By Jesse Robitaille
Eight years after a massive fire at its headquarters and barracks, Canada’s oldest French-Canadian regiment – The Voltigeurs – has found a way to celebrate its rich history.
On April 4, 2008, the Voltigeurs’ iconic drill hall, the Québec City Armoury, was badly damaged. The back wall and several turrets beside the front door were the only pieces of the then-123-year-old structure to survive; however, most of the artifacts housed in the armoury’s museum were saved thanks to the efforts of the regiment members and local firefighters.
“I was back in Québec from Afghanistan; I was on a break,” Lt.-Col. Jonathan Chouinard told CBC News in October. “But like every Voltigeur, we all went to see what was going on. We have always been in that building. That’s why it struck us.”
The armoury’s suspended wood ceiling, which was the largest of its kind in Canada, collapsed during the fire. Investigators said the flames spread rapidly through the ceiling’s wood before sending tonnes of copper to the ground.
Eight years after the fire, the armoury – located at 805 Wilfrid-Laurier Ave. E. in Québec City – is being rebuilt. In the meantime, the Voltigeurs have explored ways to commemorate their 154-year history.
While many regiments have produced commemorative coins they can distribute among their members, the Voltigeurs had no such thing.
Faced with a shipping container full of twisted copper, Chouinard, who is the Voltigeurs’ commanding officer, contacted the Lévis-based artist Charles-Olivier Roy, founder of Artisans du Passage, to produce the “Dollar des Voltigeurs.”
“This is an enormous opportunity for us,” said Roy, who struck a limited-edition piedfort piece as well as another “standard size” piece.
Both coins have an antique finish and a diameter of 38.1 mm. The standard size coin has a thickness of 2.54 mm and a weight of 24.7 grams, and the piedfort has a thickness of 5.08 mm and a weight of 48 grams.
“This is a very old military tradition, but I also thought it could be super interesting for citizens of Québec to have a piece of history given back to them,” said Roy. “But it’s for all Canadians as well, as the Voltigeurs are the oldest French-Canadian regiment. And there are more than Voltigeurs interested in this project.”
Only 3,000 piedfort pieces were minted, but the standard size piece has a mintage of 50,000.
“There’s enough copper to strike 100,000 coins, but they chose to limit the amount so there would be copper for next generation of Voltigeurs,” he said, adding he has two passions: “history and heritage.”
Roy, whose day-to-day job is making wedding bands, said the “Dollar des Voltigeurs” project is “exactly” the kind of project he has been dreaming of doing.
“We hadn’t done a coin project before, but we’ve been working at it for a couple years now,” he said, adding his company uses state-of-the-art technology such as 3-D scanning and printing.
According to Roy, there were several steps taken to transform the pieces of twisted and melted copper into commemorative coinage.
The copper that formerly comprised the Québec City Armoury’s roof was scraped into smaller pieces, which were then melted and shaped into ingots. If you’re familiar with the minting process, you’ll know what’s next: a number of blanks were struck from the ignots to prepare for stamping the design.
Lastly, the design – which depicts the armoury’s original copper roof as well as three soldiers – was stamped onto the blanks using 92 tonnes of pressure.
The soldiers on the obverse design represent three battles in which the Voltigeurs were active. Spanning three centuries, these battles include the North West Rebellion; the Second World War; and the War in Afghanistan. The reverse design depicts the Voltigeurs’ coat of arms with the dates “1862,” when the regiment was formed, and “2016” around the top.
“We wanted to represent every aspect of the Voltigeurs’ history,” Roy said.
The regiment plans to award one of these commemorative piedforts to one soldier each year for the next 50 years. The first piedfort was awarded to Cpl. Pier-Luk Ferland on Nov. 11.
The public is also invited to purchase a “Dollar des Voltigeurs.”
“For people in Québec, this is an iconic building, and it’s iconic for its architecture and history,” said Roy. “The fire was a scar on the face of Québec, but they’re putting the new roof on now, so this a good way to celebrate the old armoury. It’s a real piece of history.”
For more information, visit dollardesvoltigeurs.ca.