University Avenue Armouries – Downtown Toronto’s Lost Fortress

1961 - University Avenue Armouries at Armoury St, looking southeast
1961 – University Avenue Armouries at Armoury St, looking southeast (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 1, ID 64)

The Armouries were once located on University Avenue (at Armoury St on the southeast corner), in downtown Toronto. The massive militia building faced University Ave and the flat-roofed portion faced Chestnut St.

The Architecture of the University Avenue Armouries

Built between 1891 and 1893, the fortified castle-like armoury and cavernous drill hall were designed by Canada’s Dominion Chief Architect, Thomas Fuller. The sheer size of the Romanesque Revival style militia building expressed strength and power. Skilled craftsmen constructed the medieval-like building of brick and stone. To bear the load, the 6 ft walls were made from heavy masonry. The wide-swinging main doors were made of oak and steel-studded.

The Exterior

Red brick was bonded with a similar shade of mortar to make it appear as an even unified wall. Rock-faced Kingston limestone highlighted great arched windows, the foundation, tower crenellations, window sills and lintels. Hulking castellated towers with dungeon-like windows partially hid the colossal metal-framed roof.

The Interior

1930's - Drills of Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC) University of Toronto contingent in the Armouries
1930’s – Drills of Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC) University of Toronto contingent in the Armouries (University of Toronto Archives 2017-098)

The largest Armoury in Canada, its vast drill hall measured 85 m by 38 m or 280 ft by 125 ft and was over seven stories high. It was covered using a Fink truss roof and at the time, was an engineering and architectural feat to cover such a large space with no intermediate supports. In the basement, there were rifle ranges and bowling allies as well as rooms around the perimeter.

Rich in Toronto’s Military History

A centre for militia activities, the Armouries were home to The Queen’s Own Rifles and many other famous Toronto Regiments of the Canadian Army. During times of national crisis, volunteers enrolled and trained here. Along with the drill hall, there was also a riding school and gun park. From these Armouries, over 250,000 people left to fight battles in South Africa (Boer War 1899 to 1902), World War I (1914 to 1918), World War II (1939 to 1945) and Korea (Korean War 1950 to 1953) on behalf of Canada.

The Fall to Demolition

During the 1950’s and 60’s, University Avenue was changing. High-rise structures were being built and the architectural design of the Armouries no longer fit the style of the street. Plus, it was thought that the size of the military training building was no longer needed.

2021 - University Avenue Courthouse - Superior Court of Justice, was once the site of the University Avenue Armouries
2021 – University Avenue Courthouse – Superior Court of Justice, was once the site of the University Avenue Armouries

The University Avenue Armouries were in a prime location, just north of Osgoode Hall, and more land was needed for Provincial Courts. While many fought to preserve the building as a landmark, the grand structure was demolished in 1963 to make way for today’s University Avenue Courthouse – Superior Court of Justice.

Did You Know?

  • Thomas Fuller was Canada’s Dominion Chief Architect (1881 to 1896) and was responsible for designing many of the country’s federal buildings and post offices. Mr Fuller was also the architect behind the original Church of St Stephen-in-the-Fields at College and Bellevue Sts. The historic church was built in 1858 and was rebuilt in 1865 after a fire. Thomas Fuller was designated a National Historic Person in 2016 and should not be confused with his son, Thomas W Fuller who followed in a very similar career path.
  • The Royal Canadian Military Institute chose the location of their building because it was ideally close to the Armouries. It was diagonally across the street and only 150 m or 500 ft away.
  • The Santa Claus Parade route weaved its way through the streets of downtown Toronto, by the Armouries towards today’s Old City Hall.
  • The University Avenue Armouries also hosted auto, fashion and trade shows as well as banquets.
  • Moss Park Armoury at 130 Queen St E was completed in 1965. Its cornerstone is cut from a block salvaged from the University Avenue Armouries.
  • University Avenue was originally called College Avenue because in lead to King’s College (which was founded in 1827 and today known as the University of Toronto). In 1859, the name was changed to University Avenue so not to be confused with College Street.

University Avenue Armouries Photos

After 1900 - University Avenue Armouries, looking southeast
After 1900 – University Avenue Armouries, looking southeast (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 220)
1961 - University Avenue Armouries at Armoury St, looking southeast
1961 – University Avenue Armouries at Armoury St, looking southeast (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 1, ID 64)
2021 - University Avenue Courthouse - Superior Court of Justice, was once the site of the University Avenue Armouries
2021 – University Avenue Courthouse – Superior Court of Justice, was once the site of the University Avenue Armouries
2021 - University Avenue Armouries monument
2021 – University Avenue Armouries monument
1950/63 - West facade of the University Avenue Armouries
1950/63 – West facade of the University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 492, Item 310)
1950 - The south side of the Armouries, looking northeast from then Osgoode St
1950 – The south side of the Armouries, looking northeast from then Osgoode St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 29)
1950 - Aerial view of University Avenue Armouries, looking northeast
1950 – Aerial view of University Avenue Armouries, looking northeast (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 266)
1940 - Troops training, marching and presenting arms at the Armouries
1940 – Troops training, marching and presenting arms at the Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 69232)
1940 - Troops training at the Armouries
1940 – Troops training at the Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Fonds, Fonds 1266, ID 69234)
1939 - The funeral of Colonel Sir Henry Pellatt at the University Ave Armouries
1939 – The funeral of Colonel Sir Henry Pellatt at the University Ave Armouries
1930's - Drills of Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC) University of Toronto contingent in the Armouries
1930’s – Drills of Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC) University of Toronto contingent in the Armouries (University of Toronto Archives 2017-098)
1937 - Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC) University of Toronto contingent at the Armouries
1937 – Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC) University of Toronto contingent at the Armouries (University of Toronto Archives 2017-096)
1930 - Aerial view of University Avenue Armouries and Canada Life Building with bare land on right being cleared for University Ave extension
1930 – Aerial view of University Avenue Armouries and Canada Life Building with bare land on right being cleared for University Ave extension (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 7295)
1930's - A bagpiper at the University Avenue Armouries
1930’s – A bagpiper at the University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4731)
1931 - University Avenue Armouries at Armoury St, southeast corner
1931 – University Avenue Armouries at Armoury St, southeast corner (Toronto Public Library r-5518)
1930 - Aerial view of downtown Toronto showing University Avenue extension
1930 – Aerial view of downtown Toronto showing University Avenue extension (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 10092)
1930 - University Avenue Armouries from the 16th floor of the Canada Life Building, looking northeast
1930 – University Avenue Armouries from the 16th floor of the Canada Life Building, looking northeast (City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 21000)
1926 - Eaton's Santa Claus Parade traveling past the University Avenue Armouries at Osgoode, Chestnut and Albert Sts
1926 – Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade traveling past the University Avenue Armouries at Osgoode, Chestnut and Albert Sts (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 9443)
1925 - Osgoode Hall, University Avenue Armouries and the Registry of Deeds and Land Titles Building, looking northwest
1925 – Osgoode Hall, University Avenue Armouries and the Registry of Deeds and Land Titles Building, looking northwest (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 19978)
1919 - A dinner at the Armouries for returned troops from World War I
1919 – A dinner at the Armouries for returned troops from World War I (Toronto Public Library r-5770)
1913 - An auto show at the University Avenue Armouries
1913 – An auto show at the University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 51)
1914 - Caption mentions this may have been the first occasion that soldiers left for overseas during World War I at the University Avenue Armouries
1914 – Caption mentions this may have been the first occasion that soldiers left for overseas during World War I at the University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 766B)
1914 - Caption mentions recruits doing artillery training with an 18-pounder drill at the Armouries
1914 – Caption mentions recruits doing artillery training with an 18-pounder drill at the Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 766)
1914 - Recruits and Mississauga Horse Regiment at the University Avenue Armouries
1914 – Recruits and Mississauga Horse Regiment at the University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 746)
1914 - Recruits learning pontoon bridge construction at the Armouries
1914 – Recruits learning pontoon bridge construction at the Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 746)
1914 - Recruiting tent at the University Avenue Armouries
1914 – Recruiting tent at the University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 735)
1913 - Cars parked outside the University Avenue Armouries
1913 – Cars parked outside the University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 50A)
1912 - Three nurses in a car at an auto show at the Armouries
1912 – Three nurses in a car at an auto show at the Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 59)
1912 - Ladies' orchestra at an auto show in the Armouries
1912 – Ladies’ orchestra at an auto show in the Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 686)
1912 - Aerial view of the Armouries and area, looking northwest
1912 – Aerial view of the Armouries and area, looking northwest (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 993)
1910 - Goads Map showing the location of the University Avenue Armouries
1910 – Goads Map showing the location of the University Avenue Armouries (Toronto Public Library)
2020 - Moss Park Armoury at 130 Queen St E in Toronto
2020 – Moss Park Armoury at 130 Queen St E in Toronto
2021/1950-1963 - University Avenue Courthouse - Superior Court of Justice, once University Avenue Armouries at University Ave & Armoury St, southeast corner
2021/1950-1963 – University Avenue Courthouse – Superior Court of Justice, once University Avenue Armouries at University Ave & Armoury St, southeast corner (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 492, Item 310)
SOURCE
  • Lost Toronto by William Dendy
  • Toronto, No Mean City by Eric Arthur, revised by Stephen A Otto
  • Toronto Street Names: An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins by Leonard Wise & Allan Gould
  • Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Mar 13, 1963, page 10
  • Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Jul 20, 1963, page 7
  • Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives, Toronto Public Library & University of Toronto Archives
  • Vintage Map: Atlas of the City of Toronto 1910 by Chas E Goad from the Toronto Public Library