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A violent fire destroyed one of Québec City’s most recognizable historical landmarks in April 2008. For over a century the armoury, built between 1885 and 1887, had served as a training and parade ground for the Voltigeurs de Québec reserve infantry unit. It was a crushing blow for the unit but the armoury will rise again from the flames. The Voltigeurs may have lost a battle but they haven’t lost the war.
In 1883 self-taught architect Eugène-Étienne Taché, who had designed Québec’s parliament a few years earlier, was commissioned to draw up plans for a new armoury to replace the Voltigeurs de Québec’s wooden drill hall. Taché drew inspiration from the medieval forts he had seen on his European travels and so introduced the Château style to Québec City for the very first time.
The armoury was a massive stone building with barbican windows, faux gun embrasures, twin towers with conical roofs, and a central gateway befitting its military vocation. Construction began after the Voltigeurs had distinguished themselves in 1885 suppressing the Northwest Rebellion in Western Canada.
The Voltigeurs de Québec is a reserve unit officially raised in 1862. It grew out of companies of English- and French-speaking volunteer soldiers trained for the War of 1812, two francophone companies set up in the 1850s, and new companies to form “The 9th Battalion Volunteer Militia Rifles, Canada (or “Voltigeurs of Quebec”). This makes it the oldest French-Canadian regiment (regular or reserve) in the country.
The volunteers first saw action in Western Canada, where they were charged with keeping the fierce and populous Blackfoot Nation out of Louis Riel’s Northwest Rebellion. The discipline and effectiveness shown by the Voltigeurs in this “peacekeeping” role earned them the support of the federal government and backing for the construction of a new armoury that would serve as their headquarters from 1887.
Voltigeurs reservists served in a number of 20th century conflicts, including the first and second world wars and Korea. Plaques commemorating those who gave their lives or were injured in combat lined the main hall, but were damaged in the 2008 fire. They will be restored and reinstalled in the armoury’s new hall, which will be almost identical, ensuring that many traditions dear to the heart of the Voltigeurs are preserved.
One such tradition is the parade marking the regiment’s anniversary each May. All regiment members assemble inside the armoury, then march to the Notre-Dame-de-Québec Cathedral-Basilica for mass. Afterwards they march in formation back to headquarters, to the sound of drums and a military band, along the central path at Place George-V, then through the armoury’s main entrance. The ceremony ends with a march toward the plaques commemorating their fallen brothers in arms, and the singing of “O Canada,” the patriotic song first sung by the Voltigeurs in 1880, a full century before it officially became Canada’s national anthem.
Once rebuilt, the new armoury will continue to serve as headquarters of the Voltigeurs de Québec and retain its official title: Voltigeurs de Québec Armoury. The site will house the regimental museum and offices. But since 2000 the Voltigeurs de Québec have shared training facilities with the Royal 22e Régiment at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier, just outside Québec City, so they will no longer train in the armoury. Instead, it will serve as a multipurpose facility that’s open to all and available for public functions.
The City of Québec presented the Voltigeurs regiment with this bugle in 1866 for services rendered. The regiment sounded the bugle as a call to fight fires and warn locals.
The instrument was saved from the fire at the armoury on April 4, 2008. Traces of soot are still visible.
Voltigeurs de Québec collection
Trophy awarded to the Voltigeurs de Québec team at the 1929–1930 shooting championships
The item was saved from the fire at the armoury on April 4, 2008. Traces of soot are still visible.
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