If you’ve taken the Metro Line you may have wondered about the red brick castle-ish building next to the tracks, just south of Kingsway Ave. It’s the Prince of Wales Armouries Heritage Centre and it’s just turned one hundred years old.
The Edmonton Drill Hall (re-named the Prince of Wales Armouries in 1921) was officially opened by Premier Borden on October 15, 1915. Today it’s a public building with exhibits, museum galleries, and meeting and event spaces. It’s also the home of the City of Edmonton Archives.
The Federal Government started planning an armoury in Edmonton in 1910 but, due to various delays, the building wasn’t opened until 1915. In fact, a permit wasn’t even issued until July, 1914. I suspect the outbreak of the First World War hastened the project along. One of the delays was because the site the Government selected was located in the Hudson’s Bay Company Reserve and negotiations with the HBC for the land took until 1912 to finalize. Interestingly (or confusingly), the date stone at the entrance of the building reads 1913. City Archivist, Kathryn Ivany, believes this is because the architectural plans are dated 1913 and the engineers took them literally. Never mind that the building was actually completed two years later.
The Prince of Wales Armouries (POWA) was home to several regiments which later became part of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment and the South Alberta Light Horse Regiment. Both organizations are tenants of the building today. Over the years, various organizations like the Royal Canadian Legion and the Naval Officers Association were tenants here. The Naval Officer’s Club had a room in one of the turrets which was known as the Crow’s Nest.
POWA has always had a strong role in the community as well, even when it was a functioning drill hall. For example it was used to hold a memorial service for King George V on January 27, 1936. It was even used for sports events; I found an Edmonton Journal reference to a December 16, 1920 indoor baseball game between the 19th Alberta Dragoons and the “Mounted Police.” Over the years, POWA was used by a community league, various Cadets, theatre groups, as a film set, for dog shows, as a market, and as a storage warehouse for the Edmonton Food Bank. It was also the headquarters for the 1978 Commonwealth Games.
POWA was declared surplus in 1977 and designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 1979. Ownership was transferred to the City in 1982 in a three way land swap with the Federal and Provincial Governments. After much debate on its future, the Prince of Wales Armouries Heritage Centre was created with a mandate to preserve and showcase the history of Edmonton. In 1992, the City of Edmonton Archives became the principle tenant in a custom built building-within-a-building facility. This unique design preserves the integrity of the drill hall while allowing for the controlled temperature and humidity needs of archival storage (environmental conditions being notoriously hard to regulate in older buildings).
Do you have any memories of the Prince of Wales Armouries? Please share them in the comments!