The Ontario Rifle Association was formed on April 30, 1868, not by the prompting of some mercurial whim, but as a positive defense measure, which had originated in Great Britain less than a decade earlier and moved swiftly through the Dominions. The first Prize Meeting did not take place until the following year, 1869. This, along with other interruptions such as national emergencies and shifts of shooting sites, accounts for the disparity between the age of the Association and the number of annual Prize Meetings it has conducted.
That first ORA Prize Meeting was quite a gala affair attracting dignitaries, celebrities and more than 500 competitors. The venue was a newly constructed range on Toronto’s Garrison Common the site of which would one day give way to the burgeoning needs of the Canadian National Exhibition. Snider Enfields, the first breechloaders, were used engaging iron targets at various distances back to 1000 yards.
The entry was restricted to active, serving members of the Militia in the appropriate uniforms of their various units. The entry fee for most individual matches was 25 cents, but the prize for a first place was very generous; a 0.577 inch Snider Enfield rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition going to the winner of The President’s match, for instance, and a prize Berkshire pig for another match. Entries, after that first Prize meeting, settled down to between 200 and 300.
The Metford rifle appeared in 1871, but the high note of that year was the 20-member, ORA team to the NRA Prize Meeting at Wimbledon, England, the first team not only from Canada, but also the first from any of Britain’s territories. (Wimbledon would eventually become the site of the famous Tennis matches while the British NRA would move to its current location; the tiny village of Bisley.)
After some years of pressure from the Canadian National Exhibition hierarchy to take over the Garrison Common ranges, the ORA received an offer it couldn’t refuse; it was awarded property to set up its ranges at Long Branch, considerably west of Toronto. Untold millions of visitors to the CNE would subsequently tread the ground of that old Garrison Common Range comparatively few of whom would ever know that the area had been swept by rifle fire for more than 20 years.
Over the ensuing years until after WWI, evolutionary changes took place at the ORA: canvas targets were adopted and rifle choices progressed from “Long” Lee-Enfield through Lee-Metford and Martini-Henry to Ross. Moveable rear sights and apertures were adopted and Pte.T. Hayhurst was the first ORA member to win the Sovereign’s Prize in England. 1912 shows an entry of 415. In 1919 the “Smelly”, or Short Magazine Lee-Enfield of the war years, made its debut and would remain as the principle arm until after WWII. Also, Lewis and Vickers machine-gun competitions became a fixture at the matches.
With competitions suspended during WWII, renewal commenced post war and by 1949 the competitions settled into four separate prize meetings: Military Rifle, (No. 4) Small-bore, Service conditions and Bren light-machine-gun. Military Rifle was designated SRB and Service Conditions was SRA. The SRB allowed use of micrometer sights and a sling while SRA required military sight and no sling. Popularity of the Bren matches reached its zenith in 1953 when 76 teams competed.
Because of urban and industrial development Long Branch ranges were closed after the1957, and final, ORA Prize meeting there. For a couple of years the meeting was held at Connaught ranges, Ottawa, before moving to Winona in the greater Niagara peninsular. Also, the change of rifles and ammunition calibres, by the military, eventually became a problem as No 4 ammunition supplies shrank. Commercial rifles were introduced to accommodate and do so to the present. Competitor marking would also appear at many venues thus improving accuracy in target marking. By 1970 the V-ring was introduced as a tie-breaker
By its very nature our discipline, as others, is subject to evolutionary and venue changes. The ORA’s move to its current location at Camp Borden for the Prize Meeting exemplifies that change is, indeed, a constant.
Lawrence (Larry) Fish – Life Governor of the ORA.