Expansion underway at the Ontario Regiment Museum

Tank parked outside the Ontario Regiment Museum.

Visiting the Ontario Regiment Museum is an excellent way to learn more about the history of Oshawa, and have a colourful conversation about which country’s tanks are better.

“The best way to kill an Abrams, they’re easy,” said Robert Sanders, Canadian veteran and facilities maintenance coordinator for The Ontario Regiment Museum. Talking about the American Abrams heavy tank, which due to its heavy smoke emission, volume, and visibility, he described as, ‘a piece of sh*t.’

Robert Sanders, Canadian veteran and facilities maintenance co-ordinator at the Ontario Regiment Museum.

Sanders was amused with the battle tactics of tank warfare, especially the logistics of disabling a heavy tank with a bit of prep work.

“Dig a small trench on the path they’re coming down. Put a heat-proof blanket over top of ya. Then sit there with an RPG, and you let the tank go by you. Two kilometres behind is the fuel truck, you get up and, boom, the fuel truck is gone. He can go another 30 or 40 miles until he has no fuel, and then he’s stuck.”

Oshawa is going to be seeing a lot more tanks in the coming months. Tankfully, the machines are for the public’s education and appreciation of military history, and not a violent conflict hitting the streets.

The Ontario Regiment Museum is undergoing expansions to better showcase their collection of tanks and military artifacts. The new facility was approved by Oshawa City Hall last year and is something museum staff say Oshawa has to be proud of, as the museum is one of only six in the world that has operational tanks and armoured vehicles.

The museum’s growing collection will, in part, be housed in the new Military Vehicle Conservation Center. Due to be delivered around October or November 2018, is a Jagdpanzer 38 “Hetzer,” which is a WWII German tank destroyer type. The machine is under restoration in Poland and was purchased with donations to the museum.

Tank in the display of the Ontario Regiment Museum.

Sara Jago, a research assistant and tour guide at the museum, said the museum which is a non-profit, is sustained almost entirely from donations and what profits they make from their shows and occasionally get government grants.

The new facility is sorely needed. Jago says, “We have two other buildings that are chalked full of stuff that we have to rotate out vehicles and artifacts all the time just because of the amount of stuff the museum has accumulated over its lifetime.”

Occasionally, some vehicles are left to stand in the rain.

Jeremy Neal Blowers, executive director of the museum, said the new facility will be for storage of tanks and military equipment, to protect them from the elements and, “ensure they are available to future generations to learn from and enjoy.”

The Military Vehicle Conservation Center with be a 17,000 sq/ft free span structure. The construction is being managed by DANCO General Contractors and engineered by D.G. Biddle and Associates Ltd. So far the estimated cost of the new building is $1.1 million.

Projections suggested the building would be completed in April. However, as Blowers says,

“The winter has been a difficult one with many fluctuations… it now looks like it will be open just in time for our AQUINO Tank Weekend event in early June.”

The AQUINO is a tank weekend event at the museum with live demonstrations and re-enactments and is Canada’s largest military show each year. According to Jago, last year’s AQUINO had 5000 visitors.

Blowers explained the expansion itself was planned several years ago due to the large size of the “fleet,” which is currently capped out at 83 vehicles. The machines have outgrown the space of the current facilities. Blowers said the museum acquires around one to three vehicles annually.

Sanders said it will probably be until summer before electrical gets done. “Once that structure’s finished, it becomes my problem. It will be a huge display bay.”

Currently visitors can see 12-15 vehicles in the current display bay due to the limited available space. Blowers says, “The new building will be a game changer, as we will be able to display 50-60 of our vehicles at any one time for the public to enjoy.”

Kolten Hooper is a Durham College Environmental Technology student and has been volunteering at the museum’s workshop for five years. “It started with my community service hours. I got hooked on it, I couldn’t stop… It’s a great experience, I come here every weekend,” Hooper said. He works in the mechanical division and is interested in the maintenance of the vehicles, which the museum does in-house.

Kolten Hooper is a Durham College Environmental Technology student. He’s standing in front of an open APC. (Armoured Personal Carrier)

Hooper said the museum is seeing more volunteers as time goes on, and the upcoming expansions mark an important milestone for the museum.

“It’s really exciting for me, we have such a great museum here. The artifacts and pieces, there’s so much to see, and there’s going to be even more into the future,” said Hooper.

Blowers said, “What is really exciting is that this museum is already something that is unique to the entire country and very rare in the world. As our museum grows, it is gaining more National and International attention and that is great for the City of Oshawa and the Region.”

“We will be able to display more vehicles and tell more stories about these vehicles and the Canadian’s that served in them as we expand,” Blowers said.

Jago says military history is important so that we as the public can discern the myth of war from the reality.

“We really want to highlight what life was really like for soldiers in this regiment… Because it’s not all glory as the movies tend to depict,” Jago said.

The museum found approval in City Development Services, The Planning and Building Department, with support from the mayor’s office. The expansion was first approved by the City of Oshawa in August 2017. Blowers said the process was “extensive” and the foundation permit was received in October 2017.

As the museum is a non-profit, the expansions were funded by donors and community sponsors.

Private donors and foundations also made large financial donations. For example, the concrete for the project was donated by Dufferin Concrete and CRH Canada. MBSL Ltd, DANCO General Contractors, D.G.Biddle and Associates Ltd. also donated some services. Blowers says that without these partners the expansions, “would not be a reality.”

Blowers is also looking forward to completion of the new facility, if nothing else than because the process is a “double-edged sword.”

“I am very excited for the future and the way in which this new building will enhance and expand our operations but it is very difficult running a fast-growing organization and managing a building project of this size. Dealing with all the permits, contractors, suppliers and issues that arise is very challenging day-to-day, in addition to the duties of an executive director,” Blowers said.

The first set of expansions are nearing completion, with additional facilities and hangers planned. The military history of Oshawa will be out in full display soon enough, much to the liking of the museum’s staff and executives.

“I will be greatly relieved once it’s complete,” said Blowers.

The Ontario Regiment Museum will be hosting the AQUINO event on the weekend of June 9 and 10.