Moose Jaw’s Medieval Château
· 9 min. read
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It was fifty years ago that the Château Room was brought to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, but only a few people have ever heard of it.
If you've never heard of the Château Room, you aren't alone. There's no conspiracy to keep it hidden; in fact, people visit it every day. The reason few people ever talk about it is because it's only accessible to military personnel.
So, as a civilian, it took me months to arrange a finally get a tour, and when I saw it? Well, why don't we start from the beginning.
Thirteenth century Europe was a turbulent time. War was ravaging the countryside, crusades were marching to the Holy Land, the barbarian hordes were waning, and the Black Death was still a century away. This time period is known by scholars as the High Middle Ages ? or the Middle Ages before everything went wrong.
Among all this, the Count of Chiny owned land near the border of what is now Belgium and France. The Chiny family's name is one that few know outside of history works, but at the time they were very powerful. In 1221, as a testament to their influence in the area, they constructed a castle that was the then-capital of the area.
From there, the hands of time passed by. War in Europe raged, the plague ravaged cities and towns, empires crumbled, and the castle built by the Count of Chiny stood watch over it all.
In the 16th Century the castle was replaced by the fortress of Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, and later by Jean III d'Allamont in 1601.
In 1657, King Louis XIV led 30,000 French forces to siege the castle, which was defended by 756 soldiers. For 57 days the battle raged until the fortress, and Jean V d'Allamont, the grandson of the initial builder, fell to combat.
The French would regain control of the fortress during the French Revolution, and some claim it was the destination of King Louis XVI and his fleeing family. It would remain under French control for another century until it was abandoned and damaged during the First and Second World Wars.
Once World War II ended, the tides of Europe changed. The world had entered what is called the "Long Peace". Democracies made castles and fortresses obsolete, and many fell into disrepair. This castle was one of many.
In 1952 the world was heading into the Cold War and military bases popped up throughout Europe. One of these was a small commune called Marville, and it was established by Royal Canadian Air Force under NATO. This base was operated by No. 1 Wing, and was one of four such communes that were created, with two in France and another two in Germany.
By the time the air force base was getting set up, it was determined that a mess hall was in order. This decision was made around the same time as the National Trust (Beaux Arts) was considering selling off pieces of the old fortress. News of this sale reached No. 1 Wing and personnel were sent to look.
What they found was damaged, but not unsalvageable, material. Flight Lieutenant Jean Lepage arranged a deal with the National Trust and for $250 (or $2,500 of today's money) they could take all the lumber, glass and stone they could fit in a truck. Naturally, when F/L Lepage returned, he had the biggest truck he could find on the base.
The construction of the mess hall was done by several individuals on the base, and apart from four small screws, no modern materials were used. The room included embedded stairs, stained glass windows, a solid oak bar, a stone fireplace and oak furniture. It cost $6,500 to build the Chateau Room, none of which was public funds. The construction was overseen by Group Captain D.J. "Black" Williams.
When the room opened in 1969, G/C Williams took one board off the wall in the room and ceremoniously burned it. By doing this, the room was never officially completed and was deemed still under construction. According to NATO Infrastructure documents, projects under construction, regardless of scale, belonged to the user base, not the home country.
In 1967 this foresight came into fruition when France left NATO and requested the forces to leave. Plank by plank, stone by stone, the Château Room was catalogued, numbered and packed away with specific instructions on how to reassemble it. It was then flown to Trenton, Ontario and stored.
Two years later, in 1969, Colonel O.B. Philp, Base Commander at CFB Moose Jaw received permission to purchase the entire assembly from Trenton and reassembled it in Moose Jaw.
The new Château Room was built to the original Marville specifications but was approximately 15% bigger. The Moose Jaw base added some additional Canadian fir and oak into the construction, mixing French and Canadian cultures.
On May 29, 1970 the room was officially opened. In attendance that day was G/C Williams and Col. O. B. Philp who finally "completed" the room by replacing the piece of wood that was burnt in 1969. This piece of wood is dedicated to all the French and Canadian artisans who made it possible.
Today the Château Room today is a museum of sorts, with crests from the original d'Allamont family, stained glass windows from a twelfth century church, and a stone fireplace from Belgium. It is also home to a mounted Boar's head, engraved fleur de lis, a bell from the Canadian frigate, and a piece of the Berlin Wall.
One of the most iconic pieces of the Château Room is the single piece of wood that makes up the bar. Today soldiers rest drinks and food on the polished wood, but it was original purpose was the steps into the old Montmédy fortress. Centuries ago knights in armour once walked upon that very spot.
Since opening a half century ago, the room has become riddled with a variety of gifts from graduating students. These include Buddha statues, dragon sculptures and towering African artwork, to name a few. The room is used daily by pilots, with massive stumps located in the far side of the room for a participant in the European drinking game Hammerschlagen. There's an amp and chair sitting on stairs that once led outside, and barrels from Pirmasen's Brewery throughout the room. Two new rooms have also been added. The new rooms boast more modern luxuries, like video games, a billiard table, and a mini stage set up with guitars and amps and microphones.
Even with its modern luxuries, the Château Room is a glimpse back in time to a different era; one of knights in armour, crusades and conquering, war and peace, and the ancient world of the High Middle Ages.
Did you know about the Château Room before reading this article? If it was accessible to the public, would you go visit it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Thank you to 15 Wing Moose Jaw for allowing me to visit the Château Room.
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Categories: Canada, History, Saskatchewan