From knights to superheroes

Published on July 10 2018

What do turtles, porcupines, snails and armadillos have in common? They inspired the design of suits of armour! That’s just one of the things I learned during my visit to the new exhibition Armour at the Canadian War Museum.

The large exhibition space is imposing and impressive. On one side, magnificent Renaissance armour from the Museo Stibbert; on the other, a life-size Iron Man. I’m surprised at the variety: we’re a long way from the Middle Ages. The exhibition is well organized and divided into four zones.

The first zone focuses on battle armour. There’s a chart illustrating the different parts of a full suit of armour, with some very pretty terms: the gauntlet, the gorget, the poleyn, the couter … Is this really battle gear? It looks like kitchenware! As in, “Can you hand me the couter? It’s in the third drawer.”

Several types of armour are displayed, including some splendid, intricately decorated gold socks and some more rustic, grey metal ones. I’ll take the gold ones, thank you very much.

There are swords longer than I am tall, daggers, a crossbow … Weapons become sharper, more threatening, more effective in order to pierce the aforementioned metal gorget. We need to find better ways to protect ourselves, as we’ll see later in the exhibition—with a Kevlar vest, for isntance (that once saved a policeman’s life).

The second zone is dedicated to the world of sports. Two life-size knights on horseback in full body armour make an impressive sight. Funny how war and sport look a lot alike! A little farther along, there’s a display of helmets from several sports: football, hockey, cycling. It’s sobering to think how recently head protection has become standard. A tiny little leather headband is supposed to protect you from a horde of musclebound giants bearing down on you … Good luck with that.

Third zone: Ornamental armour. Ceremonies, parades, tournaments—any excuse to carry weapons and show off your prestige, power and status. The collection even includes a suit of child’s armour!

—Mom, I need to go!

—Quick! Take off your gorget, your cuirass, your couter … Oops.

Zone 4: From the battlefield to popular culture. Armour is fascinating, some pieces more than others. This section includes items from the collection of Frederick Stibbert, a 19th-century collector, as well as two artifacts that appeal to my love of the seventh art: a replica of Iron Man’s flesh-and-titanium suit, and a costume from Mad Max: Fury Road. You can even take a selfie with Tony Stark.

There’s a host of activities to complement the exhibition! Watch outdoor movies, design your own family crest at the heraldic workshop, or make a gauntlet. For more information, click here.

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