What's in the Archives

Collecting Toronto: Defending Toronto


A sovenior from South Africa showing a lion and a soldier

Toronto's birth was a military one: in July 1793, Upper Canada's first lieutenant-governor, John Graves Simcoe, established a military camp on the site of what is now Fort York. From that time until Confederation in 1867, the British garrison occupied both an important military and social role within the growing colony. British troops were active during the War of 1812, the 1837 Rebellion, and the 1860s Fenian Raids. Meanwhile, the army was the largest consumer of goods and services in York and early Toronto. One of Larry Becker's earliest and most cherished items was a one shilling note issued by York merchant, Ezekial Benson, who supplied provisions to the British Army during the War of 1812.

By the time of Confederation and the withdrawal of British troops in 1870, however, day-to-day military activity had become less important relative to the city's other commercial, political, residential, and industrial functions. Nevertheless, periods of intense activity flared up during the Red River Rebellion (1870), North-West Rebellion (1885), the South African War (1899-1902), and, especially, during both World Wars (1914-1918 and 1939-1945). Such times of intense activity were punctuated by periods of lower-key training and socializing.

Militaria was one of Larry Becker's major collecting areas. Although having collected little relating to either the War of 1812 or Mackenzie's 1837 Rebellion, Becker documented military life in Toronto from the Fenian Raids to the Cold War, including both life at the military fronts and on the home front.   


A ration Book, No. 4, showing someone's ID information and Prefix and Serial No.


Organized chronologically, this selection of Becker militaria includes military and home-coming medals from the Fenian Raids, South African War, World War I, and World War II. Albumen photographs from the 1880s, depict members of the Queen's Own Rifles, including Lieutenant Henry Pellatt of B Company, later of Casa Loma fame; Fort York by Lake Ontario; and a triumphal arch welcoming the troops home from defeating Riel during the North-West Rebellion. A chromolithographic map outlines the circuitous route taken by those troops from Toronto to Saskatchewan. A lion-covered souvenir pamphlet celebrates Toronto's first, fiercely pro-Empire, contingent of volunteers bound for the South African War. Becker's collection of Queen's Own Rifles militaria includes a programme for the 1894 opening of the University Avenue Armouries, and a 1912 lady's fan decorated with the images of regimental Colonels, including a rotund Sir Henry Pellatt.

World War I is recalled by a six-foot panorama of 48th Highlanders posing before the University Avenue Armouries in March 1916; a farewell poster for the 127th York Rangers, as well as a leaflet depicting the 127th training at Kodak Heights, and several snapshots of the same men training at Camp Borden in 1916; a menu for Christmas dinner 1916; a post-War poster; and medical records for TB-infected Private O'Neil, who had survived the war but might not survive the English damp. Nazi ephemera document the rise of Hitler in the 1930s and"the enemy" during World War II. Other World War II items include: The Canadian Soldier's Guide to London, published in pre-Blitz Britain, and an annotated &quotCaptain of Aircraft&quot map for nighttime bombing raids over Germany in 1943-44. Homefront life is documented by a 1944 &quotBuy Victory Bonds&quot poster, an issue of Canada Packers' employee newspaper, ration books, and civilian defence pamphlets for air raid monitoring and household preparations.