During the First World War, federal and municipal governments were forced to make drastic decisions in the name of King and service. Businesses, parks, and tourist attractions were shut down to accommodate the needs of soldiers fighting overseas. The war was entrenched in everything people did, and Toronto was one of the cities right in the centre of it all.

Below is a series of photographs, taken between 1914 and 1916, that show how the city converted into a headquarters for the British military throughout WWI.

Canadian National Exhibition

City officials offered the grounds of the CNE to the federal government in 1914, and within three weeks the tourist attraction had transformed into a military training camp, complete with bunks, furnaces, barracks, and an indoor rifle range. It housed thousands of troops throughout the war. Some of the smaller exhibitions were cancelled, but the Canadian National Exhibition remained open year-round. They continued to host midway games and rides, and even facilitated performances. In 1915, the exhibition chose a war theme, displaying armoured vehicles and showing short “moving pictures” depicting Great Britain during the war. Visitors were invited to watch soldiers do their drills and inspect mock-trenches built on the grounds.

CNE Dufferin Gates

CNE soldier drills

CNE Bayonettes

Built in 1841, the Stanley Barracks was supposed to replace Fort York as Canada’s garrison, but during the First World War, the CNE repurposed it as an internment camp for dangerous aliens, better known as citizens of German or Ukrainian descent.

Stanley Barracks Internment Camp


Long Branch Aviation

The Long Branch Aerodrome opened in 1915 by Curtiss Aeroplanes and Motors Company as a pilot training school. In 1917 the Royal Flying Corps, the precursor to the Royal Canadian Air Force, opened a training centre at the Aerodrome.  It was there that Canadians were taught to fly. The training was intensive, and included over 400 minutes of flying time.

Long Branch Aviation School

Training Grounds

Many of Toronto’s parks were used as training grounds. The large green spaces allowed soldiers to practice artillery manoeuvres or military drills.

High Park Artillery

The 9th Mississauga Horse, the cavalry predecessor to the Ontario Mounted Rifles, was often inspected in Riverdale Park.

Riverdale cavalry inspection

The University Avenue Armouries, located between Queen Street and Dundas, was the largest of its kind in Canada. They were home to the Toronto Regiments of the Canadian Army, and became the centre of militia activities until the end of the First World War. The hall was big enough for soldiers to conduct drills and it had its own rifle range. The armouries were demolished in 1963 to make room for the provincial courts.

University Avenue Armouries

University of Toronto president Robert Falconer turned a large portion of the downtown St. George campus over to the British government for military use, specifically to train pilots and aircrews. In 1917 they established the No. 4 School of Aeronautics at that location. The school provided about two months of instruction in aerial photography, telegraphy, map reading, and engine maintenance for cadets about to leave for flight training at the aerodromes.

U of T military camp

U of T students military drills

Cycle Corps

The cyclist corps was activated during the First World War to act as messengers and perform reconnaissance work. Bicycles were quieter and lighter than horses, and allowed soldiers to traverse long distances in less time. Toronto was an ideal training ground for the cyclist corps because of the many rivers, trails, and parks it had.

Cycle Corps

Cycle corps on Humber River


The shareholders at Gooderham & Warts, one of Canada’s largest distillers of alcohol, placed their distillery plant at the disposal of the British Government. The Gooderham family had relatives at the front and, with prohibition imminent, they were quite motivated to aide in the war efforts. In 1916, British Acetones Toronto Limited was formed in its place to manufacture acetone and cordite ketone, an essential ingredient in gunpowder. By the end of the war, the plant was producing 1000 tons of acetone per year.

British Acetones Toronto Limited

Distillery 1914 Acetone

Union Station

Union Station was built around 1914, just in time for the First World War. The trains were used to ship soldiers from Toronto to Halifax, where they would catch a boat overseas.

Union Station 1914


The City of Toronto began to develop the waterfront around the time the First World War began. The industrial changes were stunted by the need to build ships and other wartime necessities. Of the areas along the harbour, Ashbridge's Bay was marshy and mostly unused by the public. Because of this, it made the ideal place to dump munitions.

Ashbridge's Bay Munitions Dump

The industrialization of the Waterfront officially began in the 1920s, after the war was finished.

Parades and acts of patriotism

The entire city was keen to see and hear news of the war. Soldiers often marched down populated streets as part of their drills or to celebrate a victory in the field. It was a way to remind people that the war was still going on. It also provided incentives for families to purchase Victory Bonds or to contribute to the war effort.

Of the marching grounds, the most popular were University Avenue, Yonge Street, and Queen’s Park.

University Avenue Military parade

Military Parade Yonge Street

Parade Queens Park