Do you have a history of the Lake Street Armouries?
Before the armouries on Lake Street was built, the local military used a drill hall that was often considered more of a “shed”. It was located on Raymond Street, behind the Grantham Academy (current multicultural centre on Church Street). However, this building was destroyed by a tornado in September 1898. After its destruction, the decision was made to build a more solid armoury in St. Catharines.
The city purchased the land where the armoury currently sits. Originally on this property there had been a nursery called Stephenson Gardens. The armoury was designed by T. W. Fuller, an architect that was employed by the Federal Government in Ottawa who was in charge of the drill hall construction program from 1902-1918. Construction began and the building was completed in November 1905. It was officially opened in May 1906.
Multiple military units operated out of the new facility including the 10th St. Catharines Field Battery artillery (or the 10th Battery of the 56th Field Regiment); the 2nd and 10th Dragoons and the 19th Lincoln Regiment (later known as the Lincoln & Welland Regiment) operated out of the new facility. The Lincoln & Welland Regiment Band along with the 68th Lincoln & Welland Cadet Corps also operates out of the armouries.
Originally, there was no fence around the property however one was installed years later. The land in front of the building that is now mainly parking lot, was a grassy field used for drills or as a place to set up many bell tents for troops to rest while stopping at the armoury between long marches from Camp Niagara to other locations such as Toronto. An outbuilding was erected closer to Welland Avenue for use as a utility building.
There are other interesting facts about the armoury that you may not be aware of. Firstly, it was once a social hotspot in the city. The armoury would open its doors to various events, festivals, balls, car shows, concerts, the Mayor’s annual New Year’s Day levee, even wrestling matches. Because of the vastness of the main hall in the building, it was the perfect place for large public events. By the 1970’s non-military events were no longer permitted as the Department of National Defence was concerned about insurance implications.
Also, the very first transatlantic telephone call was placed from the officer’s mess in the St. Catharines armouries to a hotel in London in 1928.
The Memorial Garden that sits at the corner of Lake Street and Welland Avenue, adjacent to the parking lot, was dedicated in June 1994. Also near the garden is an armoured vehicle war trophy that has been on display for many years. This is actually an M5A1 Stuart Tank, nicknamed “Press On”. This particular tank was used by the British Columbia regiment. It had been abandoned in Holland in February 1945 after it was disabled by a mine. It was brought back to Canada in March 1946 as a Second World War souvenir.
In 2015, MP Rick Dykstra announced that the federal government would provide funding to this federal heritage building in the amount of $3.9 million dollars to allow for major upgrades to be done to the building. Part of those upgrades were to include new ventilation, sprinkler system, boiler and heating systems and roof repairs. Such repairs and government support allow this magnificent building to remain an active site for local military units for years to come.