The armoury — a place to gather
Since the earliest years of Ontario there has been a militia to guard our territory and maintain civil order.
The troops in turn needed a place to drill during our bitter, snowy winters, and a place to store their arms and other equipment year round.
For a long time, the arms and equipment were stored all over St. Catharines, and the drilling was done outside in decent weather and in any large interior space during inclement weather.
The militia didn’t get a central location until 1862, when a drill shed opened downtown at the corner of Cherry and Salina streets. In 1868 that building was replaced by a much larger facility on Raymond Street, behind the old Grantham Academy (later the Robertson School).
This new building served its purpose for three decades, until the cyclone of Sept. 26, 1898 — the one that would also cause havoc in Merritton — blew off the drill shed’s roof. The next day The Standard described the building as “a partially dismantled wreck.” It was soon demolished.
The militia then had to go back to its former improvised way of storing its equipment and finding spaces to drill in locations scattered around the city. That was an intolerable arrangement, and interested parties here in town began urging the federal government to construct a new home for the regiment. City council purchased two parcels of land and gave the government their choice of one as the site for a proper armoury.
In the end Ottawa did appropriate funds for a new armoury and opted to build it on one of the sites offered gratis by the city — a site on Lake Street between Welland Avenue and Elizabeth Street, land owned by the McLaren family and used until then for market gardening. Construction of the new armoury began in mid-1904 and was completed in the autumn of 1905, but the new building was not formally opened until May 1906.
Since then, in addition to its primary use by the military, its large interior space has long been made available for all sorts of community gatherings. Our old photo this week shows one of the early events held there — the September exhibition of the St. Catharines Horticultural Society in 1907. The building was for a long time the site of those yearly or seasonal expositions, but it has also hosted numerous other events in the past century-plus — displays of Canadian manufactures, automobile shows, concerts, all manner of patriotic events — in the 1950s even some wrestling matches. Many readers today will know the armoury as the site of the mayor’s annual New Year’s Day levee. Dennis Gannon is a member of the St. Catharines heritage advisory committee. Reach him at email@example.com.
The Lincoln and Welland Regiment hold a change of command ceremony at the armoury on Lake Street in this October 2017 file photo.
The Lake Street armoury is pictured in 1907.