A symbol of early 20th century development of active volunteer militias, a historic hub for social events, and a conspicuous neighbourhood landmark, the story of the Lake Street Armoury goes beyond traditional military history in our community.
On this episode of History from Here, Sara takes you to the Lake Street Armoury. Not only does this conspicuous landmark help us understand our local military history, but was also once a social hub for the community.
Built in 1905, the Lake Street Armoury was to replace a drill-shed located on Raymond Street that had been destroyed by a tornado in 1898. Construction of this more permanent structure came during an era of renewed interest, reform, and expansion in the Canadian military. Many of the Canadian armouries built in the period between 1896 and 1914 were designed with similar architectural inspiration, including the features that make the Lake Street Armoury stand out: red brick walls with a quarry-faced stone foundation, and medieval military features such as the crenellated corner-towers and troop doors reminiscent of fortified gates.
This new facility was initially built to serve as a headquarters for local militia units across Niagara, 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). The Armoury was used for military recruitment, training, storage for military equipment, and as a starting, ending, or resting point for troops during marches. The land in front of the building, now a parking lot, was once a grassy field used for drills, or as place for troops to set up their bell tents. The Lake Street Armoury has also served as an enlistment location during war.
Beyond its military use, the Armoury was also once a social hub for the community. The vast size of the building’s main hall provided ample space for large public events. The Armoury would often open its doors to exhibitions, including from the St. Catharines Horticultural Society, festivals, banquet dinners, dances, car shows, concerts, soapbox derby clinics, and even wrestling matches. While the use of the Lake Street Armoury for public gatherings began to fade after the 1970s, some major community events continued to be hosted here, including Chorus Niagara’s 2013 presentation of Verdi’s Requiem featuring over 200 musicians, and the Mayor’s annual New Year’s Day Levee.
The Lincoln and Welland Regiment continues to operate and train out of the Lake Street Armoury today. To honour the local men and women who have served, the Lincoln and Welland Regiment Memorial Garden was dedicated in 1994. The garden includes a commemorative plaque honouring Colonel Graham Thomson Lyall, who earned the Victoria Cross for his efforts during the First World War, and a M5A1 Stuart Tank, which was brought to Canada from Holland in 1946 as a Second World War souvenir.
An ornate yet imposing presence on this urban streetscape, Lake Street Armoury weaves a thread through many stories in St. Catharines’ history. This building has served as familiar space for generations of not only military service members, but regular members of our community as well.
Today, the armoury continues to embody the collective spirit and identity of Canada’s military, from young cadets to veterans and every member in between.
Military equipment on display in front of the Armoury, 1914. STCM 2141-N.