John Weir Foote Armoury National Historic Site of Canada
John Weir Foote Armoury
Manège militaire de John Weir Foote
Links and documents
1887/01/01 to 1888/01/01
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The John Weir Foote Armoury is situated in the downtown commercial area of Hamilton, Ontario. It is a large building composed of two sections constructed at different times. The North section facing James Street was built in 1888 in the Italianate style. The second, larger south section, which stands 24 metres (80 feet) south of the original building, was completed in 1908. A two-storey extension facing James Street joins the two buildings together and provides a continuous brick façade. A 1936 addition at the back of the North Drill Hall joins to the South Drill Hall, the whole now forming one large complex set around an open courtyard. The buildings are united by the use of red brick with white stone trim. Official recognition refers to the building on its legal lot.
John Weir Foote Armoury was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1989 because:
- the north section of this building (1887-1888) is a good representative example from the second evolutionary stage in drill hall construction in Canada (1872-1895);
- the north section exemplifies the replacement of earlier wooden drill sheds with substantial brick structures, which provided increased security for arms storage and underlined the importance of city militia units as the country’s first line of defence; and
- the south section of this building (1908) reflects a subsequent phase of construction and militia reforms, which encouraged the increasing effectiveness of Canada’s expanding military forces.
Designed by Department of Militia Chief Engineer Henry James in the Italianate style and built in 1888, the first section of the armoury, the North Drill Hall, is one of five remaining examples of the first permanent drill halls from the second phase of drill hall construction in Canada between 1872 and 1895. Characteristics of this second phase include styles that vary from the Châteauesque to the Italianate but have a common rational plan. Constructed in solid brick or stone, the drill halls exhibit a conservative approach to the handling of wide spans, as evidenced here in the reinforced timber queen post trusses of the north section. These buildings were increasingly constructed to function as both fully equipped training centres and as recreational clubs. The 1888 armoury underscores the continuous importance of Hamilton as a militia centre, and as a first line of defense.
In 1905 it was decided that Hamilton needed a second drill hall. Exceptionally, the Department of Public Works awarded the contract to the architectural firm of Stewart and Whitton. The second section, the South Drill Hall (1905-1908) is larger than the North section and belongs to the 1896-1918 phase of drill hall construction completed under Frederick Borden as Minister of Militia (1896-1911). It is a “class A” type of drill hall reserved for battalion headquarters and important military centres. This design follows that of the 1880s and 1890s drill halls with all the auxiliary rooms arranged around two sides of a two-storey hall. The halls in these “class A” buildings have a standard width of between 22.8-24.4 metres and vary in length from 45.7 to 71.6 metres. Equipped with drill, classroom, recreational facilities, and modern washrooms, these drill halls set a new standard in the modernization of the militia. A continued conservative approach to the handling of wide spans is evidenced in the reinforced timber queen post roof. The picturesque high Victorian design expressed the role of the building through its architectural vocabulary that includes military references such as corner towers and troop doors. It also satisfied the militia’s sense of its social position and fitted well into Hamilton’s commercial district.
The armoury now serves as headquarters for the 11th Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery; the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry; the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise’s); and the 705 Communications Squadron. Originally called the James Street Armoury, the building was renamed the John W. Foote VC Armoury in memory of Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel John Weir Foote VC, CD.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1989.
The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of this site include:
- the prominent location in downtown Hamilton;
- the setting within the old James Street North commercial district;
- the large two- and three-storey massing set around a central, open courtyard;
- the brick construction on a stone foundation;
- the Italianate style of the North section (1888) with gable-roofed drill hall and corner pavilions with Second Empire-style roofs;
- the symmetrical composition of the façades with polychrome brickwork and motifs including red brick with white stone trim, large round-headed windows, and prominent decorative stringcourses;
- the large, unobstructed interior space of the drill hall with traditional queen post roof truss system;
- the picturesque, high Victorian design of the South section (1905-1908), with its gable-roofed drill hall roof and and military references that include side doors set under flanking stylized bartizans, regularly placed windows, and a large arched troop door set under crenelated battlements;
- exterior stone detailing that includes carved stonework, prominent stringcourses, and contrasting window surrounds, and massive Romanesque Revival-style arches of rough-faced stone;
- the large, unobstructed interior space of the drill hall and the reinforced timber queen post roof truss system.
Government of Canada
Historic Sites and Monuments Act
National Historic Site of Canada
1936/01/01 to 1936/01/01
1908/01/01 to 1908/01/01
Theme - Category and Type
- Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
- Architecture and Design
- Governing Canada
- Military and Defence
Function - Category and Type
- Armoury or Drill Hall
Architect / Designer
Stewart & Whitton
Location of Supporting Documentation
National Historic Sites Directorate, Documentation Centre, 5th Floor, Room 89, 25 Eddy Street, Gatineau, Quebec
Cross-Reference to Collection