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 artisans 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.
Redbrick 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 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 1950s and ’60s, 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.
The University Avenue Armouries was 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 a very similar career path.
- The Royal Canadian Military Institute chose the location of its 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 banquets and auto, fashion and trade shows.
- 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 it led to King’s College (founded in 1827 and is today known as the University of Toronto). In 1859, the name was changed to University Avenue so it would not be confused with College Street.
University Avenue Armouries Photos
- 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