The Old Armouries – a historic City landmark

Another Remembrance Day has just passed.

Once again the community has paused to remember all those who served and all those who lost their lives during times of war and during peace-keeping missions.

However, one prominent landmark from Red Deer’s military past is now often overlooked. This is the old Red Deer Armouries, which was built 100 years ago in 1913 on Mann (49) St.

Once the centre of military activity in Central Alberta, the building is now used as the Children’s’ Section of the Red Deer Public Library.

The roots of the Armouries go back to the early part of the last century.

In 1907, the Red Deer’s first militia unit, a troop of the 15 Light Horse, was formed. The creation of a permanent presence for the militia in Red Deer was greeted with great enthusiasm. The troop grew so rapidly that it was soon expanded into the Red Deer Independent Squadron of the 15 Light Horse.

As new enlistments continued to rise, the squadron was split into two with one unit continuing to be centred in Red Deer and the second being organized at Pine Lake. Shortly thereafter, a third troop was added at Alix.

Interest in the mounted rifles continued to grow so strongly that the militia in the region was reorganized in 1913 into the 35 Central Alberta Horse.

Red Deer was designated as the regimental headquarters. Consequently, in May 1913, the federal government announced the construction of a substantial armouries in the city.

City council offered two lots to the federal military authorities as a site for the building. However, the local commanding officer of the 35 Central Alberta Horse, J. Carlyle Moore wanted to see the Armouries located on the southeast corner of the civic square (now City Hall Park).

City council initially resisted. The eastern half of what is now the 4900 block of Ross St. had been designated under the new City Centre Master Plan as the site for federal government buildings.

Nevertheless, City council soon relented.

The prospect of securing an armouries and regimental headquarters in Red Deer was too enticing for council to get into a prolonged argument over location.

C.A. Julian Sharman, a talented local architect and one of the key individuals behind the creation of the City Centre Master Plan, was hired to design the building.

The structure was to be two storeys in height and constructed of brick. There were to be two medieval style battlement towers on the east end for offices and officer quarters.

The firm Nesbitt and Miller was awarded the construction contract at a cost of $50,000, a considerable sum at a time when $2 per day was considered a pretty good wage.

Work quickly got underway on the structure.

The concrete foundations were soon in place. However, as the fall progressed, there was a significant setback. There was a lengthy delay in the delivery of the structural steel. Fortunately, the fall of 1913 was a relatively mild one. Once the steel arrived, work was quickly resumed.

During the lull in the project, the military authorities took advantage of the opportunity to enhance the plans for the building. The outer finish was changed to red tapestry brick to give a richer appearance. Concrete blocks were replaced with carved sandstone for similar reasons. A brick fireplace was added to the assembly room/officers’ mess on the second floor of the tower to make the room more comfortable.

By the end of December the structure was finished. Colonel Cruikshank of Military District 13 formally took possession of the building from the contractors on Dec. 31.

All the assembled dignitaries marveled at the wonderful new addition to the community.

However, those present did not realize how vital the new armouries would soon become. In August 1914, the First World War broke out.

The armouries became a centre of frenzied activity as the community mobilized ‘For King and Country.’

Tragically, a great many of the eager young men who flocked to the armouries, to enlist and train for the great conflict, would lose their lives over the next four years. A great many others would return home with serious wounds to the bodies and minds. A whole generation was shattered.

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