First World War memorabilia a gift across border

Saanich archivist Caroline Duncan is leaving her job today on a high note after receiving a “remarkable” trove of artifacts from the family of a First World War veteran.

The collection, once owned by former Saanich resident Richard Grenville Rice, includes a complete uniform, service medals, dog tags and a silver cigarette case with his initials. There is even a 1918 letter from King George wishing Rice a speedy recovery from an unspecified injury.

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Duncan said that Rice, who moved to Seattle after the war, is one of 355 people named on Saanich’s First World War honour roll — and also turns out to be the artist who created that large pencil-and-ink document.

All of the items donated by Rice’s family will become part of the Saanich Remembers World War One project.

Duncan said she first started thinking about the Saanich Remembers project in 2012 as the centenary of the start of the First World War was approaching. Key volunteers Ray Travers, Mary-Jane Shaw and Sidney Allinson stepped in to help, with an eye to finding out about Saanich people who served.

“We launched the project in August 2014 and we’ve been working on it since then,” Duncan said. “We’ve had some really lovely donations of some medals, some photographs, lots of research that has come in.”

The connection with the Rice family came from out of the blue, she said. Rice’s granddaughter contacted her during the summer.

“She said she’d been Googling and had come across our Saanich Remembers World War One website, and her grandfather is R.G. Rice and he was the artist of our honour roll,” Duncan said. “He’s also, actually, the co-architect of Saanich’s War Memorial Health Centre, which is a building that still stands on West Saanich Road.”

When the granddaughter offered some old material, Duncan was expecting perhaps a few photographs and other things.

She soon realized during a phone conversation with the granddaughter that there was much more involved, so she travelled to Spokane to meet her and pick up the donation.

“In the past I’ve gone to Sidney or Sooke to get archival material, but I’ve never been out of the country for it,” Duncan said.

What the archives received is amazing, she said — “a remarkable collection for its completeness.”

The material has moved with the family over the course of many decades, Duncan said, so she asked the granddaughter why she was donating it.

“She was just a fantastic lady and so generous to give us this whole collection,” she said. “She said she wanted her grandfather to be remembered and she wanted him to come home to Saanich.

“I thought this was very beautiful. Not only is he coming home to Saanich but it’s also this material is returning to Canada.”

Duncan said she will still help with the project even though she is moving to Oak Bay to become its first-ever staff archivist.

“Of course I’ll stay involved as a volunteer with the Saanich Remembers project because I feel emotionally invested in it.”

Evelyn Wolfe is taking over the Saanich job on an interim basis.

• The Saanich Archives, in the Saanich Centennial Library at 3100 Tillicum Rd., are open to the public Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

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