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Regiment salvages history from armoury

April 7, 2008, Quebec - Canada's oldest French-language military regiment got some good news Sunday when it was discovered that a large part of its archives were spared from a devastating fire that ripped through its 121-year-old armoury.

April 7, 2008 
By Nelson Wyatt The Canadian Press

The imposing Voltigeurs de Quebec drill hall is now little more than a soot-smudged facade and a couple of soaring turrets, its once-sweeping ceiling collapsed into the rubble.


Soldiers wearing camouflaged uniforms marched to the landmark hall Sunday morning for a pep talk from their commander and to help carry out souvenirs of the unit's history as military police continued their investigation into the blaze.



While a chunk of regimental and Quebec City history was lost to the rampaging blaze, Lt.-Col. Eric Gosselin said a lot was rescued through the efforts of firefighters, who quickly focused their attack on flames crackling around the museum.


“They have helped us enormously to recover a good part of the collection and the artifacts that were stored at the museum,'' Gosselin, who is the regiment's commander, told reporters.


Some officials estimated that as much as 90 per cent of the archives were saved, including statues, flags and documents that went as far back as the Northwest Rebellion led by Louis Riel in 1885, and the first and second world wars.


Gosselin said Quebec City's fire department had “passed the torch'' to military police based in nearby Valcartier to investigate the fire which began Friday night.


No cause has been determined but passersby reported hearing an explosion in the building before flames started shooting skyward.


The building was being renovated. No one was inside at the time of the fire.


“We have lost our family home,'' Gosselin said. “But the heart of the regiment remains its members.''


The drill hall, overlooking the Plains of Abraham, was built in 1887. Its twin towers, which still stand like sentries amid the destruction, face the provincial legislature.


The armoury was renowned for its suspended wooden ceiling _ the largest in Canada. The feature was one of the first victims of the blaze, firefighters said, noting how the flames raced through the old wood.


But Gosselin insisted the regiment's soldiers will go ahead with a concert planned for April 19 to mark Quebec City's 400th anniversary.


“We have lost some our instruments,'' he noted. “We have been in touch with the Royal 22nd Regiment band to help us.''


The regiment is also looking for temporary space to welcome members returning from Afghanistan and to continue training for reserves bound for the war-torn country.


Yvan Lachance, head of the military music festival and a former commander of the Voltigeurs, was pleased to see the regimental flag was rescued from the fire.


He joined the chorus of voices calling for the armoury to be rebuilt.


“Everybody has said it is important to rebuild this heritage building, not just for the regiment but also for the citizens of Quebec and Canada.''


In Montreal, historian Desmond Morton noted the building is part of Canada's architectural heritage, having been designed by Charles Baillairge, one of the men responsible for the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.


While he said he thought the armoury added “a touch of class'' to its neighbourhood, he isn't sure the armoury will be rebuilt.


“We don't build armouries like that anymore,'' he said. “We build cheap ugly things because after all, what you really need in armouries can be supplied by the kind of warehouse building you build in the suburbs.''


He lamented the loss of the historical artifacts, saying, “You can't replace the only one of its kind.''


Several high-profile people visited the fire site Sunday, including retired general Romeo Dallaire. The senator also supported rebuilding the facility.


Sam Hamad, the Quebec government's minister of social solidarity, said the provincial government will support any actions by the federal government to rebuild as soon as possible.


“We've lost a lot,'' Hamad said. “We've lost history. It's very sad. It's like losing a friend.''

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