Tag Archives: small arms ltd

Long Branch Rifle Range

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The story of the long abandoned Long Branch Rifle Range begins with Confederation in 1867. As soon as the British North America Act came into effect on July 1st, the new Dominion of Canada was charged with taking a lead role in its own defence. The following year the Militia District of Ontario established the Ontario Rifle Association. With the Garrison Common Rifle Ranges in operation in 1869 citizens were practicing at Fort York but this soon proved to be dangerous. The Industrial Exhibition (Later the C.N.E.) was bringing more people into the area and a new passenger wharf at the foot of Dufferin Street led the city to ask the militia to move. In 1891 the Federal Government bought land on the west side of Etobicoke Creek and established the Long Branch Rifle Ranges. The site was immediately important, training volunteer militiamen between 1899 and 1902 for service in the Boer War. The range was operated from 1893 to 1910 by the Ontario Rifle Association when it was bought by the Department of Militia and Defence (Renamed Department of National Defence in 1922). In 1910 they constructed thirty wooden baffles on the firing range, two of which can be seen in the picture below. The are the oldest surviving military baffles in the province.

The rifle range can be seen in this 1962 aerial photograph from the Toronto Archives. Sixty years ago the grass was still kept short and there were no trees anywhere on the rifle range. Much has changed in the intervening years.

Baffles were built to dampen the sound and also to stop stray bullets from doing any damage. They varied in size from 4 to 6 feet high and were between 4 and 10 feet long.

The baffles were built with a wooden frame covered with tongue and groove boards. The tops were left open until they could be filled with sand and small stones taken from the shore of the lake.

Only sixteen of the baffles remain and some of them are in poor shape.

In 1925 two concrete backstops were built, each 15 feet high and 35 feet long. An archery or shooting target range is known as a butt and these two were built at 300 yards and 600 yards from the shooting gallery. The end of the 300 yard butt can be seen below as well as the concrete overhang that kept bullets from ricocheting wildly.

The 300 yard butt is pock marked with hundreds of bullet holes across the entire face. The vast majority of the Lee & Enfields 303 munitions that were fired at the butt were aimed at targets below the protective overhang. The concrete here is chewed away to expose the rebar inside and the wooden roof has also been blasted away.

Applewood Creek flows behind the butt and separated the rifle range from Canada’s first aerodrome which was opened by the Curtis Company in 1915. The eastern section of the lot was used to train pilots until 1919 when the Royal Flying Corp discontinued using it and the buildings were demolished.

The rifle ranges were used to train soldiers for the Boer War, the Great War and the Second World War. The A-25 Small Arms School (later S-3 Canadian Small Arms School) held shooting matches here with up to 300 participants from across the country. Between 1939 and 1945 the Long Branches Rifle Ranges were used by the Department of National Defence to train infantry prior to deployment overseas. With its proud history of serving Canadas military its sad to see the baffles warped, broken and overgrown.

The proliferation of vegetation at the site has the benefit of providing habitat for birds, insects and various mammals. Seen below, Banded Hairstreak is one of the more common hairstreak butterflies in Ontario. They can have a fair range of variation in the pattern of the orange and silver spots on the underside of the wing but the brown bands with white borders are a defining feature. They lay their eggs on host branches where they overwinter, hatching in the spring. Banded Hairstreaks have one flight per year in late June or early July.

There are two baffles in the picture below but the river grapes and dog-strangling vines have run wild, engulfing everything.

Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies were darting everywhere and a male is pictured below. He has a green body and plain black wings. They eat mosquitoes, fleas and small insects and are a welcome sight. In turn, they provide meals for turtles, frogs and fish who like to snap them out of the air.

Female Ebony Jewelwings have a brownish body and smoky coloured wings. Their wings also have a small white patch at the tips. The female will mate in the early summer and lays her eggs in aquatic plants. When the naiads are hatched they eat small aquatic insects until they become fully grown. Then they crawl out of the water and molt into their adult form.

The water tower in the distance was built in 1941 to supply water for the Small Arms Manufacturing plant. At the time, it stood in the middle of the manufacturing compound and there were no trees between it and the firing range.

From closer up, the water tower can be seen to also be in a state of deterioration. When we visited here in 2016 the central water pipe was still surrounded by a wooden crib but all of this is now gone. The pipe has also become disconnected a short distance below the platform under the water tank.

This 1957 aerial photo from the Toronto Archives shows the site when all the buildings were still intact. All that remains of the manufacturing complex is the water tower which stands alone in a field of rubble and overgrown roadways. The G. E. Booth Water Treatment plant had not yet been built and the 600 yard backstop was still in place. It was demolished in 1972 to make way for the water treatment plant. All of the original baffles are also still standing at this time.

Two small flood control ponds have been created on the old arsenal lands and the larger of them has become home to painted turtles. On this morning we found 7 of them sunning themselves on various rocks and logs. All of them were small, perhaps a few years old at most. Painted turtles can live 20 to 30 years but some have been known to reach 50 years of age.

Every time I visit this site I always leave with the feeling that something should be done to bring awareness to this bit of local history and I’m even more certain now. Mississauga carried out a Cultural Heritage Assessment in September 2013 but the site has continued to deteriorate in the 8 years since then. It remains to be seen what the future holds for this overlooked bit of our military heritage.

Also see our related blogs; The Arsenal Lands, Small Arms Testing Site and Marie Curtis Park

Google Maps Link: Arsenal Lands

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The Arsenal Lands

Saturday Feb. 7, 2015

Along the Lakeshore stands an abandoned water tower, part of a WW2 small arms factory and rifle testing range.  Today we are 49 days into winter with only 42 remaining which to me means its almost over. The forecasters are calling for up to 30 cm of snow over the next couple of days.  Even so, this is the first hike of the winter where I’ve switched from hiking to winter boots.  It was minus 4 with almost no wind chill and a steady light snow. I parked in the parking lot for Marie Curtis Park on the west side of the Etobicoke Creek.

Col. Samuel Smith was granted lots 4-7 in 1806 and they remained in his family until they were sold to the Halliday’s in 1877.  They were used for mixed farming for the next few years. Following confederation in 1867 the British Government wanted the new country of Canada to assume greater responsibility for its own defense.  In 1868 the Ontario Rifle Association was formed for the training of militia.  They used the garrison common at Fort York until 1891 but the increase in the use of the CNE grounds and the addition of a passenger wharf at the foot of Dufferin Street made firing rifles at the fort increasingly unsafe.  The property on the west side of Etobicoke Creek was purchased as the Long Branch Rifle Ranges.  A militia and cadet training camp was maintained on the site until WWI when the Royal  Air Force administration offices were located here.  Canada’s first aerodrome was at Long Branch and over 130 students had graduated, at a cost of $400 each, by the time it closed in December 1916.  William Faulkner, the famous author, was stationed here while training for the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The most prominent structure remaining on the site today is the old water tower.  It was built in 1941 to serve the needs of the industry on the site.

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In 1935 the Department of National Defense purchased the property with the idea of creating an arms manufacturing site.  Small Arms Limited was founded as a crown corporation on August 7, 1940 to supply the Canadian Military with rifles for use in WWII.  The 1957 picture below shows the factory and several out buildings.  The large building with the lines on the top is shaped like an “L” with the black circle in the inner corner of the “L” being the water tower. The rifle range building is in the lower left and the first several baffles can be seen below it.

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Women played a major role in the workforce at Small Arms Limited as can be seen in the cover photo making up most of the staff by 1943.  The factory produced its first weapons in June 1941 and by the end of the year had made 7,589.  By 1943 the plant was working three shifts, using 5,500 employees to produce over 30,000 units per month.  World War Two ended in 1945 and war-time production was completed in December with over 900,000 rifles and 126,00 machine guns having been produced.  Various military parts were produced in the facility from then until it closed in 1974. At the foot of the water tower stand two yellow gas regulators that were installed at the time the Small Arms company was founded.  They are dated 1940.

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In 1910 Canada’s Department of Militia and Defense (renamed the Department of National Defense in 1922) acquired the property and built the wooden baffles that remain in place today. The DND built firing booths in 1940 to assist with the training of militiamen for service in WWII. The rows of baffles and concrete backstop can be seen in the centre of the 1957 aerial picture below.

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On the short rifle range there are 16 remaining baffles after 105 years exposed to the elements. Originally there were 30 of these which were hollow and filled with sand and soil.  They were intended to stop any stray bullets from leaving the range but also served to provide sound barriers for the adjacent small arms factory.  The picture below shows one of the few that is intact and not over grown with brush.  These wooden baffles are the last of their kind from this era in Ontario and are considered a militarily significant heritage site.

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At the back end of the rifle range is a fifteen foot high and thirty-five foot wide concrete backstop which was constructed around 1925.  It’s surface is dotted with the impacts of hundreds of bullets from over the years.

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The only manufacturing building remaining on site is building number 12.  Dating to 1939, it was used as the rifle inspection facility.  It has a double fence, each with three strands of barbed wire surrounding it.  I guess they don’t want you to go in there.

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The various uses of the site over the years has taken the farm land and left it with a mix of PBC’s, VOC’s, metals and radioactive waste.  Over 72,000 tonnes of contaminated soil was removed from the site between 1998 and 2002.  The consolidation mound pictured here contains low level radioactive soil that has been buried in a containment facility since 2005.  It sits inside a third barbed wire fence behind the inspection building.  I guess they really don’t want you to go in there.

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Circling back through the Small Arms Ltd property I noticed that someone left the door open at the top of the water tower.  Anyone want to climb up that ladder on the roof and close it?

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Making my way across the Lakeshore Road edge of the arsenal lands I came to Etobicoke Creek. The trail along the creek’s edge brings you to a bridge that crosses the creek to the east side. Following the disaster of Hurricane Hazel in 1954 when the creek flooded destroying the homes along 43rd street (see Middle Road Bridge) this area was taken under authority of the conservation authority and Marie Curtis Park was created.  I walked that side of the creek to where it spills into the lake.  The ice on the railing at the edge of the lake is several inches thick and, to me, resembles baleen plates like those in the mouth of a baleen whale.

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Bufflehead ducks suddenly disappear when they are feeding and can pop back up several metres from where they dove.  They are distinct with their white and black markings and spend the winter in sheltered bays and inlets.  I watched a few of them right in the mouth of the creek.

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There are likely artifacts located here that will only be visible when the snow is melted.  I guess we’ll have to see sometime.

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