Stanley Barracks is located at 115 Princes’ Blvd (just west of Hotel X) at Exhibition Place in Toronto.
The New Fort
Built in 1841, Stanley Barracks was one of seven main buildings in what was originally known as the New Fort, a British military post established to supplement Fort York.
The complex was constructed of limestone and built by the Royal Engineers. It included an Officers’ Barracks and Mess (today called Stanley Barracks), three Soldiers’ Barracks, a hospital, a canteen and Barrack Master’s store, all surrounding a parade square. There were also various smaller structures like a magazine, dead house, stables, privies, armourer’s shop, wash house, ash pits, cleaning shed and wells. The entryway to the fort was through an arched passage running through the Enlisted Mens’ Barracks on the east side.
An armed sentry guarded the entrance, and on a shiny brass plate were the words:
This Barrack Establishment For the headquarters and wing of a battalion Estimated at 22,838£ sterling Cost 20,904£ sterling Commenced 12th (or 19th) February 1841 Completed 31st December 1841 Colonel Oldfield, K.H., A.D.C. to the Queen Colonel on the staff, being commanding Royal Engineer and Lieut-Col Ward, Royal Engineers, Executive Officers
The first units stationed at the New Fort were the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, the 71st and the Royal Canadian Rifles.
Over the years, the fort gradually expanded with wooden structures being added. There were quarters for those who were married, a north square surrounded by stables for up to 250 horses, storage sheds for guns, coal and forage, various shops including paint, carpenter, shoemaker, and a tailor, along with cookhouses and a wharf.
In 1870, the Royal Engineers transferred ownership of Fort York and the New Fort to the Dominion Government of Canada when the British Army permanently withdrew from the country. After the British troops left, some officers were allowed to live in the barracks, but the buildings and grounds deteriorated and fell out of repair.
North-West Mounted Police
For a few weeks, in 1874 and 1881, the only government use of the barracks was by the North-West Mounted Police. The recruits assembled at the fort, where they trained and performed drills on horseback before heading out to western Canada. The North-West Mounted Police were the forerunner to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
In 1878, the 52-acre site just west of the New Fort was chosen as the new fairground. The first Toronto Industrial Exhibition, today’s CNE, was held the following year.
Units Stationed at the Barracks
When the Infantry School Corps “C” company moved into the fort in 1884, they repaired the buildings and cared for the grounds. The school taught young men how to be soldiers — their daily routine began at 6:30 am with little time for leisure. After-hours amusements included cricket, football, baseball, hockey, boating, and reading in the library. The regiment garrisoned Toronto until 1939 and is known today as The Royal Canadian Regiment.
Other units stationed at the barracks included the 16th and 30th Regiment of Foot, the Royal Artillery and the two cavalry regiments, the 13th Hussars and the Royal Canadian Dragoons.
The New Fort is Renamed Stanley Barracks
After 60 years of being called the New Fort, in 1893, it was renamed Stanley Barracks in honour of Governor General Lord Frederick Stanley. It was also Lord Stanley who donated the NHL’s most prized cup. By this time, the barracks had started to shrink, with most of the stables around the north square being torn down, along with a few structures around the main square.
During World War I (1914-1918), the Exhibition grounds were a major recruitment and training depot site. Its massive buildings were home to various departments of the Canadian Armed Forces, while from 1914 until 1916, Stanley Barracks became an internment camp for immigrant Eastern European civilians thought to be “enemy aliens.”
Throughout World War II (1939-1945), the Canadian military once again used the fairgrounds.
In 1946, the city negotiated with the Federal government to convert Stanley Barracks into emergency public housing. Hundreds of people moved into the old fort buildings. In 1947, there was a polio outbreak throughout much of the country. Cases were rising in Toronto and in the very crowded quarters of Stanley Barracks, with various buildings (known as blocks) placed under quarantine.
By the late 1940s, the barracks had become a dilapidated slum – the roofs were leaking, windows were broken or boarded up, the communal washrooms were filthy, and wallboards were in tatters. During the annual Canadian National Exhibition or trade shows, canvas was hung to veil the barracks from visitors. By August 1951, the last of the 144 families living in Stanley Barracks had been moved out.
And while demolition of the buildings at the barracks had continued throughout the years, those still standing were so neglected that they had to be torn down until all that was left was the Officers’ Quarters and Mess – the building became commonly known as the Stanley Barracks. The land surrounding the historic structure was paved over for a parking lot, with the stone foundations and support posts of the demolished structures sitting beneath the asphalt surface. Little by little, Exhibition grounds had gradually come to occupy the space once home to the fort.
From 1955 to 1956, the barracks became Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame/Hockey Hall of Fame, then from 1959 to 2000, the Marine Museum of Upper Canada. It was also home to a restaurant, and the Toronto Historical Board once had its offices upstairs.
Treasures Beneath the Surface
In 1997, the $180 million National Trade Centre (later the Direct Energy Centre, and today, the Enercare Centre) opened; however, Exhibition Place lacked an on-site hotel to accommodate convention guests and visitors. The space south of the event centre, between Stanley Barracks and the Automotive Building, was chosen for the hotel site. But before things could get started, an archaeological assessment was needed.
So in 2004, ASI Heritage, a Toronto-based company specializing in heritage preservation, was contracted to look for remains of the old fort underground. During their excavations in 2004, 2008 and 2012, many incredible artifacts were found, including medallions, bone and shell buttons, medicine bottles, one-cent coins (dating to 1859), fragments of chamber pots, pocket knives, glass and stone marbles, white clay pipe bowls, marmalade jar pieces, slate pencils and inkpot fragments. They also discovered the limestone and brick foundations of the East Enlisted Mens’ Barracks and support posts from a wooden porch.
During this time, the CNE asked developers to submit proposals for a hotel on the former fort site, which would include preserving some archaeological foundations. HK Hotels LLC, which also operates under the name Library Hotel Collection had the winning bid, and in 2013, the grounds were ready for the hotel’s construction to begin.
Hotel X Toronto, Stanley Barracks & the Canopied Walkway
In 2018, Hotel X Toronto opened at Exhibition Place. The 30-storey luxury lakefront urban resort features 404 guestrooms, entertainment facilities, restaurants, bars, lounges, a 90,000 sq ft athletic facility, a spa, event space and much more, not to mention its spectacular views of the lake and city.
Around Stanley Barracks, the beautifully landscaped Parade Gardens (north side) and the Stanley Gardens (south side) are available to rent for large outdoor events.
Under the white steel frame canopy to Hotel X from Princes’ Blvd, an elevated walkway passes over the preserved foundations of the north portion of the East Enlisted Mens’ Barracks. The ruins are on display in a climate-controlled environment. The canopied walkway represents the stone building that once stood there, and its walls feature the emblems of some famous units once stationed at the fort.
There’s rumoured to be a lot of ghostly activity in Stanley Barracks. There’s Jenny, a little girl looking for her cat, and Jenny’s father, who is looking for her. But there are also two hostile and especially aggressive spirits, Bob and Dave, terrorizing the other spirits. When the building’s basement was home to a restaurant, workers mentioned cutlery and platters being moved around, perhaps by a more mischievous ghost. Click for more about the ghosts of Exhibition Place.
Did You Know?
The footprint of the New Fort was quite large. In today’s terms, it extended to: Heritage Court on the north, approximately Newfoundland Dr on the southeast, Lake Shore Blvd W on the south and the east bridge to Ontario Place on the southwest (see the 1884 map overlayed on a 2023 map image below).