Ottawa, Ontario — The Canadian War Museum today unveiled a newly restored M1917 Six-Ton Tank, one of two known to exist in Canada. Based on one of the most influential tank designs in history, the M1917 is also one of the vehicles that helped train Canada’s Second World War armoured forces. The restoration was made possible thanks to the support of Richard Iorweth Thorman, the Friends of the Canadian War Museum and DEW Engineering. The M1917 was the American-made version of the Renault FT, a revolutionary machine designed during the First World War by famous French automobile manufacturer Louis Renault. The FT was the first operational tank with a fully rotating turret, rear-mounted engine and front-mounted driver’s compartment—a configuration copied in most tank designs ever since.
In 1940, Canada had almost no tanks of its own and needed to train tank crews for its rapidly growing army. Colonel F.F. Worthington, a long-time advocate for a Canadian armoured fighting capability and the de facto founder of the Canadian Armoured Corps (now Royal Canadian Armoured Corps), arranged for the acquisition of approximately 250 M1917s as “scrap metal” from the then-neutral United States for use as training vehicles. They were used to train members of the newly formed Canadian Armoured Corps at Camp Borden (now Canadian Forces Base Borden), earning the M1917 a special place in Canadian military history. “The addition of this beautifully restored tank further enhances our outstanding collection of large vehicles and our ability to tell the story of Canada’s military history,” said James Whitham, Director General of the Canadian War Museum. “I offer sincere thanks to Richard Iorweth Thorman, the Friends of the Canadian War Museum, DEW Engineering and others for their generous support.”
“At the University of Toronto, I shared many crowded classes with returning Second World War veterans. I had been too young to fight, but definitely old enough to never forget those who had fought for Canada,” declared Mr. Thorman. When asked why he supported the restoration of this special tank, he replied “It was an opportunity of a lifetime to complete the circle of involvement, first, the new Canadian War Museum building, and now, with one of the first tanks used in the training of the Canadian Armoured Corps.” Only a small number of these tanks are still known to exist. The War Museum’s M1917, one of only two in Canada, was used to train Canadian tank crews at Camp Borden. After being sold as surplus, it was heavily modified and used as a logging tractor near Bracebridge, Ontario. The Museum acquired the vehicle, incomplete and in very poor condition, in 1997. The majority of the funds required for this restoration came from Richard Iorweth Thorman, a long-time supporter of the Canadian War Museum and member of the Friends of the Canadian War Museum, which provided the balance of funding.
The hands-on restoration and reproduction work was completed by DEW Engineering and volunteers from the Friends of the Canadian War Museum. “It is truly rewarding to see another piece of Canadian history preserved for future generations,” said Douglas Rowland, President of the Friends of the Canadian War Museum. “Each and every member who supported the project should be proud to have participated in this restoration.” The restored M1917 is now on display in the Museum’s LeBreton Gallery, a diverse collection of vehicles, artillery and other large artifacts that helps document the Canadian military experience from the 18th century to the present.