University Avenue Armouries – Downtown Toronto’s Lost Fortress

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March 1961 – The front facade of the University Avenue Armouries built between 1891 and 1893 and demolished in 1963
March 1961 – The front facade of the University Avenue Armouries built between 1891 and 1893 and demolished in 1963 (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 artisans constructed the Armouries of brick and stone. The 6-foot thick walls were made from heavy masonry to bear the load. The wide-swinging main doors were made of oak and steel-studded.

The Exterior

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 Interior

1930s - Drills of Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC) University of Toronto contingent in the Armouries
1930s – 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, which, at the time, was an engineering and architectural feat to cover such a large space with no intermediate supports. In the basement were rifle ranges, bowling alleys, and 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.

2024 – University Avenue Courthouse - Superior Court of Justice used to be the location of the University Avenue Armouries
2024 – University Avenue Courthouse – Superior Court of Justice used to be the location 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 designed 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 St and Bellevue St. The historic church was built in 1858 and 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

After 1900 - Looking southeast towards the University Avenue Armouries
After 1900 – Looking southeast towards the University Avenue Armouries, looking southeast (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 220)
2024 – University Avenue Courthouse - Superior Court of Justice used to be the location of the University Avenue Armouries
2024 – University Avenue Courthouse – Superior Court of Justice used to be the location of the University Avenue Armouries
March 1961 – The front facade of the University Avenue Armouries built between 1891 and 1893 and demolished in 1963
March 1961 – The front facade of the University Avenue Armouries built between 1891 and 1893 and demolished in 1963 (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 1, ID 64)
2021 – The plaque reads:

University Avenue Armouries 

“On this site stood the University Avenue Armouries, the home of famous Toronto Regiments of the Canadian Army and the centre of Militia activities in Toronto from 1891 until it was demolished in 1963. A spacious rising school and gun park, erected shortly after the main structure, made it the largest armoury building in Canada. Here many thousands of volunteers were enrolled in times of national crisis, and from the Armouries, they marched out to fight their country's battles in South Africa, the First World War, the Second World War, and Korea.”
2021 – The plaque reads:

University Avenue Armouries

“On this site stood the University Avenue Armouries, the home of famous Toronto Regiments of the Canadian Army and the centre of Militia activities in Toronto from 1891 until it was demolished in 1963. A spacious rising school and gun park, erected shortly after the main structure, made it the largest armoury building in Canada. Here many thousands of volunteers were enrolled in times of national crisis, and from the Armouries, they marched out to fight their country’s battles in South Africa, the First World War, the Second World War, and Korea.”
Between 1950 and 1963 - The west facade of the University Avenue Armouries
Between 1950 and 1963 – The west facade of the University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 492, Item 310)
1950 - Looking northeast from then Osgoode St towards the south side of the University Avenue Armouries
1950 – Looking northeast from then Osgoode St towards the south side of the University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 29)
Circa 1950 - Looking northeast towards an aerial view of University Avenue Armouries
Circa 1950 – Looking northeast towards an aerial view of University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 266)
September 26, 1940 - Troops training, marching and presenting arms at the University Avenue Armouries
September 26, 1940 – Troops training, marching and presenting arms at the University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 69232)
1940 - Troops training at the University Avenue Armouries
1940 – Troops training at the University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Fonds, Fonds 1266, ID 69234)
1939 - Sir Henry Pellatt's funeral at the University Avenue Armouries. Sir Pellatt built the magnificent Casa Loma
1939 – Sir Henry Pellatt’s funeral at the University Avenue Armouries. Sir Pellatt built the magnificent Casa Loma (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 4001)
1930s - Drills of Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC) University of Toronto contingent in the Armouries
1930s – 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)
Circa 1930 - Aerial view looking northeast towards the Canada Life Building (centre) and the University Avenue Armouries (upper left). The bare land on the right is being cleared for the University Ave extension
Circa 1930 – Aerial view looking northeast towards the Canada Life Building (centre) and the University Avenue Armouries (upper left). The bare land on the right is being cleared for the University Ave extension (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 7295)
1930s - A bagpiper at the University Avenue Armouries
1930s – A bagpiper at the University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4731)
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
1931 - Looking northeast towards the University Avenue Armouries at University Ave and Armoury St
1931 – Looking northeast towards the University Avenue Armouries at University Ave and Armoury St (Toronto Public Library R-5518)
Circa 1930 – An aerial view looking southeast towards the Canada Life Building, University Avenue Armouries and Old City Hall. Notice University Ave was being extended south of Queen St W
Circa 1930 – An aerial view looking southeast towards the Canada Life Building, University Avenue Armouries and Old City Hall. Notice University Ave was being extended south of Queen St W (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 10092)
July 5, 1930 – Looking northeast towards the University Avenue Armouries from the 16th floor of the Canada Life Building
July 5, 1930 – Looking northeast towards the University Avenue Armouries from the 16th floor of the Canada Life Building (City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 21000)
Circa 1930 – An aerial view looking northeast towards the University Avenue Armouries torn down in 1963. The building in the centre left background is Hotel Ford, demolished in 1974
Circa 1930 – An aerial view looking northeast towards the University Avenue Armouries torn down in 1963. The building in the centre left background is Hotel Ford, demolished in 1974 (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1001)
Between 1950 and 1963 - The south entrance of the University Avenue Armouries
Between 1950 and 1963 – The south entrance of the University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 492, Item 311)
November 20, 1926 - Noah's Ark float in the Eaton's Santa Claus Parade travelling past the University Avenue Armouries at Osgoode St, Chestnut St and Albert St
November 20, 1926 – Noah’s Ark float in the Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade travelling past the University Avenue Armouries at Osgoode St, Chestnut St and Albert St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 9443)
August 27, 1925 - Looking northwest from (Old) City Hall Tower towards Osgoode Hall, University Avenue Armouries (demolished in 1963) and the Registry of Deeds and Land Titles Building (demolished in 1964). Notice Shea's Hippodrome water tower on top of the theatre once on Bay St
August 27, 1925 – Looking northwest from (Old) City Hall Tower towards Osgoode Hall, University Avenue Armouries (demolished in 1963) and the Registry of Deeds and Land Titles Building (demolished in 1964). Notice Shea’s Hippodrome water tower on top of the theatre once on Bay St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 19978)
August 27, 1925 – An aerial view looking northwest from (Old) City Hall Tower towards the Registry of Deeds and Land Titles Building, demolished in 1964 and the University Avenue Armouries, which was torn down in 1963
August 27, 1925 – An aerial view looking northwest from (Old) City Hall Tower towards the Registry of Deeds and Land Titles Building, demolished in 1964 and the University Avenue Armouries, which was torn down in 1963 (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 19979)
1919 - A dinner at the University Avenue Armouries for returned troops from World War I
1919 – A dinner at the University Avenue 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)
Circa 1914 - Caption mentions this may have been the first occasion that soldiers left for overseas during World War I at the University Avenue Armouries
Circa 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)
Circa 1914 - Caption mentions recruits doing artillery training with an 18-pounder drill at the University Avenue Armouries
Circa 1914 – Caption mentions recruits doing artillery training with an 18-pounder drill at the University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 766)
Circa 1914 - Recruits and Mississauga Horse Regiment at the University Avenue Armouries
Circa 1914 – Recruits and Mississauga Horse Regiment at the University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 746)
Circa 1914 - Caption mentions recruits learning pontoon bridge construction at the Armouries
Circa 1914 – Caption mentions recruits learning pontoon bridge construction at the Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 746A)
Circa 1914 - Recruiting tent at the University Avenue Armouries
Circa 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 University Avenue Armouries
1912 – Three nurses in a car at an auto show at the University Avenue Armouries(City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 59)
1912 - Ladies' orchestra at an auto show in the University Avenue Armouries
1912 – Ladies’ orchestra at an auto show in the University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 686)
May 25, 1912 - An aerial view looking northwest towards a cluster of dwellings and businesses that existed before demolition for the construction of the new Land Registry building. The image also shows the University Avenue Armouries and the Goel Tzedec synagogue on University Avenue.
May 25, 1912 – An aerial view looking northwest towards a cluster of dwellings and businesses that existed before demolition for the construction of the new Land Registry building. The image also shows the University Avenue Armouries and the Goel Tzedec synagogue on University Avenue (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 993)
November 17, 1945 – The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe float in the Santa Claus Parade with the University Avenue Armouries in the left background
November 17, 1945 – The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe float in the Santa Claus Parade with the University Avenue Armouries in the left background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 100238)
Between 1899 and 1918 – The 48th Highlander's Band, in front of the University Avenue Armouries
Between 1899 and 1918 – The 48th Highlander’s Band, in front of the University Avenue Armouries (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1587, Series 409, Item 44)
July 1950 - Looking north up University Ave from Queen St W with the University Avenue Armouries the first building on the right
July 1950 – Looking north up University Ave from Queen St W with the University Avenue Armouries the first building on the right (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 150)
Circa 1950 - Looking north up University Ave with the University Avenue Armouries the first building on the right and Queen's Park in the centre distance
Circa 1950 – Looking north up University Ave with the University Avenue Armouries the first building on the right and Queen’s Park in the centre distance (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 167)
2024 – The Armoury St sign at University Ave in downtown Toronto. The street was named after University Avenue Armouries, which once stood on the south side of the street
2024 – The Armoury St sign at University Ave in downtown Toronto. The street was named after University Avenue Armouries, which once stood on the south side of the street
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 and Jarvis St in Moss Park neighbourhood of Toronto
2020 – Moss Park Armoury at 130 Queen St E and Jarvis St in Moss Park neighbourhood of Toronto
SOURCE
  • Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Mar 13, 1963, pg 10
  • Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Jul 20, 1963, pg 7
  • Lost Toronto by William Dendy (1978), pg 139
  • Toronto, No Mean City by Eric Arthur, revised by Stephen A Otto (2003), pgs 188 & 209
  • Toronto Street Names: An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins by Leonard Wise & Allan Gould (2011), pg 226
  • Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
  • 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

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