area and beyond for not only his military enthusiasm and knowledge but also as a strong advocate for children and adults with autism.
Bouma never let autism hinder his dreams, and he plays a central role in ensuring it doesn't impede the goals of others.
In 2020 and 2021, he was one of 20 autistic voices providing significant input into developing a first-of-a-kind mental health literacy guide developed through the collaboration of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and York University.
The guide provided information for developing the federal government's National Autism Strategy.
Bouma also sat as vice-chair of the Canadian Association for Health Sciences' oversight panel.
The busy schedule on several fronts failed to deter Bouma's military-based pursuits. An active member of the Woodstock Royal Canadian Legion Branch 11 is often a member of the colour party at Veteran events in the region.
Over the past decade, Bouma gained fame for his impeccably detailed wooden models of military equipment, ranging from guns to ships to planes. He presented several of those models to Canadian Armed Forces officials. They are now displayed on Canadian military bases.
Bouma said he plans to include some of those models at the museum, but they represent only a tiny part of the many military artifacts he collected over the years.
Other artifacts include an anti-aircraft gun, built in the U.S. in 1942, outside the museum. He said many people would recognize the gun, as it sat at Connell Park for several years.
Bouma said the open-concept museum would rotate his vast collection every three or four months. They will outline military history including, but not limited to, the Boer War, the First and Second World Wars, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, Afghanistan, peacekeeping missions and more.
Bouma said the displays would provide artifacts, history, and information focused heavily on Carleton, York and Victoria counties, including the Carleton Light Infantry, the Carleton-York Infantry, the 26th Battalion and the New Brunswick Rangers and more.
He said the museum's primary goals are to provide exciting displays, historical perspectives, a glimpse of military strategies, past and present, and pay tribute to the men and women who bravely served their country.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun