The Grey & Simcoe Foresters have been a fixture in Barrie since they were formed on 15 December 1936, when The Grey Battalion from Owen Sound and Barrie's The Simcoe Foresters amalgamated. However, Barrie's military history goes back much further.
Barrie's first militia units were two small rifle companies, No. 1 Rifle Company, founded December 27, 1855 and No. 5 Rifle Company, founded 9 January 1863. A Drill Shed on Owen Street was constructed for their use. Both Companies, including one each from Collingwood, Cookstown & Bradford were placed on active service during the Fenian Rains of 1866.
On 14 September 1866, the seven rifles companies in Simcoe County, including Barrie's No. 1 & No. 5 Companies, came together to form the 35th Simcoe Battalion of Infantry.
The Battalion was re-named the 35th Battalion, The Simcoe Foresters on 5 April 1867. In this incarnation, the Battalion served on active service during the North-west Rebellion of 1885 that ended in the capture of Louis Riel.
The Battalion's first colours were presented at Shannon's Field in Barrie and summer camps were held annually at Queen's Park, the site of the Barrie's current Armoury. The Owen Street Armoury, used by the Barrie Rifle Companies, had burned down in 1862. A replacement Drill Shed was build at Queen's Park in 1866 but this too burned down in 1886.
A new brick Armoury was build at 36 Mulcaster Street, a building still standing today. The Mulcaster Street Armoury opened for training on September 6, 1888.
In Grey County, the Grey Regiment was formed 14 September 1866 as the 31st Grey Battalion of Infantry, the successor of 5 small rifle companies. The Regiment was re-designated the 31st Grey Regiment on 8 May 1900.
With the outbreak of World War I, Canadian troops were dispatched to Europe to help defend the Empire. However, Colonel Sam Hughes, Minister of the Militia, decided not to place the militia on active service. Needless to say, this caused an outrage amongst the militia. What Colonel Hughes did do, was authorize the formation of composite battalions, and the two authorized for Simcoe County were the 157th Battalion and the 177th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Members of the Simcoe Foresters were authorized to join these composite battalions.
The 157th Battalion was officially formed on 30 November 1915, with the regimental colours presented at Camp Borden. Today, these colours can be seen at the Barrie Armoury.
The 177th Battalion was officially formed on 18 June 1916.
In Grey County, the 147th and 248th Battalions were formed.
In total, the 35th Battalion, The Simcoe Foresters and the 31st Grey Regiment, through their composite battalions, were awarded several battle honours - Arras 1917, Amiens, Hill 70, Arras 1918, Ypres 1917, Hindenburg Line and Pursuit to Mons. These battle honours make up part of the Grey & Simcoe Foresters Regimental Colours.
By 1914, it had become apparent that the Mulcaster Street Armoury was inadequate for the Forester's needs. A new Armoury was constructed at Queen's Park, the site of No. 1 Rifle Company's Drill Shed. The Barrie Armoury opened in 1916 and the main contingent of the Simcoe Foresters moved to the Armoury, although the Mulcaster Street Armoury would continue to be used as a satellite location until 1946 when the Battalion would finally depart. The building was then taken over by the Board of Works.
On May 1, 1920, the Battalion was re-designated simply The Simcoe Foresters and summer camps were held at Couchiching Park near Orillia.
In 1936 a new chapter began when the Simcoe Foresters and the Grey Regiment merged to form the Grey & Simcoe Foresters. The Barrie Battalion was designated "B" Company and the Grey Battalion was designated "A" Company.
In 1939, the world was once again plunged into a world war, but this time the militia would not be left out and by 1940, the Grey & Simcoe Foresters were placed on active service. Also in 1940, a second reserve battalion, named the 2nd Battalion, Grey & Simcoe Foresters, was formed. This battalion remained on reserve status and provided reinforcements for the active service 1st Battalion.
On 15 May 1942, 1st Battalion was re-designated an armoured regiment and re-named 26 Army Tank Regiment, Grey & Simcoe Foresters, a designation they would hold until 1943.
Post World War II, the Grey & Simcoe Foresters yet again changed, this time becoming an Artillery regiment, the 45th Anti-tank Regiment, The Grey & Simcoe Foresters (Royal Canadian Artillery). This conversion would be short lived however, as the regiment converted back to an armoured regiment in 1954 as the 28th armoured Regiment, Grey & Simcoe Foresters.
From the 1950s until the 1960s, the Grey & Simcoe Foresters had sub-units in Burks Falls, Parry Sound, Penetanguishene, Midland, Orillia, Collingwood, Meaford, Markdale and Durham.
In 1970, the Grey & Simcoe Foresters converted back to an infantry regiment and remain so to this day. The G & SF current unit colours were presented by then Ontario Lt Governor Pauline Mac Gibbon in 1978. The old unit colours were laid up in 1946 and are currently in St Thomas Anglican Church in Shanty Bay.
The regiment, still stationed at the Barrie Armoury, currently has strength of 150 officers and soldiers and is commanded by Lieutenant Colonel William Adcock. The G & SF have been called out to aid civil power during Hurricane Hazel in 1954, the Barrie tornado of 1985, the Manitoba flood of 1997 and the Eastern Ontario - Quebec ice storm of 1998.
Several members of the G & SF have also served on overseas tours such as the United Nations mission in Croatia and the current war on terror on Afghanistan, where 18 members are currently serving.
Also stationed at the Barrie Armoury are 102 Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron, 2919 Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps, 53 Sea Cadet Corps and the Navy League Cadets of Barrie.
As for the old Mulcaster Street Armoury, it is currently occupied by the Grey & Simcoe Foresters Museum and the constituency office of MPP Joe Tascona.
Special thanks to Lieutenant Colonel Lorne Williams, former Honourary Lieutenant Colonel, Grey & Simcoe Foresters and Lieutenant Colonel William Adcock, Commanding Officer, Grey & Simcoe Forester, for their assistance with this article.