The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum tells the story of the first infantry regiment established in Canada within the permanent force. The regimental history can be traced back to the War of 1812 and it overlaps with some of the most significant episodes of post-confederation Canadian history.
The RCR began as the Infantry School Corps (21 December, 1883) and evolved to four battalions, as follows: the 1st Battalion, The RCR and the 3rd Battalion, The RCR active at 4th Canadian Division Support Base Petawawa (4 CDSB) and the 2nd Battalion, The RCR located at 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown (5 CDSB); the 4th Battalion, The RCR is part of the reserve force, currently located in London, ON at Wolseley Barracks. There is a lineage back to 1863-64, when militia units were raised in Woodstock and London, ON; assimilated in the 1950s, with the reform of the Canadian Army, these units are perpetuated by the 4th Battalion, The RCR.
The RCR Museum is located in historic Wolseley Barracks, considered to this day “home station” of The RCR. Owned by the Department of National Defence, the barracks are part of the 31st Canadian Brigade Group in London, ON. The barracks are a «U» shaped structure, known as «A Block», with the museum currently occupying western wing, the building lodges the 4th Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, the Regional Cadet Organizations and the 1st Hussars, an armoured regiment with the primary reserve. The ensemble is a designated national heritage site, registered with the Canadian Register for Historic Places.
The RCR Museum is also one of the oldest Canadian museums. On 2nd June 1886, the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada approved in its fourth session – fifth parliament, an expenditure of $30,000 for the London Infantry School. The works were eventually placed under the care of Henry James (1839 – 1893), the Chief Architect for the Militia Department. By the end of 1888, the construction was completed and the troops took quarters. The 1886 floor plans show a room specially designated to become a museum, adjacent to a “reading room” and to an office for the “professor”; no other armouries or military buildings erected in Canada included such a designation before. While no documentary information is available in regards to the way the “museum room” functioned, it is certain that the regimental headquarters always played a major role in the daily operations as to upholding the traditions of The RCR and the artefacts that resulted during the process.
Although collecting was not systematic during the period 1920-1939, even thereafter until up to the 1960s, the goals of The Royal Canadian Regiment Officers’ Association comprised “to preserve the Regiment’s objects”. It is yet to be determined when the idea of establishing a regimental museum (as we understand the term today) was born. The first mention of a regimental museum was found thus far in the Letters Patent of The RCR Association of 17 December 1970: “to establish and maintain a regimental and war museum” and “to hold in trust the memorabilia, accoutrements, colours, plate and objects d’art of The Royal Canadian Regiment”. In April 1973, the Royal Canadian Regiment Museum was accredited as a Canadian Forces Museum. In 1987, The RCR Trust took over ownership of the «memorabilia, accoutrements, colours, plate and objets d'art». By the end of the 1950s, displays were already on show on the second floor at Wolseley Barracks and in 1973 visiting hours for the general public were promoted. Following extensive renovation and space additions, in 1983, the museum opened on the occasion of The RCR Centennial. The Colonel-in-Chief of The RCR, His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was in attendance and cut the ribbon. Subsequently, the museum became a unique venue to discover the history of The Royal Canadian Regiment, but also the evolution of the Canadian military post 1883, along with other major conflicts in which our country had an important part to play.
A major renovation project was conducted between 2009 and 2013. The regimental headquarters were relocated to Petewawa (2009), and space became available in «A Block». Immediately assigned to the museum, the additional space allowed for the expansion of the permanent galleries, extra storage space for artefacts, adequate sanitary facilities for visitors, and barrier free access. The highlight of the renovation is the transformation of the famous archway entrance into the museum’s foyer and reception area. In the vicinity of this area, a room was assigned to the gift shop, a one-of-a-kind retail operation in southwestern Ontario featuring RCR emblazoned items and other military specific merchandise and services.
Since its re-opening in September 2013, The RCR Museum is committed not only to providing a home for the regimental collection, but also to foster a deeper understanding of the Regimental experience, within the broader context of military and Canadian history, among other veterans, communities in the London area and all Canadians.