The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada
One of Canada's oldest regiments
Throughout history, castles have been inhabited by men of a military nature. Though not a traditional "knight of old", Sir Henry Pellatt, the original owner of Casa Loma, was no less a military man. His lifelong involvement with the military began at Upper Canada College as a member of the school cadet corps; known as the Upper Canada College Rifle Company which formed the 11th Company of the Queen's Own Rifles. Sir Henry enlisted as a rifleman on November 2nd, 1876.
The Queen's Own Rifles was Canada's second oldest regiment manned entirely by part-time soldiers. This volunteer unit was formed out of the union of six local rifle companies from Toronto, Barrie and Whitby in April 1860. The unit was originally named the 2nd Battalion, Volunteer Militia Rifles of Canada. In 1863, it became an all-Toronto unit and was renamed after Queen Victoria as the 2nd Battalion, Queen's Own Rifles of Toronto.
A heroic past
The Queens' Own Rifles was not just a ceremonial outfit. The regiment first saw action in 1866 at Lime Ridge near Port Colbourne during the Fenian raids. It was also involved in the quelling of the Red River Rebellion in Manitoba in 1870. The unit was renamed yet again in 1882, and from that date on has been known as the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada.
Their military experience spread from Canada to South Africa when in 1899 the volunteers were involved in the Boer War. The First World War saw volunteers from the Queen's Own serving in France and Flanders; where they distinguished themselves in the famous battles at Ypres, the Somme and Vimy. In the Second World War, the unit joined the 8th Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and fought in the Normandy Invasion and other battles throughout Europe.
During the 1950s, two rifle battalions of the Queen's Own joined Canada's NATO forces in Europe and were posted to Germany and to Korea. The rifle battalions were disbanded in 1968 and 1970 but the militia battalion continues to operate in Toronto as the Legislative Assembly Guard.
A honorable and charitable connection
As part of the tradition of the Queen's Own Rifles, the soldiers gave back their pay to the regiment to cover expenses. The privilege of serving in such an elite regiment was considered to be reward enough. Sir Henry Pellatt went above and beyond merely returning his wages. Just as with all of his other philanthropic ventures, the wealthier Sir Henry became, the more he gave. His generosity ran the gamut from regular mess dinners for the regiment to the ultimate gesture in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Queen's Own Rifles in an unprecedented fashion. He invited 10,000 people to a reception in Toronto and continued the celebrations with a week of pageants and balls - all at his expense.
In 1910 to show "the home country what can be counted on in case of necessity", Sir Henry took 640 officers and men to England. They took part in maneuvers in the south of England and their presence was marked with great celebration. The trip was funded entirely by Sir Henry - another testament to his incomparable allegiance to the regiment.
His own half century with he regiment was marked in a suitably grand manner. On June 27, 1926, the regiment and his friends gathered to honour his years of service. Five hundred men paraded past him topped off by three airplanes from Camp Borden circling overhead. Sir Henry was presented with a long service medal celebrating not only his dedication to the Queen's Own Rifles, but also to other causes such as the St. John Ambulance Corps and the National Chorus.
Sir Henry was honored yet again by his fellow soldiers on his eightieth birthday long after his fall from financial and social prominence. On January 6, 1939, two hundred and twenty-five of the men who he had taken to England gathered together for one final mess dinner together.
Upon Sir Henry's retirement, he was promoted to the rank of Major-General. When Sir Henry died on March 8, 1939, thousands lined Toronto streets to witness his funeral procession. He was buried with full military honours befitting an old soldier who had given so much.
The Regimental Museum
Visitors can gain a sense of the grandeur of the Queen's Own Rifles by visiting the Regimental Museum in Casa Loma. The original aim of the Museum was to encourage the study of Canadian Military History, in particular the history of the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada. The collection has had a permanent home in Casa Loma since an agreement was reached with the Kiwanis Club in the late sixties.
The Museum comprises five rooms with separate themes: The Formation Room 1860-1900; The Pellatt Room 1910 Trip & Pellatt Items; The World War One Room 1914-1918; The World War II Room 1939-1945; and Post WWII - Korea to the Present Day. Artifacts and display items are arranged to reflect the period and the room.
The Museum has met with great success with 95% of the visitors to Casa Loma making the trip up to the third floor. This is twice the number which visit the War Museum in Ottawa.