The two world wars of the 20th century affected many towns across Canada in ways that previous conflicts had never done. Starting the in the Boer War, Canadians began to fight not only in and for their home country but in conflicts around the globe. And Oakville has a long history with Canada’s military history, starting in the 1830s into the modern conflicts of the 21st century.
During the earliest days of Upper Canada, the British organised district sedentary militias to act as a line of defence against invasion. Men within a specific age range would be automatically enrolled in their local militia regiment and required to report for parade and drill training. And those who had wealth were often made to be the officers and non-commissioned officers of the units. There were no uniforms, and usually, even the firearms and belting were supplied from surplus or what the person had available. The War of 1812 provided a platform for many larger militia units with wealthy members to turn into uniform units. Complete with uniforms, belting, hats, and muskets. William Chisholm, the son of a wealthy land owner, was commissioned in the 2nd York Militia and served under noted general Sir Issac Brock. And would support the Colonial Parliament during the 1837 Battle of Montgomery Tavern; while he would not join the battle itself, his militia division would guard Dundas road to the west of Toronto to prevent rebels from fleeing. Chisholm would go on to serve in the Gore Militia with his sons. When the districts were disbanded, counties raised independent militia companies, and Robert and George became officers in the new companies. The 20th Halton Battalion of Infantry, formed in 1866, and headquartered in Milton (County Seat), would have George Chisholm act first as a major and then lieutenant colonel. While initially a traditional red-coated regiment, they donned the green jackets of a rifle unit in 1881 under the new name 20th Halton Battalion “Lorne Rifles.” The Lorne Rifles (today Lorne Scots (Peel, Dufferin & Halton Regiment), since 1936) comprised seven companies across the county. And many soldiers from the unit would proceed to serve not only in Canada but aboard, signing onto units that fought for the Empire. But as Oakville grew, so to did the need for social support. The Independent Order of Foresters, established in 1907, was among those early fraternal organisations that acquired a large plot of land on Kerr Street, bordered by Bond, Queen Mary, and Normandy (modern names). In 1910, they began constructing an orphanage to support the families of IOF members who passed away. As Canada did not have the strong social safety net we enjoy today. The IOF operated the site until 1943, when the Canadian Army, faced with a growing number of injured veterans from the brutal fighting in the Second World War, needed to establish hospitals in Canada for those whose injuries removed them from returning to the front. Operated by the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, the newly created Ortona Barracks, acted as a hospital and casualty retraining centre. Throughout the war, the original farm was replaced by more buildings, and by the war’s end, a large and valuable base was now present in Oakville. Seeing this as valuable property, the Canadian Army relocated their central command to the Ortona Barracks. The Army also constructed the Surry Park development to act as the private married quarters for the base. When the distant early warning line opened in 1957, the 70 Communication Group set up at the Ortona Barracks. In 1972, the Army withdrew from Ortona Barracks and transferred the property to the Federal Government. In 1975 after a few years of renovation, it reopened as the Oakland Regional Centre. The centre provided support to those living with disabilities for both on-site and assisted living arrangements. And while the methods have changed, today, the Central West Development Services (since 2005) continues to play that role in the area out of the same property. The Lorne Scot’s “A” Company parades out of the smallest armoury in NATO on Thomas Street in Downtown Oakville.
The former Ortona Barracks have always drawn me in since I first saw them. But finding the right spot to capture these buildings did prove challenging. Because everything has been built up and changed over the years, finding the original structure took a bit of digging. Then I found a spot where I could easily photograph it without getting into trouble. After tucking myself behind some bushes, I lined up the shot with my 125mm lens, but I think I forgot to bring my shadow reading as this shot is seriously underexposed. But you can get a general idea from the highlights of the original 1910 IOF building. Certainly was not my best image from the project, but it could have been far worse.