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Orillia’s forgotten army camp

May 2007

Orillia is a city on the edge of cottage country that provides big city conveniences with a small town charm. The city and the surrounding area feature a variety of recreational and cultural activities for both residents and the thousands of people who visit each year. During the Second World War, Orillia played host to a different group of visitors: the Canadian Army.

With the outbreak of World War II, the Canadian Army found itself with the monstrous task of training recruits for the theatres of battle. At the time, the Permanent Force army had only 4,261 officers and men. The Non-Permanent Active Militia (the reserve force) had 51,000 soldiers, but most were only partially trained and ill-equipped for fighting a war. As a result, numerous Army training camps sprang up across the province to upgrade the militia and train fresh recruits.

Orillia’s army camp, officially designated as No. 26 Canadian Army (Basic) Training Centre, opened in April 1942. This sprawling camp was built on 20 acres of land locally known as the Quinn farm, roughly bordered by Park, Brant, North and Lawrence Streets today, adjacent to the West Street Armoury, which itself dates back to September 1913, just prior to the First World War.

Initially the camp contained 40 buildings and features the usual complement of other army camps including mess huts, sleeping quarters, a 34-bed hospital, dental clinic and a drill hall.   The buildings covered with green tar paper and topped with red roofs.

The camp training originally infantry soldiers until November 1943, when the focus changed to Armoured Corps (tanks) recruits. This proved to be a short change as later, the camp was once again training infantry troops, along with the Armoured troops. By November 1944, the camp was re-designated as solely an infantry-training centre.

Throughout the war, the camp went through several name changes; No. 26 Canadian Armoured Corps (Basic) Training Centre (1943-44), No. 26 Canadian Infantry (Basic) Training Centre (1944-45) and finally the 13th Infantry Training Battalion (1945-46). Unofficially though, the camp was also known as Champlain Barracks.

Over the course of the war, over 730,000 would serve in the Canadian Army.

The end of WWII saw a general downsizing of Canada’s military forces to a peacetime strength. As a result, most of the training camps established during the war were no longer needed as training would now be concentrated at Permanent Force establishments such as Camp Borden. As a result, Champlain Barracks closed in 1946.

Today, not the slightest trace remains of Orillia’s forgotten army camp.  All 42 buildings were sold to private interests and either moved or demolished. The barracks, classroom, drill hall and administration buildings have been replaced by tree lined residential streets,  commercial development and schools.

Sources:  https://www.simcoe.com/news-story/2016293-light-shed-on-camp-26, “Abandoned Military Installations in Canada Vol I: Ontario” by Paul Ozorak and the personal recollections of the author (2004).

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/orillias-forgotten-army-camp-2/

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