Unveiling the Ongoing Impact of Military Service

February 13, 2024

In Their Own Voices: Stories From Canadian Veterans and Their Families is a different kind of oral history project about war and military service.

Most exhibitions or books about the military focus on a particular conflict or period of service, and conclude when hostilities end or when a soldier takes off their uniform and becomes a civilian again. This is where In Their Own Voices begins. The project is built on the belief that the impacts of war and military continue long after a veteran’s military service ends in ways that can be intimate and far-ranging.

CAF solider with smiling children

CWM 20080028-001_IMG_8641a – George Metcalf Archival Collection – Canadian War Museum
© Stephen Thorne (2004), The Canadian Press

To better explore how war and military service affect veterans and their loved ones, the In Their Own Voices team has interviewed more than 200 veterans and family members, from 104-year-old Second World War veterans to recent returnees from Afghanistan and Iraq. The results are rich and compelling, and often speak to emotions and experiences that are shared amongst veterans and loved ones of different eras and conflicts.

For nearly everyone, the transition from military service to civvy street is a profound one. Nick Grimshaw, a decorated veteran of Afghanistan, Bosnia and Croatia, describes it like crossing a bridge:

“On one side is the military. It’s very familiar and you’re surrounded by colleagues and friends. You have to get over to the other side of the river. It’s unfamiliar. It’s dark. It might be uncomfortable. But you know you need to get over there somehow.”

The next phase in the In Their Own Voices project will be sharing stories like Grimshaw’s with people in Canada. We’re doing that with an online exhibition featuring dozens of interview clips, as well as objects from the Museum’s collection that speak to the complexity of the veterans’ experience.

Our online exhibition will also include educational material for schoolchildren so that younger generations might better understand what it means to be a veteran. The exhibition will launch in time for Remembrance Day in 2024.

In 2025, we will host a conference about the veterans’ experience that will bring together scholars, veterans, and their loved ones, and will help establish the Canadian War Museum as a leading centre for veterans’ studies. This goal will also be advanced in 2026 with the publication of the In Their Own Voices legacy book, combining top scholarship with personal memoirs.

Every interview we conduct will be preserved in our archives and online so that researchers, family members, and other interested people in Canada can learn directly from veterans and their loved ones how their service has shaped them.

Dr. Michael Petrou
Historian, Veterans’ Experience
Canadian War Museum