PTSD and the Canadian War Museum

“A recent study from the Department of Veterans Affairs shows that the number of Iraq and Afghanistan vets diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder is rising rapidly…” – Minnesota Public Radio.

Over the past few years, cases of PTSD have been increasing and museums around North America are responding. At the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Canada, a painting by Colin Gill called Canadian Observation Post has been used to help treat PTSD among Canadian soldiers.

canadian observation post

Alison Howell wrote in her paper “The Art of Governing Trauma: Treating PTSD in the Canadian Military as a Foreign Policy Practice” that the painting has gained a lot of attention recently in Canada as a way to tell the story of PTSD.

“In the production of this narrative of PTSD amongst Canadian soldiers, one piece of art has become particularly prominent. After spending 80 years in storage, Colin Gill’s 1920 painting titled Canadian Observation Post, which depicts a soldier suffering from shell shock in WWI, has recently come to be displayed in museums across Canada, and has been featured in various special reports, opinion pieces, and other publications produced by the military’s Ombudsman. It is now displayed prominently in the new Canadian War Museum. This paper questions why this painting from WWI has suddenly been featured so regularly, how it has become useful, and how it functions within emergent narratives concerning PTSD in the Canadian Forces.”



One response to “PTSD and the Canadian War Museum

  1. I recently realized that “shell shock” as it was called in the early part of the 20th century was the same as PTSD. I imagine that a painting depicting the malady from a previous war would help validate current veterans–showing that they are not alone and PTSD is not a new thing… I am intrigued that museums are addressing this huge current mental impairment through art. It makes sense–I just never thought about how museums might address it. National Parks have long been used as places for healing returning veterans. It is important to remember that our cultural institutions and natural refuges are helpful in the healing process for wounded warriors.

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