In Southern Ontario, where I live, there are many places of interest concerning Canada's military history. We have a number of excellent museums, restored buildings, displays, battlefields and monuments dedicated to the armed forces of Canada, and the people and places that shaped us as a country. Although the places of interest are far too numerous to list all of them on this page, I have included information on some of them. I have visited all of the locations on this page, and recommend all of them to anyone who is interested in Canadian history.
Canadian Military Heritage Museum,
Canadian Military Heritage Museum, Brantford
Photo by J. Gray
"Discover the history that belongs to all of us"
Experience Canada's military heritage, from the United Empire Loyalists of the 1700s, to the peacekeepers of today. The Canadian Military Heritage Museum, in Brantford, Ontario, is an impressive 13,000 square foot facility housing a collection of more than 10,000 artifacts including fully restored military vehicles, full-size WW I warplane replicas, uniforms, medals, rare photographs and documents, and weapons. The museum is also home to a library resource center.
Unique, changing displays coinciding with the anniversaries of Canada's most renowned involvements in global crisis add an element of change to the collection throughout the year. Artifacts and exhibits include the War of 1812, South African (Boer) War, both World Wars, Korea, the Gulf War, and displays also honour the cadets, the navy, army, air force, merchant navy, First Nations veterans, the Royal Canadian Legion and the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Militia. The museum is also home to an impressive vintage motorcycle display.
The mission statement of the museum is to collect, preserve and display artifacts pertaining to the military history of Canada, provide, maintain and manage a museum for the purpose of education, make available military artifacts for display at community events on a non-profit basis for educational purposes, and to honour and remember the fallen and to show appreciation to all veterans and military personnel who have served, and are still serving.
For more information, visit the museum's website here.
Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum,
CF-104 Starfighter, Royal Canadian Air Force
Photo by J. Gray
The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum is a living museum featuring the aircraft used by Canadians or Canada's military from the beginning of the Second World War to the present day. The collection includes aircraft that fly, as well as several that remain on static display.
The museum strives to allow the visitor to experience and interact with displays. There are interactive flight combat simulators, interactive video displays, movies, photographs and memorabilia from Canadian aviation history.
CWHM is a non-profit organization, with a mandate to acquire, document, preserve and maintain a complete collection of aircraft that were flown by Canadians and the Canadian military, as well as preserving artifacts, books, periodicals and manuals.
Visit the museum's website here
Discovery Harbour, showing replicas of HMS Tecumseth,
HMS Bee, and the sawpit in foreground.
Photo by J. Gray
In 1793, Upper Canada's first Lieutenant-Governor, John Graves Simcoe, recognized the young colony's vulnerability to attack and set about establishing a plan for its development and protection. As part of an overall defence strategy, the harbour at Penetanguishene seemed an ideal location for a naval establishment. The long, steep-sided water of Penetanguishene Bay was well suited for the maintenance of ships, and the base would be strategically tucked around the entrance to Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. Arrangements were made in 1795 to purchase the land from the Ojibway.
Penetanguishene's strategice importance as a "back door" safeguard to Upper Canada was confirmed during the War of 1812. The need to secure supply lines to bases in the northwest and protect shipments of gifts to Britain's native allies was high. Plans were drawn up for the construction of a 36-gun frigate which would assure British naval superiority on the Upper Lakes. But the proposed developments were delayed and the frigate was never built- in 1814, the Treaty of Ghent officially ended hostilities between Britain and America, and the expense of building at Penetanguishene caused the stoppage of all work at the outpost.
By 1817, construction of the Penetanguishene base finally became a priority. There was a need to have a strong naval force on Lake Huron should hostilities renew with the United States. The Rush-Bagot agreement between Britain and the U.S. placed restrictions on the number of active warships each side could have on the Great Lakes. As a result, two British warships, Tecumseth and Newash, required a harbour where they could be decomissioned and maintained in a state of "Ordinary" i.e., where their hulls could be moored and their guns, sails and rigging could be stored and kept in a state of readiness. The Penetanguishene location could accomodate this, and Tecumseth and Newash were deployed there in June of 1817. The focus of the Naval Establishment was to now maintain these vessels as well as other smaller craft, and to be the major supply depot on Lake Huron. By 1820, the base was home to more than 70 personnel, including sailors, civilian workers, officers, and a military (army) guard. Although the Penetanguishene Naval Establishment was at this time a naval operation, the presence of soldiers was not unusual. In additon to safeguarding the stores and supplies, they provided assistance in stopping unruly behaviour among the men at the base. They also formed a useful work party, assisting in much of the labour required at a frontier outpost.
Officer's Quarters, Discovery Harbour,
Photo by Jason Gray
The continuing peace with the Americans and further financial pressures back in England took their toll on the military prsence in the Canadian colonies. The gradual withdrawl of British troops meant that alternate methods of manning frontier posts were required, and from 1846-51, this role was filled by the Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment. By 1851, even this expense could not be maintained, and the garrison at Penetanguishene was left to the care of a number of pensioners. In 1856, the base was closed down entirely- another era had come to an end.
Following its closure, the Military Establishment's lands and remaining buildings were turned over to the Canadian government. In 1859, they were given new purpose as a juvenile reformatory for boys, where youths were sent to undergo a program of discipline and responsibility. The former Officers Quarters served as the warden's residence, and the Soldiers Barracks were converted into the inmates' dormitory. Former Adjutant James Keating's home housed the facility's chaplain and newer structures and workshops were built on the surrounding hillside. The gradual elimination of the reformatory system at the turn of the 20th Century paved the way for yet another era. In 1904, the entire complex was given over as the Hospital for the Insane, which eventually developed into the modern mental health complex, now standing on the hillside above the historic properties. For many years, the Officer's Quarters became a private residence for families associated with the hospital.
Quartermaster and Clerk's offices (front) with the
sailor's barracks behind.
Photo by J. Gray
In 1953, Dr. Wilfred Jury, from the University of Western Ontario, raised the original hull of the warship HMS Tecumseth from the bottom of Penetanguishene Bay. Dr. Jury later began a series of excavations on the historic properties and oversaw the site's reconstruction. During this period, the Officers Quarters underwent restoration and served as a museum dedicated to the history of the original Naval and Military Establishments. In 1973, the reconstructed Naval and Military Establishments first opened as a living history site, and has continued to offer a vareity of heritage experiences to visitors. Further developments between 1991 and 1994 included the King's Wharf Theatre, waterside boardwalks, a restaurant, and a gift shop.
While no original structurs remain from the original Naval Establishment, it has been reconstructed according to the historic blueprints and an attempt has been made to preserve the proper arrangment of buildings. Discovery Harbour represents the peak period of activity from 1817 to 1822. Among the historic buildings visitors can experience are a naval storehouse, a dockyard which consists of a sawpit, steam kiln and blacksmith shop, offices of the quartermaster and clerk-in-charge (a civilian position), the sailors barracks, officer's quarters and houses belonging to the commanding officer, the surgeon, the naval surveyor and the fort adjutant. The soldiers, along with many of their wives and children, were housed in a stone barracks near the officer's quarters.
Discovery Harbour is open seasonally, offering both self-guided and guided tours by staff in period costume. In addition to the structures, visitors can also board and tour the two ships anchored at the King's Wharf, as well as enjoy an audio visual presentation in the North Visitors Center. The hull of the original warship HMS Tecumseth is also on display here. For more information, visit their website.
Fort York brick barracks (1815), Toronto
Photo by Jason Gray
The settlement of modern Toronto began in 1793, when John Graves Simcoe built a garrison on the present site of Fort York. Fearful of war with the United States, Simcoe planned to establish a naval base at Toronto so that the British could control Lake Ontario. Simcoe, who was lieutenant-governor of the colony of Upper Canada (now known as Ontario), also moved the capital from the exposed border of Niagara. Civilian settlement followed, and a community, named "York", began to grow two kilometers east of the fort. In 1834, York was re-named Toronto. By 1794, Anglo-American tensions had eased, and the governor-in-chief, Lord Dorchester, decided that the Lake Ontario squadron should be located at Kingston, 250 kilometers east of York. Simcoe's original log buildings deteriorated quickly. his successors built the new barracks 100 meters east of the present site in the late 1790s, for the small garrison assigned to the capital. In 1800, a residence for the lieutenant-governor, "Government House", was built on the present fort site.
In 1807, with Anglo-American relations in decline, Major-General Isaac Brock strengthened Fort York in 1811. The fort's west wall and the circular battery date from that time. In 1812, the United States declared war and invaded Canada. On April 27, 1813, the US Army and Navy attacked York with 2,550 men, 14 naval vessels and 85 cannon. The defending force of 750 British soldiers and Canadian militamen, along with approximately 50 Mississauga and Ojibway warriors had only 12 large guns. The Americans stormed ashore west of the fort under the cover of their naval guns. The defenders put up a strong fight, but fell back to Fort York from the beachhead in the face of overwhelming odds. The British commander retreated eastward, and blew up the fort's gunpowder magazine, causing heavy American casualties. Following the battle, Native warriors withdrew into the forest, while the British troops retreated east to Kingston. The task of surrendering the fort fell to the local Canadian militia. York was occupied for six days, and during this time, homes were looted, seized and destroyed, along with two public buildings. In 1814, in retaliation, the British burned the Capitol building, the White House and several other public buildings In Washington, D.C. The war of 1812 ended in 1815.
Fort York Guard conducting an artillery demonstration.
Blockhouse Number 2 can be seen in the background.
Photo by Jason Gray
The British Army continuted to garrison Fort York after the war, although in 1841 most of the soldiers moved to a barracks one kilometer west of the old fort. Neglected in peacetime, Fort York's defences deteriorated. Occassionally, the British did strengthen them, such as the Rebellion Crisis of 1837-41 and another period of tension with the United States in 1861-62. In 1870, the Canadian government assumed responsibility for the country's defences, including Fort York. Canadian troops maintained the harbour defences at Fort York until the 1880s. The army, however, did not abandon the fort but used it for training until the 1930s.
The City of Toronto purchased Fort York in 1909, although it allowed the army to use the site until the 1930s. The city restored the fort between 1932-34, and on Victoria Day, 1932, Fort York opened as a historic site museum. Today, the fortified walls surround Canada's largest collection of original War of 1812 buildings.
Today, Fort York is open year round as a museum. Visitors can take both guided and self-guided tours, and buildings that are open include the 1815 brick barracks, 1815 brick officer's barracks and mess, the Blue Barracks (1814) which housed junior officers, Blockhouse Number 2 which was built in 1813, the East Magazine (1814), and Blockhouse Number 1, which was constructed in 1813. During the summer months, visitors can watch marching, musical and artillery displays, performed by the uniformed Fort York guard.
For more information, visit the Friends of Fort York website.
HMCS Haida, Hamilton
Photo by J. Gray
"Last of the Tribal Class Destroyers"
HMCS Haida, a National Historic site, is the last remaining example of the 27 Tribal Class destroyers built for the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy between 1937 and 1945. It has been said that the Tribals were "magnificent in appearance, majestic in movement, and menacing in disposition". Technologically, they represented the most advanced naval architecture, marine propulsion systems, and weaponry of their time. Once, Haida was a mighty fighting ship. Today, she is an irreplaceable historical artifact and her significance has been formally recognized by the Canadian Historic Sites and Monuments Board. Not only is the ship historically significant, but she is a cultural asset representing a life style, however transient, of more than a generation of Canadians who served in Canada's Navy between 1943 and 1963. The thousands of men who sailed in Haida represented a cross section of Canadian society during that period. Today, Parks Canada owns and operates Haida as a National Historic Site.
HMCS Haida is berthed permanently at Hamilton's Pier 9, and open during the summer months for self guided tours. For more information, visit the Friends of HMCS Haida website.
National Air Force Museum of Canada,
National Air Force Museum of Canada, Trenton
Photo by J. Gray
Home of the RCAF Memorial Collection
Thousands of Canadians distinguished themselves in service with the British Royal Flying Corps during the Great War. A distinct Canadian Air Force (CAF) was formed in Canada in 1920, and was subsequently replaced by the adoption of the National Defence Act in 1922 and Royal assent which led to the formation of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) on April 1, 1924. The extraordinary traditions of the RCAF were passed down to the Canadian Forces Air Element which was formed in 1968. Today, this museum celebrates the long and proud history of Canada's Air Force (Air Command) both past and present.
Exhibits at the museum include a restored Second World War Halifax Mk VII bomber, a full scale replica of the first Canadian military aircraft (1914 Burgess-Dunne), a diorama depicting the Great Escape from a prisoner of war (POW) camp, Spitfire, Typhoon and Search and Rescue displays, and an assortment of artefacts representing the history of Canada's Air Force including medals, original art, models, uniforms, aircraft instruments and weapons. The museum is also home to a reference library and archives, as well as a team of skilled volunteers who are devoting their time to restoring a 1942 mk II Anson trainer, a 1943 MkII Harvard pilot trainer, a 1948 Mk VI Auster, a 1956 CS2F-2 Grumman tracker and a 1971 CH-135 Bell Twin Huey helicopter.
Outside the museum, the 15 acre airpark is home to twenty-four aircraft, including a Spitfire, Hurricane, Argus, Dakota, F-86 Sabre, CF-100 Canuck and Labrador helicopter. These aircraft are representative of the various roles that the Canadian Air Force has maintained; from defending its territory to humanitarian aid and search and rescue. The airpark is also home to 33 memorial cairns, each erected and dedicated to the memory of individual units, squadrons and trade specialties, and the men and women who served with these organizations.
The museum foundation is a charitable trust whose main objective is to raise the funds necessary to operate and maintain the museum. It is presently governed by volunteer trustees who work closely with the museum board of directors to ensure tha all individual fundraising efforts are coordinated and that the museum's financial priorties are met.
For more information, visit the museum's website