The history of the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 starts in 1987. Between 12 July and 23 August 1987, the first ever exhibition about the Third Battle of Ypres (1917) was held in a municipal school in Passchendaele. The exhibition, with never previously seen image material from the Imperial War Museum immediately draws 9,000 visitors. In combination with a large ceremony at the Tyne Cot Cemetery and battlefield tours over the battlefield of 1917, this represents a major success for the region.

Immediately there are calls to permanently perpetuate the unexpected success. Having procured the chateau at Zonnebeke in 1980, the former city council makes the chateau available. The regional museum gives attention to the battlefields, but the focus of the museum is also on Zonnebeke’s Augustinian Abbey and the local heritage. The regional museum opens its doors at the beginning of 1989.

The regional museum is instantly popular with the visitors. Up to the mid-1990s, the museum attracts 7,000 to 10,000 visitors a year. In 1998, the In Flanders Fields Museum opens in Ypres. With that and the lack of profiling in relation to the First World War, which is actually the regional museum’s strength, the number of visitors falls drastically. In 2002, a definitive decision is called for: discontinuation or drastic renewal. 

The municipality chooses the later and develops a new policy for the museum. The chosen concept was a traditional history museum with a maximum integration of collection exhibits and historical information. The renewed museum opened its doors in April 2004. It is an instant hit in its first year and the MMP1917 receives 27,000 visitors. The visitor numbers continue in the years that follow. The number increases each year by approximately 10,000 visitors. In 2007, the MMP1917 receives 58,414 visitors, a twofold increase in three years’ time!

In the period following the opening, the museum continues working on developing the museum’s four basic functions. They concentrate on promoting the museum in national and international markets. This has a major impact and results in a boom in visitor numbers in a short time.

2007 becomes a key year in the history of the MMP1917

In 2007, the focus of the MMP1917 is on the commemorations of the 90th anniversary of the Third Battle of Ypres. The commemorative year in 2007 is a huge asset and benefit for the region. Zonnebeke is put on the map and that is reflected in the visitor numbers in the coming years, which are at around 60,000.

In 2008, the MMP1917 becomes a regionally recognised museum. It also won the Public Prize for Flemish museums. Both facts are the culmination of all the hard work that took place in the years before.

In 2009, the MMP1917 comes with a new, ambitious plan. Besides landscaping the museum gardens, the MMP1917 extends the existing dugout with a new underground museum building, which specifically focuses on the Third Battle of Ypres. There is a greater focus on the role the landscape played in the battle and on the various nationalities that took part. A network of replica trenches and hideouts is constructed in the museum garden. You arrive in the old building through the ‘Remembrance’ gallery. The total length of the museum trail is doubled to 650 m. The necessary funding was found and work started in October 2010. The new museum opened on 12 July 2013.

Thanks to the ‘Impulsfonds 100 jaar Groote Oorlog’ (100 Years Great War Incentive Fund) in 2010, the Municipality of Zonnebeke also launched the Master Plan: ‘The Legacy of Passchendaele’. The project is aimed at various target groups wanting to explore the former battlefield in Zonnebeke and its heritage. The project is divided into three core activities: creating tourist recreational routes, increasing accessibility to the WWI sites and extending the visitors’ reception. In real terms, this consists of the construction of three walking trails, refining the cycle network, providing information on the grounds, and landscaping and improving accessibility to the Passchendaele Memorial Park situated next to the MMP1917. Finally, landscaping and opening up the WWI heritage sites in and around the Polygon Wood and in and around the command bunker in Zandvoorde.