Ask many residents of Oshawa to describe their city’s claim to fame, and their answer will probably include something about car manufacturing. However, long before General Motors made its home in the city, the Ontario Regiment had its regimental headquarters deeply rooted in the community.
This year, the regiment is celebrating its 150th anniversary and Oshawa has declared 2016 “The Year of the Ontarios.”
Mayor John Henry is keen to point out the regiment’s significance in the city.
“The regiment brings employment to Oshawa. All of the soldiers that are there are paid to attend,” said the mayor. “It provides opportunities for young people who are going to school, and people who have finished school, who go on and want to live in the Durham Region and raise their families and want to serve their country at the same time.” Henry added the men and women who serve in the unit come from all over Durham Region.
The Ontario Regiment was formed in 1866 after nine independent companies returned to the area from the Fenian Raids in Niagara. It was given the name the 34th Battalion of Infantry. The name was subsequently changed to the 34th Ontario Regiment in 1900.
The battalion fought in the First World War in Europe in battles at the Somme, Arras, Vimy, Ypres and Passchendaele amongst others, where their commanding officer Lt.-Col. George Pearkes won the Victoria Cross.
As the Second World War began, the Regiment took on a new role as an armoured unit and was renamed the 11th Canadian Armoured Regiment. The Ontarios fought throughout Italy, and tracked north through Europe. Finally, they helped in the fighting to liberate Holland.
During the Cold War years, the Ontarios continued as a tank regiment, and served alongside the Canadian regular army in Germany. Additionally, they were given the Freedom of the City of Oshawa in 1966, followed by the Freedom of the Region of Durham in 1979.
More recently, soldiers from the Regiment served on active duty for NATO and the UN in Cyprus, Cambodia and the former Yugoslavia. The Regiment was also deployed in Afghanistan for ten years until 2013.
Earl Wotton is the curator of the Ontario Regiment Museum, which houses the largest operational collection of military vehicles in the country. Wotton said the museum has some “tremendously dedicated volunteers” who come to the museum almost every day to work on restoring the vehicles.
However, there is no need for a military background to be involved. “We welcome people from all walks of life,” said Wotton. “All you really need is an interest and a passion for restoring, maintaining, and presenting the military history of Canada.”
To celebrate this milestone anniversary, the regiment has organized key events throughout the year. One of the highlights will be the publication of an updated regimental history, ‘Fidelis Et Paratus: The History of The Ontario Regiment RCAC’ by retired sergeant Rod Henderson. The title is the regiment’s motto which translates as, “Faithful and Ready.” This limited edition book will be launched at Col. R.S. McLaughlin Armoury on Apr. 30. Some other celebratory highlights:
Jun. 19 42nd Annual Fiesta Parade
Sep. 10 Tank Saturday at the Ontario Regiment Museum
Sep. 14 Birthday B-B-Q
Sep. 17 150th Parade and Change of Command, from Oshawa to the GM Centre
Sep. 23 Oshawa Generals Hockey Game at the GM Centre, where the City of Oshawa and the Generals will honour the Ontario Regiment
“This regiment is your regiment,” said Mayor Henry. “This is your friends in your community who are trained to help in times of need. It is important to understand and say thank you.”
For more information of the 150th celebrations, go to www.ontrmuseum.ca