Supply Line brings WW1 to life for students | CTV News

Supply Line brings First World War to life for students

A scratchy wool cap, a menacing piece of rusty barbed wire, and a hundred-year-old artillery shell that a lonely soldier transformed into trench art. These are the kinds of objects high school students normally read about in textbooks.


But students in Katie Wilson's history class are getting hands-on time with artifacts from the First World War as part of a program meant to educate youth about Canada’s involvement in the conflict.

Simone Boivin, a grade 10 student at the North Toronto Collegiate Institute, says this kind of hands-on learning makes the war easier to relate to.

Listen to Simone Boivin

Student Simone Boivin says: Before, the soldiers and the experiences were just a page in a textbook or just pictures, but now we have real, physical objects that we can touch, hold, we can put them on, we can feel them, we can smell them. We're using all of our senses with these other than just reading about it and that really helps us learn about the experiences that they had and it shows us how hard it was and that's important to respect them and what they did and what they sacrificed. There were people who were just a year older than us and it was really eye-opening to see that because they had to wear these scratchy jackets and things that we could barely stand putting them on for a minute. And it's really hard to fathom, in a year, us going off to war. It's hard to imagine that that could have been us.

Simone Boivin tries on a replica Canadian military jacket from the First World War.

A replica Canadian military jacket from the First World War.

Supply Line is a program put on by the Canadian War Museum to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the First World War.

Over the next four years, hundreds of schools across Canada will be loaned one of 25 “First World War Discovery Boxes” for two weeks. At the schools, students in grades four to 12 will get to interact with the artifacts as part of their history classes.

A student tries on a replica World War One nurse's apron A student looks through a photo album of Canadian soldiers during World War One A World War One recruitment poster A student unrolls a print of a painting of a scene in the trenches during World War One

Supply Line also gives students access to old photos, recruitment ads from the time of the war as well as paintings depicting the trenches.

The project is intended to make Canada's history more accessible across the country, says Sandra O'Quinn, a learning specialist at the Canadian War Museum who organizes the Supply Line program.

Listen to Sandra O'Quinn

A hundred-year-old artillery shell that a soldier transformed into trench art.

"We don't have veterans of the First World War anymore," O'Quinn says, so teaching through artifacts from the war is the next best thing.

For other students, like Minjae Kim, Supply Line helps convey the seriousness of the war.

Student Minjae Kim: War is sometimes glorified by movies that we watch recently, but when you see it in real life, it puts a different image in your head from what you might have imagined from other novels or other images you've seen in your life. Like, if you look at the actual things that come into the room, it's much more realistic. Our lives right now are really comfortable and, like, currently, we're sort of in a time of peace, so it really makes us grateful for what they did in the past for us.

Kim, 15, tries on putteess -- strips of cloth that were used to protect soldiers' legs in the trenches.

He says, while artifacts are fun to explore, Supply Line has helped him gain a more realistic view of an event that is "sometimes glorified by movies that we watch."

Listen to Minjae Kim

Kim's classmate Bethany May says Supply Line has taught her to think more critically about the events of the war.

Student Bethany May says: It wasn't black and white. It wasn’t like: 'Oh the war had a negative effect or it had a positive effect.' It was somewhere in the middle. It was really cool to have all this stuff in here because it was more of a hands-on experience and you got to learn more and it was more like personal, like the nurse's apron and stuff like that just shows women were a part of the war too. The may not have had such a large role in it, but they were still a part of it and it was an important role. It's like you have more respect for that kind of stuff.

"It wasn't black and white," May says of her views on the First World War, before trying on a war-era gas mask. "It was somewhere in the middle."

Listen to Bethany May

But Supply Line doesn't just benefit students. Teacher Katie Wilson says the program makes it easier to inspire students to learn about history.

The War Museum, she says, should create similar programs for other conflicts taught about in schools.

Listen to Katie Wilson

Teacher Katie Wilson says: I'm hoping that they have a chance to expand the program. I would love to see more boxes for the Second World War, for example, because I think it's such a different experience for them. War, fortunately for us, is not something that a lot of them have an immediate association with it. It's something we do obviously hear in the news and see on TV, but they haven't lived through the same kind of mass conflict that the first and second world wars were. So, those are ones where it's more of a challenge sometimes to make that connection and this has definitely made a huge difference in that regard.

Katie Wilson, above middle, shows students in her grade 10 history class how to use puttees and other artifacts.

A student tries on a World War One replica helmet A student raises a flag