Spring 2024

Quinte’s Military History Comes Alive

The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment Museum

Richard Hughes

Quinte’s Military History Comes Alive

How often have you driven or walked past the massive structure of the Belleville armouries and had the thought – what a great fortress, such a key, historical asset to our downtown, an impressive monument to the past. You would be partly right – it is a magnificent, 114-year-old building with a distinguished history, but it is far from being a historical monument. Quite to the contrary, the Belleville armouries is home to the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, an active Canadian Armed Forces Reserve Infantry Unit. And, it is home to one of our community’s greatest heritage assets, the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment Museum. 

If you have not yet visited the museum, examined its amazingly diverse and comprehensive displays of military dress, weapons, equipment, photos and documents, and most importantly, listened to the museum volunteers’ knowledgeable, even enthralling, descriptions and stories behind the objects, then you are in for a very special treat. 

This museum brings to life in a tangible way the glowing history of our community as it lived through some of its darkest hours; a testament to the contributions of our own young men and women of Hastings and Prince Edward Counties who gave up the comforts of home and family to enlist and fight great battles in distant places. Our community’s military history goes back to the militias of the early 1800s, particularly the War of 1812, culminating in the formation of the H&PE Regiment in 1920. Our regiment gained the most battle honours of any Canadian infantry regiment in the Second World War.  

The museum contributes so much to our community as it fosters a sense of pride in our Regiment and its accomplishments and a deeper understanding not just of our factual history but of our culture. It presents a link from the roles of our citizens, both men and women, in some of the most important periods in world history to our community today in the 21st Century.  When you can see items from the prisoner-of-war camps and hear their stories, it can be moving. To stand beside the horrific German machine gun of the type that mowed down thousands of brave soldiers is emotional and makes us stop and think.

And there is a lighter side relating to the massive mascot of the Regiment. As the story goes, the original mascot, named Little Chief, was quietly “recruited” late one night from the Little Chief Canning Factory in Prince Edward County and accompanied the Regiment overseas and in the ill-fated Battle of France and the evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940, where it was lost. But a very large and stately mascot was carved by Abe Patterson of Pembroke and presented to the Regiment in August 1941. It was duly named Chief Petawawa-Much and enjoys special status with our First Nations. It was smudged (blessed) by the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte  and was taken to the Landing In Sicily Day, July 10, 2023. 

The museum is of particular value to young people as the versions of history that they have seen in films or videos or read about in books take on a whole new perspective when placed physically before them, a reality and a close association with our own community, right here in Quinte. It ensures not only a more accurate understanding of history but can inspire young people, arouse curiosity and motivate learning. 

We have heard many stories of the bravery of soldiers on the battlefield, their sacrifices and daring, but to stand before the centre-piece of the museum, the large display model of the Regiment’s battle at Assoro during the Battle of Sicily in July 1943 and hear a volunteer relate the story of one of the greatest achievements in Canadian military history, is awe inspiring. The Regiment scaled the sheer, 2800-foot mountain at night, in total silence, carrying heavy packs to attack a heavily armed German installation at the summit and achieve their great victory. These were not just nameless soldiers, they were our boys, from the towns and farms of Hastings and Prince Edward Counties, affectionately called “plough-jockeys”. The museum brings it all vividly alive. 

The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment Museum is truly a priceless treasure and a visit is not only a fully enjoyable and entertaining experience, it opens our eyes to the amazing people and events that form the heritage of our community. 

The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment Museum is open on Tuesdays 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. year-round and also on Wednesdays and Thursdays 1-4 p.m. from May 24 to November 11. Entry is by the main armouries door, Bridge Street. Free entry. 

Share this article