History of The Old Armoury

BUILDING HISTORY

The Old Armoury is a wood frame post and beam structure of approximately 5,000 square feet which was built by the village of Georgetown in 1866 as a Drill Hall for the local militia. It was designed by well-known Canadian Pacific Railway engineer Walter Moberly. In 1890 the structure was relocated from the Market Square area a few blocks away to its present spot in the Georgetown Fairgrounds Park.

Mark Rowe, Past Chair of the Heritage Halton Hills Committee, stated that The Old Armoury “…has been an integral part of the history of Georgetown throughout its long history. While the building was designed to be purely functional, its historic significance and cultural importance have rendered it more valuable than most fine architecture in the Town. As one of the oldest buildings in the town, The Old Armoury is a very well-known local structure and a fixture of the park. Like many of the older drill halls, it has also served as a community centre and dance hall.”

The Old Armoury was built by the townspeople of Georgetown in response to the Fenian raiders, an organization of Irish-Americans trying to bring pressure on Britain to withdraw from Ireland. The importance of the Fenian Raids was that they created a great feeling of Canadian nationalism in British North America and showed Canadians that safety lay in unity. The result was the confederation of the Canada we know today.
 
Most of the 100 Drill Halls and Armouries that were constructed in Ontario and Quebec at that time have been demolished. Georgetown’s Old Armoury was the last functioning Drill Hall dating from the 1860s, only ending this role in 1997 when the Lorne Scots, ‘C’ Company moved to their newly constructed Armoury on Todd Road.

 In World War I, The Old Armoury served as the recruitment centre for the 4th Battalion which formed part of the first Overseas Expeditionary Force in 1914. During World War 2 the Lorne Scots served as defense platoons for each “Brigade Headquarters” and since World War 2 they have provided personnel for NATO and UN missions and many other operations around the world.

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PROJECT HISTORY

The Town of Halton Hills purchased The Old Armoury in 1997 from the Department of National Defence. The Town had hoped to find a tenant for the building but it remained vacant, used only for park equipment storage and as a bad weather shelter for some Fall Fair displays.
 
Unfortunately, the lack of use resulted in the deterioration of The Old Armoury and in 2008 the Town proposed that it be scheduled for demolition. Community reaction was one of great concern; the prospect of losing yet another historical and distinctive landmark was tragic. The Town delayed the final decision on The Old Armoury until the end of 2008, in order to give organizations one last chance to come forward with a proposal to save the structure.

At the same time Globe was under increased pressure to find a home of our own….the John Elliott Theatre, where we perform, was to be closed for renovations until 2013; there was to be a large rent increase at the hall we were utilizing; we were outgrowing our rehearsal, set construction and costume space; and there was a high impetus to continue the newly formed Youth Company but no capacity to accommodate the youth within our existing rental facility. Globe also realized that it was unlikely that our assets as a small community group would ever be sufficient to purchase both land and a building in the current real estate market.

On a rainy November night in 2008 during the annual Santa Claus Parade, long time Globe member Nanci McNeil-Llewellyn, marching soaking wet in costume spotted then local journalist Ted Brown taking photos along the route. Two days prior, Ted’s column had dealt with the shocking news that The Old Armoury, having sat vacant and neglected for over a decade, was being scheduled for demolition. GLOBE WANTS THE ARMOURY! she screamed at Ted (scaring the heck out of him, he told us later).

Globe’s voice was among many that rose in support of preserving this plain but important piece of Georgetown’s history. Globe saw it as a wonderful opportunity to do something great for the community by bringing this building back to life as both our new home and a place for the whole community to enjoy.

We soon came to an arrangement with the Town of Halton Hills that will ensure that Globe manages and maintains the Old Armoury indefinitely, guaranteeing that the building will always be used to support local arts, heritage and culture.
With the foundation of an agreement securely in place, the journey uniting Globe and The Old Armoury began.

Our deepest gratitude goes to the founding members of The Old Armoury Committee - Mark and Nanci Llewellyn, Al and Lois Fraser, Chris and Maureen Walker, Kevin and Beatrice Sharkey - who shared their time and talents to ensure the success of The Old Armoury Project.

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A generous gift from the Town, along with Globe’s entire building fund, (saved bit by bit over 25 years),  achieved the first phase of the renovation,… securing the structure and roof of the building and stripping the interior back to the original timbers and barn boards. All this was accomplished in 2009-2010. Phase 2 in 2011 saw the complete renovation of the east end with new washrooms, a kitchen and storerooms. Phase 3, from 2012 to 2014 involved wrapping the exterior with added insulation, the installation of fibre cement siding and the addition of new heating and cooling systems in the main hall. In September of 2014 we were proud to commission and dedicate a monument and plaque to honour those soldiers who passed through The Old Armoury during the Great War of 1914 to 1918.

Our biggest milestone was achieved in May 2015 when The Old Armoury passed all final occupancy inspections, thereby opening the way for full public access and many new opportunities to welcome the community to events in the building…yes, The Old Armoury had taken back its rightful place in the community!

We were very fortunate that while on this journey, each time we were losing sleep because a financial boost was needed to push ahead, somehow assistance materialized.

To date over $700,000 has been invested in The Old Armoury project. Along with Globe’s entire Building Savings Fund and net show revenues, we are truly indebted to the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Department of Canadian Heritage, our great friends Al and Lois Fraser and the Kiwanis Club of Georgetown for their financial support. We have also received gifts both large and small from local businesses and individuals (some of which came with a story of their past experiences at The Old Armoury). A huge thank you is bestowed on all of our neighbours and friends who shared the common desire to see The Old Armoury preserved and put back in use. They volunteered right alongside Globe members…pitching in wherever they could, swinging sledgehammers, filling dumpsters, cleaning, painting and working on our fundraising efforts.

Since 2017 Mr. William Reill and Mr. David Bernacki have generously organized an annual summer “Music in the Park” fundraising cabaret performed in The Old Armoury with all proceeds going towards building upgrades. In addition, the Kinsmen, Lions and Rotary Clubs of Georgetown have also added their support.

 

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OUR FUTURE

Globe will continue to work on improvements to the Old Armoury’s amenities and equipment in order to ensure that it is a safe, versatile and well-equipped venue for a wide variety of activities. Globe Productions is proud and honoured to have been entrusted by the people of Halton Hills with the responsibility of taking care of The Old Armoury. We are proud of what we have achieved and we pledge to do our best to ensure that The Old Armoury remains a vibrant part of Georgetown’s life for many years to come.

Globe Productions envisions The Old Armoury as a “place to go” in Halton Hills. A meeting place for visitors young and old…to enjoy a glimpse of our history, to honour our veterans, to share in various social events and as a unique location to take in some live theatre. What better way to respect and preserve our past than by embracing The Old Armoury as a vibrant part of our community life.