Peterborough Armouries

The outside of the Peterborough Armoury in 1926. Trent Valley Archives F 400 Matthew Griffis Fond. Used with permission from Trent Valley Archives

The Peterborough Armoury is located at 20 Murray Street, Peterborough, across the street from Peterborough City Hall. This building is a designated historical landmark, and has been open and in use for nearly 110 years. Plans began for the construction of an armoury in January of 1890, with the request of a $2000 grant. The request was formed in a city council meeting late January, arguing a structure needed to house the 57th battalion, which was stationed in and around the Peterborough area at the time.  This discussion was tabled until 1901, when a request for a new drill hall had been placed. This request occurred during a wave of national pride and military enthusiasm following the Boer war in Africa, which ended in 1902 and contributed to the Canadian government’s reform of national defence. 

In 1903, the federal government placed an estimate on the cost to build an armoury, which helped initiate the process of construction. In March of 1904scouting began for a site to build the armoury, but this proved to be a difficult task as the land needed to be agreed upon by the municipal, provincial and federal levels. Eventually however, a location was agreed upon and the construction of the Peterborough Armoury began September 13, 1907.  The laying of the first cornerstone occurred the following year on April 1, 1908 and was accompanied by a visit from the Minister of Militia Frederick Borden, who gave a speech thanking all those who had been apart and supported the construction of the Peterborough Armoury. In May 1909, the armoury had its grand opening. Along with the 57th regiment, the 19th regiment of regiment of St Catharines and the 38th Dufferin Rifles of Brantford took part in the celebration of the opening of the new armoury.  The new Peterborough Armoury was to be used not only for “training in anticipation of time of war [but also] military training … to assist in the making of good men and good citizens.”  In 1989, the National Sites and Monument Board designated the Peterborough Armoury as a national historic site. It is now one of the 17, out of the original 34, remaining armouries that were built during this time period.

The grand opening ceremony, showcasing the canvas tents that were set up for the soldiers. Trent Valley Archives F90 Martha Kidd 743

During the years before the First World War, the armoury served many different purposes.  It housed part-time or regular military staff and was used as a training area for the military and the militia. It also acted as an expedition space for markets and small town expos. Another purpose of the armoury before the First World War was to create a space where young men could meet and further their interests in military matters. The significance of the armouries location cannot be ignored, as although it was built many years before the Great War, the location of the Peterborough Armoury was chosen due to its “important strategic position in Ontario.”  It was not only located in the frontier, but it also had optimal means of communication.  The Trent Canal was also an important natural resource which further solidified the decision of the armouries location.  Frederick Borden himself mentioned that Peterborough was “an important military spot”.  During the war, the Peterborough Armoury helped to establish a “full artillery and cavalry corps in addition to the infantry, and the formation of an engineer corps.” The Hasting and Prince Edwards battalions were primarily stationed and trained at the Peterborough Armoury throughout the Great War.

The Canadian Government embarked on a wave of major reform with regard to the nation’s defence systems and not only included an expanded and upgraded militia, but the construction of new armouries across the country. T.W. Fuller from the department of public works was the chief architect and worked alongside William Black, the supervising architect, and Richard Sheely with the firm of Sheely and Sons as the primary contractor.  The architectural design is romanesque revival with neo gothic aspects, which was popular in the late 1980s and early 1900s. The exterior consists of alternating layers of red and grey stone while the wooden roof sits on steel trusses.  The large-scale arched troop doors are of monumental quality. The wide, double height main hall is flanked by rectangular blocks which served as specialty and auxiliary rooms.  The Peterborough Armoury is considered one of the largest and best of its time, and its distinctive architectural profile draws further recognition.

The structure of the armoury being built, 1908. Peterborough Museum and Archives File 2000-012--002064. Used with permission from the Peterborough Museum and Archives.

The building continues to serve as an armoury and is still home to the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces; but has adapted to become a practical space that has been remade to facilitate new purposes that the armoury was not originally intended for.  While the wide, central main hall was historically used to train soldiers and battalions, it is now similarly used as a training area for police and fire fighting simulations and workshops. The armoury has also become a more integrated community structure as its functional design allowed for The Children’s Montessori & Preparatory School to be established in 1997. While the original building is still standing, in 2002 there was a threat to demolish and rebuild the armoury rather than renovating it as it was an estimated three million dollars to fix the building’s structural, electrical and plumbing problems.  Although the Peterborough Armoury houses functions contrary to its traditional purposes, the space has been able to adapt and be remade to allow the original historic site to still stand in its modern environment.  The Peterborough Armoury is still considered one the largest and best designed from this time period.  The armoury is the result of excellent design, local and national co-operation and reflects the government’s support to supply arms to militias across the country.  The Peterborough Armoury stands as a great reminder of Peterborough’s military heritage.

Research by Nadine Viveiros & Dana Barnabe
   
 
Sources
 
Peterborough Museum and Archives. “Armoury a grand reminder of military heritage”.
PBO Ex. Jan. 12, 2008
 
Peterborough Museum and Archives, “City council endorsed new armoury in 1980
under Mayor James Stevenson”. Ex. Dec, 31, 1985 Pg.9
 
Trent Valley Archives. File 521. George St N, Ex. Nov. 14, 2002
 
Trent Valley Archives, File: 53 51 14 “57th regiment  Dobbin’s History”,
 
Trent Valley Archives, Heritage Gazette of the Trent Valley Volume 9 number, May
2004, ‘Seeking a Site for the Peterborough Armouries, 1904’

“Standards of the Highest: From Edison to GE Canada, Peterborough 1891-1991”, Centennial Committee, GE Canada, Peterborough, ON: 1991. Peterborough Museum and Archives Ref: APB 4.