Tag Archives: Front street drill shed

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.

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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]

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Location of Drill shed on Front Street (Goad’s Atlas of Toronto 1880)
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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.

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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]

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Location of the University Avenue Armoury (Goad’s Atlas of Toronto 1893)
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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.

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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.