The ar­moury — a place to gather

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Arts & Life - DE­NIS GAN­NON

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 gan­nond2002@ya­hoo.com.

JULIE JOCSAK THE ST. CATHARINES STAN­DARD

The Lin­coln and Wel­land Reg­i­ment hold a change of com­mand cer­e­mony at the ar­moury on Lake Street in this Oc­to­ber 2017 file photo.

ST. CATHARINES MU­SEUM

The Lake Street ar­moury is pic­tured in 1907.

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