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Military museum founder gets governor general's volunteer award

Vincent Joyce was happy to have his grandson Brett on hand as he was presented the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers in recognition of his contributions starting and managing the Pictou County Military Museum.
Vincent Joyce was happy to have his grandson Brett on hand as he was presented the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers in recognition of his contributions starting and managing the Pictou County Military Museum. - Adam MacInnis

If it can be said that Yankee Stadium is the house that Babe Ruth built, then David Avery believes it’s equally fair to say that The Pictou County Military Museum is the house that Vincent Joyce built.

Joyce founded the museum which first opened its doors in July 2006 and oversaw it for a decade before moving to be closer to family. For his efforts he received the prestigious Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers from the Governor General of Canada. Only 40 people in Canada receive this each year. But Avery, who took over as curator of the museum after Joyce retired, believes he is certainly worthy.

During a presentation ceremony which was held at the Westville Civic Building on March 9, Avery told of the visit of Brigadier General Christopher Thurrott at their first Canadian Veterans And Military Awareness Day in 2011.

At the end of it Thurrott had turned to Joyce and said: “Vince, you got a tank. Nobody gets a tank.”

But then, not many people are like Vincent Joyce.

“I’d like to describe Vince as a bit of a bull dog,” said Avery.

He never shied away from the opportunity to ask for artifacts including the uniforms of high ranking military members.

Westville Mayor Roger MacKay said they were very honoured to be able to provide space for the Museum in their town.

“We always say that it’s not the Westville Military Museum, it’s the Pictou County Military Museum but we are very proud for the town of Westville for hosting this great facility here in the town of Westville.”

Joyce teared up at times as he gave his acceptance speech and thanked all those who have helped make the museum a success and for the person who nominated him.

He said he was completely shocked when he got the call from the Governor General’s office telling him about the award. In fact, he wasn’t sure it was legitimate, so he told the person to send him an email. Within minutes she did.

He had three options. He could attend a ceremony in Ottawa and receive the medal there. He could wait and have the Governor General come to present it to him – which could take up to two years. Or he could have it presented locally. He opted for the later to give a little extra attention to the Military Museum.

How it got started

A former member of the Nova Scotia Highlanders, Joyce has long been a military enthusiast and the artifacts began to pile up in his basement.

“I had them hanging everywhere and my wife was always cleaning them.”

Then one day he said to her: “I’m going to start a military museum.”

“You go right ahead,” she said.

Initially Joyce was given space to use in the old police building in New Glasgow, but after just over a year the museum was asked to relocate.

At the time Joyce said he was having some major health problems including recovering from a stroke, but his wife and other board members took up the cause of finding a new home.

It was a relief in 2008, when the town of Westville agreed to host it and he moved in. With a cause to carry on, he found his health improve.

He built showcases and continued to collect items and fundraise. Now the museum houses more than 15,000 artifacts and has become a major tourist attraction for not only the town but Nova Scotia.

In his concluding remarks, Joyce encouraged the community to continue to show support for it.

“If I had one wish it would be to keep the military museum doors open forever for our future generations.”

What is the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers?

According to the Government of Canada, the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers is awarded to individuals who have made significant, sustained and unpaid contributions to their community in Canada or abroad is eligible. Candidates must have demonstrated an exemplary commitment through their dedicated volunteerism. Living non-Canadians are also eligible if their contributions have brought benefit or honour to Canadians or to Canada.

Each nomination is carefully researched and then reviewed by an advisory committee, which makes recommendations to the governor general. The selection process, which may take up to one year, is non-partisan and merit-based.

The Medal for Volunteers consists of a silver circular medal that is 36 mm in diameter with a suspension ring. The obverse depicts a contemporary effigy of the Sovereign, circumscribed with the inscription in capital letters of the Canadian Royal Title and the word “CANADA”, separated by two maple leaves.

The reverse indicates the ideas of caring and generosity, represented by two interlaced hearts. The sunburst pattern of the rim symbolizes the time that volunteers are giving and their actions. The ribbon uses the vice regal colours of blue and gold. The five gold stripes evoke the fingers of a hand, present in the Caring Canadian Award emblem, while the deep red colour is associated with royalty.

Military Museum Timeline

• 2005 – Board of directors is formed to collect military artifacts in hopes of opening a military museum

• July 2006 – The Pictou County Military Museum opens its doors in the Town of New Glasgow.

• 2008 – The Museum moves to the Town of Westville.

• 2009 – The First Special Services Forces (Devil’s Brigade) members were invited to the Museum where over 100 people came out to meet them.

• 2010 – The museum procured a M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier and C1 Howitzer Cannon from the Canadian and United States governments.

• 2011 – The First Canadian Veteran’s and Military Awareness Day was hosted in Westville.

• 2013 – Received the complete set of Military Challenge Coins of the Afghanistan War. Designer Rod MacLean, from Calgary Alberta, and owner of International Coins, donated all the coins he produces for the Canadian Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The museum is the only one in the world that has the complete collection.

• 2015 – Built a Veterans Memorial Room at Stellarton Legion with artifacts from the Museum.

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