I believe innocence is the first victim of war.
When soldiers crossed the Atlantic, they carried innocence with them. It did not make the return voyage. More than 68,000 Canadians died from wounds suffered in combat or from disease. Their lives were cut short, often in the flower of their youth.
Jean Brillant was one of two French-Canadian combatants in the First World War to be awarded the highest medal for valour. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for showing “absolute fearlessness” – for an act of gallantry that cost him his life.
– Viveka Melki
Jean Brillant (1890-1918)
Brillant gave his life for his patrie, for Quebec and for France. When the Governor General of Canada presented the posthumous Victoria Cross bestowed on Jean Brillant to his grieving father Joseph Brillant in Rimouski in December 1918, it was by all accounts a moving event. A large crowd of elected officials, clergy, servicemen and citizens assembled in the great hall of the Séminaire de Rimouski to see the Duke of Devonshire give his father the medal and read a message from King George V. Jean Brillant’s extraordinary bravery had earned him the highest medal for valour offered to soldiers fighting under the British Crown – it had also cost him his life. Brillant had died just four months earlier.
Jean Brillant had come from humble beginnings. His father was a railway maintenance worker. When he enlisted, his occupation was listed as “telegraph operator”. His brother, Jules Brillant, had not yet launched the career that would take him to the heights of the Quebec business and political elite.
Brillant displayed his bravery on several occasions. At the battle of Amiens on August 8, 1918, he singlehandedly captured a machine gun emplacement. The following day he led his platoon to take 15 machine guns and 150 prisoners. Although wounded in the head, he led a final charge to silence a field gun. Jean Brillant’s exploits became legendary. Along with another Victoria Cross winner from the region, Joseph Keable (from Saint-Moïse), he was the most celebrated of Quebec’s soldiers of the Great War. Streets and parks took his name in Valcartier, Ste-Foy, Montreal and Rimouski.
Learn More about Jean Brillant
Jean Brillant is the subject of a biography in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography and one of three Victoria Cross winners profiled in Luc Bertrand’s Trois Histoires de Bravoure – Le Canadien Français et la Croix de Victoria.
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“The faceless unknown soldier, screams through the shattered glass, his innocence lost forever.”
– Mark Raynes Roberts
“On the shoreline of the St. Lawrence River, sheets wave in the wind. The smell of fresh laundry greets the scent of freshly cut grass.”
– Alexandra Bachand
Jean Brillant (1890-1918)
“Jean Brillant’s extraordinary bravery had earned him the highest medal for valour offered to soldiers fighting under the British Crown – it had also cost him his life. Brillant had died just four months earlier.”
– Alexander Reford
Conservation issues for George Stephen Cantlie’s botanical specimens to be displayed in the WAR Flowers exhibit
Contractual expertise by Céline Arseneault, botanist and archivist (retired botanist and librarian at the Montréal Botanical Garden) May 2016
- The dried flowers specimens had been conserved pressed in the original letters/papers/envelopes for nearly 100 years, with one exception where a later envelope included a flower.
- Some flowers had pieces of fabrics or textiles attached to them.
- Some flowers had rubbed off or left their print on the papers.
- The flowers were dry, brittle and in some cases very fragile and broken in pieces (included in the paper/envelopes).
- Some envelopes included more than one specimen and more than one plant species.
- The flowers hold historical value but no biodiversity value like scientific herbarium pieces because they were not documented as such.
- Botanical identification has been made in accordance with the letters’ indications (dates, locations) and material available (mostly flowers only, visual colours, few leaves) for tentative scientific genus identification.
- The flowers have historical significance in the context of Cantlie’s archives, as a part of the correspondence addressed mainly to his daughter Celia (or exceptionally wife/other daughters). They are seen as item “objects” in the scope of the Rules for Archival Description by the Canadian Council of Archives:
- The primary purpose of the present assessment was to avoid altering the integrity of these objects.
- The accompanying papers, letters and envelopes bring major significant value (dates, paper headings, postal stamps, annotations, writings, etc.) to the objects. See link above.
Original plan for the exhibit: Inclusion of flowers into resin pastilles
The original exhibit proposal included stand‐alone encasing flowers into transparent polymer‐type resin (“pastilles”), each one to be temporarily encased in a crystal sculpture for display purposes.
Conservation issues regarding acrylic resin encasing
Transparent acrylic‐type or polymer‐type resin can be used successfully for fresh botanical specimens, however:
- Dried botanical specimens are organic and brittle.The brittleness accentuates with dryness, age and manipulation. Humidity and change of environment can cause rapid deterioration by moulds, dust mites or otherwise. Older pigments and botanical specimens themselves are also more fragile to heat and light. https://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/01‐03.pdf — http://conservation.myspecies.info/node/35
- Encasing in acrylic‐type resin implies a heating process which creates static energy as well as thermal energy. Statics augments brittleness and specimens risk “exploding” into the resin.
- Because of their historical value, there were no available sample specimens that could be used as an experiment to validate the previous statement.
- At this point, where flowers have already been subjected to change of colours due to time, we can assume that polymer encasing would accelerate the discolouration.
- No studies are available regarding the long‐term conservation (discolouration, deterioration) of the acrylic resin itself.
- This type of encasing is not generally recommended for archival or historical conservation as it alters the specimens.
- This type of encasing is NOT recommended in the conservation literature for older, organic material, such as botanical specimens and papyrus (references available on request).
For these reasons and in regard to further deterioration of the specimens, encasing in acrylic resin was not recommended for the Cantlie’s flowers.
Conservation issues regarding stand‐alone two‐glass panes encasing
Even pressed, the dried flowers have thickness, some more than others, and may not be encased easily in two panes of glass (or acrylic) with a frame moulding, particularly because of their brittleness and for practical and esthetic concerns (e.g type of transparent glue applied on the glass, type of moulding, etc.).
- As stated above, the dried flowers seen as objects have no significant historical value when separated from the archival fonds and their accompanying pieces.
- Archival conversation aims to preserve all parts of an item (or a historical record) together.
- Producing a series of botanical specimens in stand-alone frames would contradict archival conversation.
- Float mounting thus included a non-acid paper in an off-white texture and colour.
- Stable polymer archival glue was recommended by the Marie Victorin Herbarium of Université de Montréal to be used both on flowers, which we use also for the papers records.
- High-standard museum-recommended frame acrylic, in a non glare acrylic glazing matte finish, was used instaid of glass after studying the travel requirements of the exhibit and to minimize reflection for glare-free viewing.
- The pre-layouts were realized by Céline Arseneault and Viveka Melki in the Spring of 2016 and each layout was documented: botanical identification, measurements and text transcription of each record in a preliminary archival description of the Cantlie Fonds.
- 17 final layouts (including 19 pieces) werw then frames by the experienced framer at « Au Coin des Artistes » in Montreal under the supervision of Céline Arseneault for the purpose of conservation and to be included as the main raison d’être of the War Flowers exhibit.