AMHERST, N.S. – The memories of 486 fallen members of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders are the reason Ray Coulson goes to the Col. James Layton Ralston Armoury in Amherst almost every morning.
Coulson, a retired regimental sergeant major with the Nova Scotia Highlanders (North), goes to the regimental museum every morning of every weekday to spend several hours with the collection, conducting research and being there for what’s a dwindling number of veterans from the Second World War, Korea and numerous peacekeeping missions as well as Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.
That commitment was recognized Saturday when he was presented a Senate of Canada 150 Medal by Nova Scotia senator Michael MacDonald that was attended by more than a hundred of Coulson’s family members, friends and community supporters.
“Anytime I get a crowd here I can’t help but teach them a little bit about this building and how important it is to our history. There were 486 North Nova Scotia Highlanders who trained on this very floor went overseas and lost their lives,” Coulson said upon receiving the medal. “The average age of that 486 was 19 years old. There were 1,044 that left this building in 1941 and went to Halifax to go to England, 486 never returned. This was their home and now we’re having ideas of tearing down their home and that’s why I’m fighting it.”
Coulson started the regimental museum in 1986 when veterans started bringing in items such as uniforms and souvenirs from the Second World War and the Korean War. Soon after the museum started receiving artifacts from the First World War and from the internment camp located in Amherst during that war.
The museum, that was located next to the Sergeant’s Mess in the west end of the building, was moved several years ago to the east side of the building amid structural concerns with the turrets at the west end.
Coulson said the names of Amherst area soldiers are located in the museum as well as uniforms donated by the veterans themselves and family members. It also includes the regiment’s Book of Memories that contains information on every one of the 486 North Novies killed in action as well as where they were killed and where they are buried.
He said he doesn’t want to see their memories disappear with the loss of the building.
National Defence has declared the building as surplus and is in the process of divesting itself of the property. A community committee is working to save the building and the federal government is investigating what is needed to fix the building so it can be turned over to the community.
Coulson said that while he received the medal, Saturday’s celebration was about community and the people who have helped him over the years.
“What Amherst has is a lot people who can help you with specific things. Not only do they do it, but they did it for no pay. If there are a few things in the museum business it’s you don’t have a lot of room and you don’t have a lot of money,” Coulson said. “To be recognized in this matter is really special and it’s the highlight of my life.”
Coulson’s son, Paul, said his father has always been involved in the community but was always someone who worked behind the scenes.
“His integrity throughout his entire life has been at the forefront in everything he does,” he said. “As a family, we’re utterly proud of him, not just for today but for every day because he sets a standard as a father should of how we should live our life. He does it with ease and grace and this is one day it gets recognized.”
He said his father has a strong belief in what the armoury and regimental museum mean to Amherst.
Coulson has also influenced many young people in choosing a career in the military. One was Alan Theal, a veteran of Afghanistan, who learned first-hand Coulson’s commitment to the armoury and young people.
“It’s very important to him and to us to see what he has accomplished,” Theal said. “He was an important part of this building when I started out in 1975. The dedication he puts into this building every day is incredible. It’s about keeping the memories alive and Ray lives daily to do that.”
Senator MacDonald said Coulson was recognized for his commitment to community through the museum and his work to preserve the regiment’s history and the memory of those men who didn’t return from the Second World War.
“What Ray has done in creating this museum has ensured that the pride that his community has in this historic regiment is not only preserved, but can continue to be appreciated by future generations of Nova Scotians,” MacDonald said. “Ray’s efforts serve as a truly special tribute to the sacrifices of the members of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders.”