Drill Sheds and Armouries of the QOR

With the increased rate of withdrawal of British regular regiments from Canada in the 1850’s came the need to provide storage and training facilities for the volunteer militia companies and battalions that would fill the void. In 1860 the Queen’s Own were parading out of St. Lawrence Hall on Front St and a building at the north-east corner of King and Nelson (now Jarvis). The first “purpose built” drill shed was completed in June 1864 and was located on Simcoe Street just east of the old parliament buildings between Wellington and Front Streets; although no pictures or photos have been discovered, it is known to have been 400’ long by 80’ wide with a vaulted roof.

simcoe-st-drill-shed
Location of Simcoe Street drill shed 1864-1877, note how close it was to the docks at the time (Goad’s Atlas of Toronto 1858)

“The drill shed, a large building with arched roof of single span (since destroyed), was situated on the west side of Simcoe Street, adjacent to the old Parliament Buildings and extended through from Wellington Street to Front Street. It was built in the hollow of the old Russells Creek, a portion of whose valley is still to be seen in the Lieutenant Governor’s garden, and the hard earth floor of the shed was far below the level of Wellington Street. From this street a stairway led down to a small entrance door at the north end and at the south end were the broad double doors by which the regiments marched out direct on the lower level to Front Street.”

[The Fenian Raid of 1866 by Barlow Cumberland]

Shortly after its construction it was the mustering point for the soldiers called-up for active duty during the Fenian Raid June of 1866;

“At 6:00 P.M. Major Charles T. Gillmor, the recently appointed commanding officer of the QOR received orders to assemble 400 men by 5:00 A.M. in the recently constructed Simcoe Street drill shed and to proceed to the Toronto docks where at 6:30 A.M. they were to board the steamer City of Toronto for a three-hour trip across Lake Ontario to Port Dalhousie.”

The Simcoe Street drill shed lasted into the 1870’s but it seems there was damage and it was replaced in 1877 by a newly built drill shed behind the City Hall, between Jarvis & Market Streets south of Front Street.

“Amongst the difficulties which the Battalion had to contend with at this time, not the least was that, the old drill shed on Simcoe street having been partially destroyed, the several companies were compelled to perform their drill in empty warehouses and halls.”

It was not until April 4th, 1877, that a new drill shed was provided. On that date, the new drill shed, in rear of the City Hall Buildings, erected at an expense of some $16,000 by the City Council and the Government, was opened and regular and systematic work made possible.”

[Pg 25 Historical Album]

1880-drill-shed-on-front2
Location of Drill shed on Front Street (Goad’s Atlas of Toronto 1880)
st-lawrence-market-armoury
Drill shed on Front Street (also shown at top of page) (City of Toronto Archives)

The Armouries on University Avenue, when completed in 1893, was the largest of its kind in North America. It was the longest to be used by the regiment so far, and was the starting point for thousands of Riflemen going to fight in South Africa, WWI, WWII and Korea.

the-armouries-1893-virtual-reference-library
University Avenue Armouries 1893 by R. C. Windeyer [Toronto reference library]
“Built in 1891, the Toronto Armouries officially opened on May 17, 1894. Its inauguration was celebrated by a military tournament featuring different regiments—the Queen’s Own Rifles, 48th Highlanders, Royal Regiment, Royal Dragoons Toronto, and the Governor General’s Body Guard. The building had massively thick walls that were faced with red bricks and bonded with red mortar to create a continuously smooth appearance. Built on a solid foundation of Kingston limestone, the same type of stone was used as trim around the smaller windows and the huge arched windows on the west facade. The trim on the top of the towers, which were mediaeval in appearance, were also detailed with limestone.

In the interior of the armouries was a great  drill hall measuring 280’ by 125’, with a ceiling that soared 72’ above the floor. The drill hall was sometimes used to host banquets and automobile, trade, and fashion shows. Included were offices for military staff, mess halls (dining areas), classrooms, and kit rooms (storage). In the basement there was a rifle range and a  bowling alley to provide recreation for the men.    

The Toronto armouries served as a training facility for troops that fought in the Boer War (1899-1902), the First World War (1914-1918), the Second World War (1939-1945), and the Korean Conflict. The Boer War was when Canadian troops first fought on foreign soil. During World War 11, because of the proximity of the armouries to Osgoode Hall, judges in the courtrooms complained that the gun salutes rattled the windows of their courtrooms causing them to fear for their safety.

However, by the 1950s, high-rise buildings increasingly dominated University Avenue. Despite efforts to preserve the armouries, the need for space to expand the law courts at Osgoode Hall was given priority. On the site today there are provincial courthouses and a historic plaque stating, “On this site stood the University Avenue Armouries, the home of famous Toronto Regiments of the Canadian Army and centre of Militia activities in Toronto from 1891 until it was demolished in 1963.”

[Doug Taylor, Historic Toronto]

1893-drill-shed-on-university-c
Location of the University Avenue Armoury (Goad’s Atlas of Toronto 1893)
new-image
Queen’s Own departing University Armouries for WWI led by (then) LCol M. Mercer

Between the destruction of University Avenue Armoury and the completion of Moss Park Armoury at Queen and Jarvis the regiment was temporarily put up in an industrial building on Richmond Street near Jarvis. Not a purpose built armoury it is said to have had many support columns making drill difficult.

Moss Park Armoury is a large, purpose-built, multiple unit armoury shared by the Queen’s Own since it opened in 1966 with the 7th Toronto Regiment (Royal Canadian Artillery), the 48th Highlanders, and 25 Medical Company and originally 2 Toronto Service Bn and the Canadian Intelligence Corps. The building is equipped with an underground “Gun Park” (for vehicles, artillery pieces and maintenance), a large parade square, multiple offices for administration, lecture rooms and messes for the various different ranks to relax in on the second floor. As of writing (2017) the regiment still parades at Moss Park Armoury.

2011-moss-park-parade
Moss Park Armoury during a parade 2008

From 2006-2015 Buffs Company had been parading out of Dalton Armoury off of Milner avenue, between Markham Rd and McCowan in Scarborough.

 

5 thoughts on “Drill Sheds and Armouries of the QOR”

  1. This article brought back a lot of fond memories for me. I joined the Queen’s Own in April 1961 on my 16th birthday at University Armoury. I’ll never forget the site, it was a huge reg building with a equally huge parade square. I had come down that night because a friend of mine, Ted Woodley had invited me.

    I stood on the edge of the parade square watching as he was being given heck by the DSM Syd Byatt. Not knowing anything about the military I mouthed off (surprise). WO2 Byatt whirled around marched briskly to me and yelled “Are you here to join or bugger about?” (he didn’t say bugger), He marched to to the Personnel Selection Office and turned me over to Sgt Marcel Doiron who gave me the intelligence test to join the Canadian Armoury (a series of drawings that had a truck with square wheels; a table missing a leg; a table setting missing a knife, etc.

    University was a great place. Every Wednesday, we’d have an opening parade and close with a finishing parade where we march passed the CO, LCol Glenn McGiver in both quick and double time.

    I remember clearly the night we marched out of University Armoury for the last time in 1963. I believe that night (perhaps the week before) but the Reviewing Officer was LCol Rutherford, VC, MC, MM. We were then loaded onto buses and taken down to Richmond Street Armoury which, was to be our home for the next 3 years and, then onto Casa Loma for a Regimental Dinner.

    Richmond St Armoury was a disaster for us. It was a small two story office building that we shared with 7 Tor RCA and, to accommodate them we had to change our Admin night from Monday to Friday evenings. The parade square, you could call it that, was very small with openings the floor of the parade square that were pits used by mechanics in the previous use of the building to service vehicles.

    We lost large numbers of members over those three years and it took us years to recover from the disaster that put us there in the first place. The only bright note was that when we had large ceremonial parades, Change or RSM’s or CO’, etc. We used our old Drill Hall at the St Lawrence Market. We’d march down the street to the St Lawrence Market, using our right to do so from having been given the Freedom of the City of Toronto. After the ceremony we’d march back up the road to Richmond Str.
    Finally, and Bob Dunk is right, in 1966 we marched into Moss Park Armoury. Two years before the opening of Moss Park I received a call from the BOR for me and my girlfriend Gail (later my wife) to meet with a reporter from the Toronto Telegram to have photos taken outside & inside Moss Park. I still have those photos which bring back fond memories. On an interesting note, my wife’s Great-Grandfather, Rfn James Bedley joined the QOR in 1862 and fought at the Battle of Ridgeway.

    The day we marched in as a tremendous event as not only the Queen’s Own but the other new tenants also marched in.

    Just a year later one of the biggest events we had at the Armoury was celebrating Canada’s Centenary. The Dinner / Ball was hosted and paid for by the Province of Ontario and, the special guest was our Colonel-in-Chief, HRH Princess Alexandra. The guest list from the Regiment included many QOR dignitaries and all the Officers & Snr NCO’s & their wives and girlfriends. Much to our surprise, a number of Jnr Nco’s and their girlfriends or wives were also invited: Al Bartley; Steve Rath; Gerry Senetchko and myself. We and our girlfriends / wives received engraved invitations from the Province. The Armoury floor was transformed. Special dividers surrounded it and, stretching overhead from balcony to balcony was a net that was covered in flowers. The menu included food from every Province in Canada.

    I could regale you with more stories but, perhaps another time.

    Harry

    1. Thanks for your comments Harry, it’s good to hear from someone who experienced the move from University Avenue Armoury to Richmond Street and finally to Moss Park Armoury. Yes we’d love to hear more of your tales.

  2. I believe Moss Park opened in 1966, not 1963. The original occupants were the Queen’s Own, 48th Highlanders, 7th Toronto RCA, 2 Toronto Service Bn and the Canadian Intelligence Corps.

      1. Jerry Senetchko
        Jan 10, 2017

        After two years of adversity in Richmond Street Armoury, which is now a parking lot, The Queen’s Own moved into The Moss Park Armoury on the 8th of May 1966, the first unit to do so. On the 17th of September the Armoury was officially opened with The Minister of National Defence inspecting a parade of all units. As a foot note, The Q.O.R. was the strongest on parade.

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