Douglas College student’s work displayed at Coquitlam Public Library

A Douglas College History student is commemorating Remembrance Day with a unique project that delves into the life of one soldier.

The display – created by Vanessa Stewart – stems from a project assigned to her by History instructor Ashleigh Androsoff. The original piece consists of a suitcase of “memorabilia” designed to commemorate New Westminster resident and First World War soldier William Alexander Atkins.

Stewart – daughter of Coquitlam mayor Richard Stewart – crafted elements of Atkins’ personal story, including a diary, letters home, and newspaper clippings, drawing from information gathered from Atkins’ service file and from her research into Canada’s participation in the First World War, Androsoff explained.

“Her intention was to create a memory box someone might have kept on the top shelf of their bedroom closet,” Androsoff said. “For example, she created a photo wallet for Atkins, knowing this is something that soldiers would have carried, which would be one of the items that comrades would rescue from a fallen soldier and return to his family. She also packed a hat, a watch, and reproductions of Atkins’ war medals for increased effect.

“It’s one thing to understand history on an intellectual level, it’s another to understand it personally.”

The project, which Androsoff began assigning to her class in 2014, was inspired by Coquitlam city archivist Emily Lonie, who is active with the Lest We Forget Project. The project, led by Library and Archives Canada, aims to connect youth to Canada’s history by making military service files available in person and online.

“They could get intimate with the past,” Androsoff said. “The students were able to see high-quality, digitized records for individuals and see the variations of handwriting and anecdotal comments. Those aspects really personalize it.”

Androsoff noted that it can be hard to have students connect with the distant past. A project like this helps them meet the people who fought for their country 100 years ago – and those who lost their lives, like Atkins, who is buried at Vimy Ridge.

“I find it rewarding when I see what the students have come up with. I’m really proud to have our students’ work featured in the public library because it emphasizes part of the job we are doing here at Douglas College: preparing students to make intelligent and exciting contributions – whether it’s academically, in their community or in their professional life,” Androsoff said.

Stewart’s display will be at the Coquitlam Library’s City Centre Branch until Nov. 16.

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