History Restored: The Lt.-Col. D.V. Currie VC Armoury

Justin
Justin Crann
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This week, the Times-Herald's History Restored series makes a return for a special installment recognizing the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

The series takes an inside look at a historic structure within the Friendly City, its past and its future, and the way it has impacted the lives of people who have frequented it. This week, the focus is the Lieutenant Colonel D.V. Currie VC Armoury.

AT A GLANCE

Originally built: 1912-1913

Initially cost: $150,000

Initial purpose: Armoury

Other uses: Quarantine hospital (during a flu outbreak, 1919); morgue (following the 1954 plane collision).

Renamed: June 13, 1988

HISTORY AND FUTURE

The Moose Jaw Armoury came into existence in the second decade of the 1900s.

It all started, according to historian Gerry Carline, with a who's who of local businessmen deciding "no self-respecting city could call itself a city without having an armoury."

On July 3 of 1913 — just over a year before the beginning of the First World War — the facility officially opened, beginning a lifetime of use, primarily by the military.

The armoury housed many different battalions, and up to 300 soldiers could sleep in the drill space, which comprises the largest portion of the facility. 

According to Capt. (retired) Ron Hammond, who curates the armoury's museum, the 46th Battalion was one of several to operate out of the armoury. 

With a casualty rate of 91.5 per cent in just 27 months, including 1,433 killed and 3,484 wounded, the 46th became known as the "Suicide Battalion."

Sgt. Hugh Cairns, a posthumous winner of the Victoria Cross, was a member of the 46th. The armoury and an elementary school in his hometown of Saskatoon both carry his name.

In 1919, Moose Jaw suffered a flu outbreak. Within the first 48 hours of the virus' arrival in the Friendly City, it had killed 22 people and the spread of the sickness necessitated that the armoury be converted into a quarantine hospital for people who contracted the illness.

In 1937, a fire destroyed the armoury's north side. Richard Bunyard was brought in to oversee the project.

"The north end burnt down," explained Hammond. "They had a boiler on each end of the armoury, and for some reason the one on this end caught fire. So they had to rebuild this end."

Now, that side houses Hammond's office and storage space containing many more artifacts that he has yet to introduce to the armoury's museum displays — including one of the uniforms that belonged to Lt.-Col. David Currie, for whom the armoury is named.

Less than 20 years later, when a pair of planes crashed mid-flight over Moose Jaw and 38 people were killed, the armoury was used as a temporary morgue for the bodies.

In 1988, the armoury took on its present-day name, becoming the Lieutenant Colonel D.V. Currie, VC, Armoury. Currie, a recipient of the Victoria Cross for his actions in the Second World War who had died two years earlier.

Currie was born in Sutherland, Sask., but called Moose Jaw his hometown for much of his life.

"I had the opportunity to meet David Currie and his wife a few times before he passed away," said Lyle Johnson, who spent a great deal of time in the armoury as a cadet and later one of the officers with the Moose Jaw Schools Cadet Corps. "He was a very interesting man."

"He was a born and bred guy, and probably the Moose Jaw V.C. winner who had the greatest connection to the armoury," he added. "He was a humble and self-deprecating guy, not a 'look at me, look what I did,' kind of person. That was incredible."

Since the time of its renaming, it has remained the home of the Saskatchewan Dragoons — some of whom saw combat in Afghanistan — as well as the Moose Jaw Cadet Corps. 

It is also home to a museum rich with displays showcasing Canada's military history — and, specifically, the involvement of units and individuals from Moose Jaw in that history.

Indeed, the preservation and promotion of Moose Jaw's involvement in Canada's military over the past 100 years may be the most important aspect of the facility as it exists today. It is in this role, perhaps, that the armoury has had its greatest impact.

At least for one long-time guest of the armoury, the facility has meant a great deal.

"The importance of the armoury is not the kind of thing that smacks you in the face every day," said Johnson. "But it's the kind of thing that becomes a part of your world, every day."

Find Justin Crann on Twitter.

Organizations: Quarantine hospital, Moose Jaw Schools Cadet Corps

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, Friendly Canada Sutherland Sask. Afghanistan

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