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Military museum holds regiment’s history

Note:  this is an update of an article written in 2007.

August 2016

Simcoe County is fortunate to have numerous museums, telling the story of the county’s military, railroading, frontier and aboriginal past. One small and little known museum that exists right in the heart of Barrie’s downtown is The Grey & Simcoe Foresters Regimental Museum.

The museum actually operates out of 3 different locations. The main collection is housed in the Regiment’s former Mulcaster Street Armoury, with additional collections housed at the Barrie Armoury and the Tommy Holmes, V.C., Armoury in Owen Sound, which relates solely to the Grey County side of the regiment.

Overseen by curator LCol (Ret’d) Lorne Williams, a veteran of the Grey & Simcoe Foresters, and a staff of volunteers, the museum features artifacts from the Grey & Simcoe Foresters and their predecessor regiments, the 35th Battalion The Simcoe Foresters and the 31st Grey Battalion of Infantry. Spanning from the late 1800s right up to the Afghanistan War, the collection includes photos, hat badges, flags, swords, rifles, medals, field gear, radios, various uniforms including the only original 1940 Grey & Simcoe Foresters battle dress still in the regiment’s possession and various equipment used by soldiers over the years.

The museum also features replicas of the medals belonging to Private Thomas Holmes, the regiment’s sole Victoria Cross winner, the highest award for bravery in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

A highlight of the museum is a display on Arthur Holford Ardagh, a member of the 35th Battalion who died at Vimy Ridge in 1917. This display features Ardagh’s handwritten war diaries, a true treasure that tells the personal side of war that you will never find in a history book or in a Hollywood movie.

The original concept for the museum came about in the 1970s when the regiment found that they were collecting a large amount of artifacts, but no proper place to display them. A letter was sent to the Commander of Base Borden, who has authority over the Barrie Armoury, in regards to putting together a museum. Permission was received to create a small museum at the Barrie Armoury. Artifacts and pictures were displayed in the messes throughout the armoury, but unfortunately this arrangement did not allow for maximum public exposure.

Around 1995, plans were underway to renovate the regiment’s former Mulcaster Street Armoury. Built in 1888, the armoury was home to the 35th Battalion, The Simcoe Foresters until they re-located to the current armoury at Queen’s Park in 1915, although the Mulcaster site was maintained as a satellite location until 1946.

Lorne Williams, Sam Cancilla and Ross Archer served on the committee overseeing the renovation and restoration of this historic building. Many volunteers including Lorne, Ed Martin (the original museum curator) and Sam Cancilla, completed work on the interior and exterior of the building.

The museum took over the small north-side wing of the building for their collection, while the remainder of the former armoury was occupied by the constancy office of Barrie MPP Joe Tascona from 1999 until 2007.

After Tascona vacated the building, the museum took over the rest of it, allowing them to greatly expand the inventory of artifacts displayed.  Most of the artifacts displayed have been donated by various members of the current Grey & Simcoe Foresters and from the families of the veterans of the predecessor regiments.

There is no charge to visit the museum, which is open from May 1 to November 30, Wednesday to Friday 11:00 am to 4:00 pm and Saturday 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.

Guided group tours year round upon request.  School groups are welcome.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/military-museum-holds-regiments-history-2/

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