Military History

‘Challenge coins’ among prized items in Pictou military museum

Pictou County Military Heritage Museum preserving military history for region, MLAs hear

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Volunteer Wayne Vacheresse and founder Vincent Joyce display a sample of the museum’s artifacts   Jeff Toth

The Pictou County Military Heritage Museum is preserving the legacy of veterans, MLAs heard Thursday.

The founder and president of the museum, Vincent Joyce, gave a presentation about the museum to the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.

In the 10 years it has been operational, the museum has collected about 15,000 artifacts. This includes medals, uniforms, weapons and many other priceless items.

The museum also houses “the world’s best collection of challenge coins,” said Joyce.

He explained that challenge coins are awarded to servicemembers by the commanding officer of their unit and they are unique to that specific commanding officer.

Joyce displays his prized challenge coin
Joyce displays his prized challenge coin   Jeff Toth

Many service members carry their coins to prove their membership to that unit. At any time they can “challenge” one another and they have to produce their coin.

“If you did not have your coin, you buy the [next] round,” said Joyce.

“Even if you’re coming out of the bathroom after a shower […] you will be challenged,” he joked.

Joyce himself was in the reserves, which is where he began collecting and first had the idea to start a military museum.

The Pictou County Military Heritage Museum has been open to the public since July 2006.

Joyce outlined the major goals of the museum.

“First, to document, protect and preserve [as many] military artifacts and pictures as possible,” he said.

The second major goal of the museum is to honour and document the people who have served from the across the country.

Joyce and other volunteers personally interview surviving veterans and logs their stories in specially bound books with photos of them in uniform.

They have documentation on more than 2,000 military personnel from the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, the Afghanistan War as well as other conflicts.

Attractions like these have attracted many distinguished guests over the years, including former defence minister Peter MacKay and former premier Rodney MacDonald.

Each year between 500 and 750 guests visit the museum in Pictou. Joyce said about half those are school-aged children.

“It is a great resource for kids,” said MLA Patricia Arab. “I’m going to forward this on to the schools in my area.”

The not-for-profit museum is a labour of love. It’s funded entirely by donations and fundraisers, and run by volunteers.

Joyce said he tries to start each year with about $2,500 for the annual operating budget.

“The only one who gets paid a little bit of money is myself. I get $25 every two weeks for gas,” said Joyce. “So we’ve eaten up the gas budget coming here.”

He said if he got government funding he would use it to advertise the museum to try to draw in more visitors.

Cape Breton West MLA Alfie MacLeod said he could hear in Joyce’s voice the passion he has for his work.