Description of Historic Place
A free standing interpretive plaque located a few metres along the pathway leading from Spring Street into the southeast corner of Memorial Square marks the place of the former Drill Shed. It commemorates the simple wooden building that once stood here - one of three military drill sheds built in 1866 on Prince Edward Island by the government of the time. This Drill Shed was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1906. The registration is for the site.
A portion of the park that runs between Summer and Spring Streets has significant heritage value because it was the site of an early government structure known as the Drill Shed. The site is marked by a plaque commemorating the existence of the former building. It was important not only to the early militia of the town, but also to the townspeople as well for its use for civic meetings, concerts, public skating, and for the annual Prince County Agricultural Exhibition.
The colonial government authorized the construction of three drill sheds in Prince Edward Island in 1866. They were built in Charlottetown, Georgetown, and Summerside to provide training facilities for the volunteer militia companies that had been forming since a resurgence of interest in the defense of the Island began in 1860. The large wooden structure known as the Summerside Drill Shed was built facing Spring Street on an acre of land that ran through to Summer Street. The contract was awarded to local builder, Pierce Doyle. The dimensions of the building are unknown, but there are indications that it was a long rectangular building with a dirt floor and pillars supporting the roof which created a promenade around the interior perimeter.
In 1867, members of the Summerside Artillery and Rifle Company began their training in the building, but the citizens of Summerside were quick to find another purpose for the new structure other than military drills. Before the building was a year old it was being used for community gatherings. It proved to be a useful venue for public meetings, lectures, musical entertainments, live theatre, and fund-raising teas.
In the winter of 1880, the ladies of Summerside requested permission to create a skating rink by sending a letter to former premier John Hamilton Gray who was the adjutant-general of the PEI militia. Authorization was granted with the result that at the end of March, the Summerside young people had "wonderfully improved in their skating." The following year a Skating Carnival was a huge success. The press reported that hundreds of spectators stood on wooden platforms laid around three sides of the building while costumed participants came out of the dressing rooms onto the ice. The carnival was held every year, along with regular evening skates featuring the Summerside Brass Band until 1885 after which the new Crystal Rink became the location of this popular winter event.
The Drill Shed was used for a longer length of time as the location of the Prince County Exhibition. Beginning in September 1868, the agricultural fair was held in the military shed on an annual basis until 1889. The building typically housed tables along both sides and at the upper end for the purpose of exhibiting produce such as poultry, vegetables, fruit, grains, fish, butter, cheese, and seeds. Tables in the centre were used for quilts, rugs, woolen items, linens, and fancy articles. Livestock was exhibited outside the building and in later years in a nearby field.
The Drill Shed never lost its principal purpose as a military structure. The government of Canada assumed responsibility for the building when PEI joined confederation in 1873 and various militia groups used the facility over the next three decades. In 1902, a 20-foot square extension was erected at the western end of the building to provide space for forty rifle stands, shelves for uniforms and large closets. At the time it was being used by No. 3 Company of the 82nd Battalion of the Abegweit Light Infantry.
The building burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1906 and was replaced with the stone and brick Armoury built in 1911 on Summer Street. The town of Summerside acquired the drill shed property from the federal government for $1000 in 1908. It was incorporated into the public gardens, known today as Memorial Square.
Source: City of Summerside, Heritage Property Profile
The character-defining element of the site includes:
- the land within Memorial Square including the site of the former military drill shed
- the commemorative plaque located on the southeast corner of Memorial Square