The Ontario Regiment Museum has become one of the cornerstones of tourism in Oshawa, as it brings both history and a sense of patriotism.
The museum, which is located at the end of Stevenson Road North within Oshawa’s urban limits, doesn’t simply have replicas of vehicles as many museums do, but has a jeep that Jeremy Blowers, the executive director of the Ontario Regiment RCAC Museum, says actually participated in World War II.
He also notes there is a truck specifically used to transport Queen Elizabeth II as she traveled through Oshawa in 1991.
The museum also has tanks such as four M4A2E8 Shermans, three CVR(T) FV105 Scorpions, two Leopard 1A5BEs, and many other armoured vehicles.
Blowers explained when elderly veterans wished to participate in the Remembrance Day Parade, they used this same vehicle with its red leather seats to transport them.
Ever since the Ontario Regiment became an armoured regiment, tanks have played a big part in its history.
Becoming an armoured regiment before World War II meant the regiment joined in the war effort as an armoured division, thus serving alongside the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade, which landed in Sicily in July 1943 during the Allied invasion of Italy.
The museum itself displays this, as there are a myriad of tanks and armoured vehicles placed in a respectful manner throughout, each given their designated viewing area.
Blowers says the museum itself was founded in 1980 “as the Ontario Regiment Ferret Club.”
“What happened was a group of retired [non-commissioned officers] and officers of the Ontario Regiment formed a club,” says Blowers. “A local businessman, who was also an honourary colonel of the regiment was able to purchase nine ferret scout cars that went surplus from the army.”
Blowers says the museum started off as more of a private club for the retired soldiers, and they “would maintain the vehicles and use them for parades. They basically supported the regiment in ceremonial functions and change of command ceremonies.”
He says the Ferret Club would participate in parades such as the Remembrance Day Parade and the Fiesta Parade.
“That was the beginning of the museum,” says Blowers. “So in 2020 we’re actually having our 40th anniversary.”
In 1993, the Ferret Club moved into the current building where the regiment is found.
“It was combined with a new organization, which was the Ontario Regiment Museum. The regiment never had a proper museum,” he says. “The artifacts and relics of the regiment were spread between a room at Parkwood [Estate], a room over the sergeants mess at the Oshawa Armoury, and you can still see a lot of artifacts of the regiment are still spread around.”
He notes the McLaughlin Branch of the Oshawa Public Library still has the colours of the regiment just beyond their door.
“In 1993, all of that was consolidated into this building with the Ferret Club,” he explains. “So two organizations that were kind of unrelated were finally underneath one roof.”
He says from there the museum just slowly grew, as the Ferret Club “continued to acquire more military vehicles.”
With a chuckle, Blowers says, “Believe it or not, the first tank that we had had a tree growing out of it when we first got it, so that kind of just shows you the condition of some of the things they were getting.”
He says the museum continued to get more professional as it improved volunteer staff levels and “it was moving along and growing at a half decent pace and about 2014 it really started to become recognized.”
He says they changed their opening hours, and “a lot of key personnel that are here now kind of got involved, started attracting donours, especially retired officers out of the regiment who became successful businessmen.”
He says the retired officers gave back to the regiment and the community by supporting the museum.
“It’s just led to where we are today, which is definitively Canada’s premier armour museum right here in the City of Oshawa,” Blowers says with pride.
Today, the museum holds various events for the public to attend, notably the popular Tank Saturdays.
“For the first time we’re not on a hiatus [for the winter],” says Blowers. “Up until 2015 the museum literally closed after Remembrance Day and did not open until May.”
He elaborates by saying part of the growth is the museum staying open during the winter, even if the hours were limited.
“Now with the new military vehicle conservation centre, for the first time ever we are doing winter programming,” he says with a smile.
Tank Saturday: Winter Warfare takes place in the facility where Blowers says they “can invite visitors inside a heated area where they can see all the vehicles. It’s not this sort of hour-long spectacle that you see at Tank Saturday during the summer, because it’s going to be cold. But we’ll be putting on a half hour demonstration of how vehicles operate in winter conditions, and some of the special vehicles that are specifically adapted, or made for snow and winter conditions. It’s a complete new ball game for us.”
He says they’ll also be having some events during March Break called “Get Inside.”
“We’ll have one day where’s it’s ‘Get Inside an M4 Sherman [Tank],’ where people will be able to come in and actually get an opportunity to get inside a vehicle,” he says. “It’s been a game changer, and winter is no longer down time.”
Later in the year, the museum will be holding its larger annual events, such as the Aquino Tank Weekend, where visitors can see a show with tanks, battle re-enactments, artillery displays and more.
It takes place June 8 and June 9, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
There’s also the regular Tank Saturdays, as the museum puts its armoured vehicles on display for the public.
The museum also participates in the Remembrance Day Parade every year, as they put together a convoy Blowers says can’t even be captured in a single photo as it is so long that it is never on the same street all at once.
The museum is currently on limited hours, and is open from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays, but when summer arrives it is open from noon to 4 p.m. seven days a week. It is located at 1000 Stevenson Road North.
By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
When I first joined The Oshawa Express, one of my first assignments was to go to Tank Saturday at the Ontario Regiment Museum, but I didn’t know what to expect.
Being new to Oshawa, I’d merely heard of the museum and had no idea where it was and what to expect. So of course I got lost on the way there.
However, when I did find the museum, I made my way in and was taking photos of the tanks and other armoured vehicles as they rolled by.
What fascinated me the most was the reaction from the crowd. While some people were taking photos like I was, there were others who were simply there with their families to have fun.
I saw mothers and fathers with their children, some of whom were on their shoulders to catch a better view, as well as some who were in the front row, crouched down with their kids explaining what each vehicle is.
Then I bought a hot dog and shared it with my partner.
To this day, we still talk about Tank Saturday and how much fun we had.
Seeing an event like Tank Saturday bring families together like it did was very heart-warming, and is one of my fondest memories of my time at The Express.
Like I’ve said previously, ever since I was young I’ve been fascinated by history, and to see history itself moving in front of me is truly fascinating.
I visit the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto as often as I possibly can – so not very often, but knowing there’s a place that can give me my history fix so close to home is great to know.
One thing I learned while I was at the museum is they have artefacts which go all the way back to the late 1800s during the Fenian crisis. It’s an issue not touched upon very often when talking about Canadian history, but it was so integral to developing the Canadian identity, so seeing that event acknowledged was great to see.