Given the important role played by Borden in the history of military aviation in Canada, it can be expected that the preservation of Air Force heritage be at the centre of day-to-day activities at 16 Wing.
As the Birthplace of the Royal Canadian Air Force and cradle of military aviation in Canada, Borden has, over the years, been home to many famous peoples who have left their mark in Canada's Air Force history.
For the same reasons, many buildings that were constructed in Borden have now acquired significant historical interest. In 1987, the government of Canada has officially recognized the historical importance of the original Borden flight line when the Federal Heritage Building Review Office classified Borden's hangars as Federal Heritage Buildings. Soon after, in 1989, the minister of environment designated the flight line itself as a National Historic Site.
Borden is also home to a significant aircraft collection and museum artefacts representing all phases of the history of military aviation in Canada. We invite you to visit the following pages and learn more about Borden and the important role that it played in the history of Canada's military aviation.
A Proud History
The story of the birth of the RCAF is one that reaches far beyond the boundaries of Borden or any one base, station, camp or aerodrome, be it in Canada or abroad. Undoubtedly, the most important, and justifiably the better known part of the RCAF's history is the one written with the blood of the thousands of air and ground crews who took to the theatres of war around the world. Their sacrifices must never be forgotten.
But if one wishes to identify a birthplace of the RCAF in Canada, there is one place that stands conspicuously centre-stage, and that place is Camp Borden. Although no "birth certificate" points to Borden (or to any other place for that matter) as the Birthplace of the RCAF, Camp Borden is truly the only place that can claim such title.
In fact, Borden was even more than the birthplace of the RCAF; it was the cradle of military aviation in Canada during the 1920s. Over the years, four generations of Borden airmen have contributed to the conception, the birth, the nurturing and to all the development phases of a national Air Force in Canada.
In the pages that follow, you will be taken through the main historical phases of Canadian military aviation at Camp Borden. You will begin in 1917 with the construction and the operation of an aerodrome for the Royal Flying Corps (RFC).
You will follow the evolution of a national Air Force between the two World Wars, and the birth of the RCAF. You will learn about the role of Camp Borden in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), the post-war return of aircraft trades training, and the impact of Unification on Camp Borden. Finally, you will find out how 16 Wing today carries-on the tradition that goes back to the First World War.
But first, you must go back to the days of the Royal Flying Corps Canada.
Royal Flying Corps
The story of military aviation at Camp Borden begins with the arrival of Lieutenant-Colonel C.G. Hoare and his staff at a snow-covered Camp Borden on January 26, 1917. The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was in dire need of new recruits overseas, and Canada had much to offer.
Camp Borden was not the only site that was selected by the RFC, although it was certainly the main one. Smaller airfields were built at other places in southern Ontario such as Mohawk and Rathbun near Deseronto; and at Long Branch, Leaside and Armour Heights in the Toronto area. Several "temporary" buildings were constructed at Camp Borden in the spring of 1917 including fifteen aircraft hangars, headquarters, repair shops, stores, hospital, garages, messes and quarters.
The training for RFC Canada started in April and continued through the summer as thousands of flying hours were recorded on board the American-built "Jenny", the Curtiss J.N.4, and soon after on its Canadian version, the J.N.4 (Can), dubbed the "Canuck" by the Americans.
Of course, not all flying lessons went smoothly and by the end of September, thirty-two planes had been destroyed at Camp Borden alone, seventy-one in all of RFC Canada. Nearly one month prior to the official opening of the aerodrome, Camp Borden had already been the scene of the first fatal flying accident in the history of military aviation in Canada when the glamourless title was claimed by Cadet J.H. Talbot on April 8, 1917.
Flying instruction was only one aspect of the training that was being delivered at Camp Borden. In addition, instruction on wireless, air gunnery and photography was also taking place.
Before the end of the first flying season, plans had been made for training RFC candidates in Texas during the winter, with the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army. The following Spring, training came back to Borden and the cycle continued until the end of the war, with one slight difference though: in Britain, on 1 April 1918, the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and the RFC had amalgamated under one organisation called the Royal Air Force (RAF). As a result, Camp Borden was now part of RAF Canada.
By the time the guns turned silent in Europe, Camp Borden had produced 1,884 pilots including 72 for the United States. Soon after the war ended, the last RAF Canada personnel departed in January 1919, leaving behind an empty Camp Borden.
Birth of a National Air Force
The end of the First World War had brought many attempts to give Canada a national Air Force. Both the short-lived Royal Canadian Naval Air Service (RCNAS) in 1918 and the No.1 Canadian Wing, Canadian Air Force (CAF) a year later in England had failed to take roots.
In Borden, the aerodrome portion of the Camp had remained empty since January of 1919 and the flying fields had been sold by the Imperial Munitions Board to the Canadian Government. After the Air Board was formed in 1919, the attention quickly turned back to Camp Borden and its training facilities. Soon, an "Imperial Gift" of over one hundred surplus land aircraft, seaplanes, kite balloons and airships found its way to Camp Borden.
On July 5th1920, Camp Borden was taken over by the Canadian Air Force (CAF), a newly formed non-permanent, non-professional force under the control of the Air Board, and the camp became officially the first flying station of the CAF, its School of Aviation. Shortly after, No. 1 Wing CAF was formed at Camp Borden. It was comprised of a School of Special Flying, one Squadron with two flights, and a ground instructional section.
During the fall, refresher training began. Modest in many aspects, the training programme was aimed initially at renewing licenses for those who had already been trained as air and ground crew during the war. By March of 1922 when the last refresher course ended, 550 First World War flyers and 1,271 airmen had been re-qualified at Camp Borden.
The birth of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was not an overnight event. It was achieved through a transition period that went on from the creation of the Air Board in 1919, the Canadian Air Force in 1920, and a major reorganisation that culminated in 1924 with the proclamation of a new "Royal" Canadian Air Force. Soon after the royal assent was given by King George V, the new RCAF adopted the sky blue uniforms and insignias patterned after those of the RAF.
On the day of the official birth of the RCAF, Camp Borden was by far the most important station in terms of assets, personnel, and flying activities. With its 24 Officers and 125 Other Ranks, Camp Borden was home to more than half of the personnel of the RCAF. Camp Borden was also the only station involved in year-round military training activities.
Between the wars, Borden was the site of many firsts in the history of Canadian military aviation. On November 30th 1921, the Royal Air Force (RAF) flag was hoisted for the first time in Canada, as the Canadian Air Force (CAF) officers and airmen present were asked to salute "their new flag". The ceremony was an attempt to establish the CAF' unique identity as a separate service from the Army and the Navy and to reinforce its links to the RAF.
Since the summer of 1923, a new training programme called the Provisional Pilot Officers (PPO) course was taking place at Camp Borden. The programme was aimed at university students and was meant to bring "new blood" into the Canadian Air Force (CAF) since not a single new pilot had been trained in the service after November 1918. The PPO course ran three summer terms during which the students flew on the Avro 504K and later the Sopwith Camel for advanced training.
On December 20th 1924, the first Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) wings parade took place at Camp Borden for six graduates: not only were they the first RCAF graduates, but also they were the first new pilots to be trained in Canada since Armistice in 1918.
There were several other firsts at Camp Borden during the inter-war years including, unfortunately, the first flying fatality for the CAF in 1921, and the first fatal casualty for the permanent RCAF in 1925. In 1927 Wallace Turnbull's variable pitch propeller was tested for the first time in flight at Camp Borden and, in 1929, Canada's first military aerobatic Flight, the Siskins, was formed in Borden.
Throughout the inter-war years, Camp Borden maintained its position at the centre of Canadian aviation, providing specialised training such as the "blind flying course". In the mid 1930s, Camp Borden was home to almost one third of the entire staff of the RCAF with its 27 officers and 179 airmen. The Camp was comprised of a Flying Training School, Army Co-operation School, Air Armament & Bombing School and a Technical Training School.
But by then, the camp had grown old and was judged too large, too isolated, and too costly to maintain. A new site had been found on the Bay of Quinte and within a few years, the new RCAF Station Trenton began to replace Camp Borden as the central RCAF training place.
BCATP Comes To Borden
During the period 1939-1945, all air force activities at Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Station Camp Borden were to be centred around a training program that became one of the great Canadian achievements of all times: the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP).
In the year prior to the Declaration of War, Camp Borden was home to Intermediate Training Wing Headquarters, Intermediate Training Squadron, Intermediate Ground Instructional School and No. 2 Technical Training School. Camp Borden was also one of the very few aerodromes in existence in the country, so it had to be counted as a major player in any large-scale expansion of aircrew training.
In January 1940 the Advanced Flying School was moved from Trenton to Borden where it joined the Intermediate Flying School to form the nucleus of the very first BCATP Service Flying Training School (1SFTS). Another necessary adjustment in Borden during that period was the closure of No. 2 Technical Training School (2TTS) resulting in the move of technical training to St-Thomas, Ontario. This move was required in order to free the facilities in Borden for the support of BCATP flying training.
As the BCATP began to take shape, events in Europe were unfolding very much unfavourably for the Allied forces. In Canada, this meant that, although "The Plan" was producing new flying instructors at a sufficient rate, the supply of Avro Anson aircraft promised by Britain for the BCATP came to an end. In the short run, No.1 SFTS at Camp Borden would have to settle for whatever U.S-made aircraft they could put their hands on. Some of these stopgap aircraft included early versions of the North American Harvard and its diminutive version, the Yale, both of which became integral parts of the history of Camp Borden.
By September 30th 1940, months ahead of the most optimistic schedules, the first BCATP pilot class graduated at Camp Borden. As the BCATP gained momentum, more candidates graduated from the various BCATP Schools that were rapidly spreading across the country. By the end of the war, 131,553 aircrew had been trained throughout the country. In Borden alone, 2,728 pilots had received their wings.
Once again the "old station" at Camp Borden had risen to the task and taken the lead in what would be considered by future generations as the most important contribution made by Canada to the Allied war efforts during the Second World War.
The Golden Years
March 31st 1946 marked an important milestone in the history of Camp Borden. On that day, less than a year after the end of the Second World War, flying instruction in Borden came to an end with the closure of No.1 Service Flying Training School (1SFTS). On the same day, No.2 Technical Training School (2TTS) was re-opened.
The closure of No.1 SFTS and the return of technical training at Camp Borden brought along a reorganization of the entire Station. By the early 1950's, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Station Camp Borden consisted of two main components: No.2 Technical Training School, which was responsible for the training of students, and the Base Wing which provided services and facilities for staff and students.
In addition, there was the No.10 Examination Unit and a Ground Defence School. All of these units reported to the Station Commanding Officer, who himself reported to Training Command. With a staff of over three hundred and a student population in excess of one thousand, No.2 TTS was the heart and soul of the Station during the early fifties.
Gradually, Air Trade courses were brought back to Borden and by 1958, No.2 TTS provided courses for Aero Engine, Airframe, Electrical, Instrument, Armament Systems, Armament Munitions and Weapons, and Photography.
Modern facilities had to be built in order to keep up with the arrival of the new generation of jet aircraft. In 1953, a new building that would be named Croil Hall, became the "Heart of 2 TTS" and in 1954, two new aircraft hangars were added. In 1958, the construction of Stedman Building began as part of a project that would touch the heart of many Canadians: the Avro Arrow.
Around that time, another major reorganization at RCAF Station Camp Borden resulted in the disbandment of No.2 TTS. From its ashes, three new schools were formed: Aircraft Trades School, Armament Trade School, and Trade Introductory School. These three schools would be on equal footing with the already existing Fire Fighting School, the School of Flying Control and the No.1 Service Supervisors Training School.
By 1964, with RCAF Station Camp Borden comfortably entrenched in its role of major Air Force centre for technical training, an amendment to the National Defence Act brought about the Integration of all three headquarters of the Navy, Army and Air Force under a single Chief of Defence Staff. The days of the RCAF Station Camp Borden were counted.
On 1 February 1968, one of the most important changes in the history of military forces in Canada took place: the Unification of Navy, Army and Air Force under a single organisation known as the Canadian Armed Forces.
In Borden, the transition took place in 1966, year of the 50th anniversary of the camp. In April, the camp began to integrate the Army and Air Force components as well as all the administrative and support services under one command. In the process, Camp Borden was renamed CFB Borden. The "unified" population of CFB Borden was, at the time, about 8,000 servicemen and dependants. The most immediate impact on the Air Force community was the reorganisation of the training centres to group Air and Army trades that shared common interests such as weapons technicians, fire fighters and mechanics.
On the Air side, changes had already begun in 1964 with the creation of the Canadian Forces Aircraft Trades School (CFATS) which was comprised of five Wings: Airborne Electronic Technicians Wing; Airborne Mechanical Technicians Wing; Air Traffic Control Wing; Fire Fighter Wing, and Supervisor Service Training Wing. Basically, all of the former schools of Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Station Camp Borden had been regrouped under one Commanding Officer.
In the meantime, flight training had returned to Borden after two decades of absence. Following the closure of Centralia, the Primary Flying School had found a home in the First World War hangars of CFB Borden. For a few years, the School provided ab initio flight training to Canadian Armed Forces and Commonwealth pilots. Unfortunately, this would also be a short-lived move. On 13 April 1970, an historic flypast of five Chipmunks marked both the retirement of the little trainer aircraft, and the end of flight training in Borden... at least for the next quarter of a century.
In June 1970, the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Ordnance and Engineering (CFSAOE) was formed to become the largest school on base. The school was home to the training of all aircraft trades, air traffic control, land ordnance engineering and, fire fighting.
This format remained in place until the mid-eighties when a move towards a return to distinctive customs and values for the Army, Navy and Air Force signalled the end of another era.
Back in Blue
On September 1, 1985, the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Ordnance and Engineering (CFSAOE) was disbanded, and its responsibilities and assets divided into three new schools: the School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering (CFSEME), the Fire Fighting Academy (CFFA), and the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology and Engineering (CFSATE). CFSATE provided introductory training for all aircraft-related occupations.
A more visual change at that time was the return of the land, sea, and air environment personnel to distinctive uniforms. After more than two decades in green, Air Force personnel were back in the blue uniforms.
In October 1994, CFSATE and two other schools, the Air Command Professional Development and Training Centre (ACPDTC) and the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Control Operations (CFSACO) were unified under the umbrella of a new organisation called 16 Wing. Ever since that day, Borden's long lasting tradition of excellence in air force technical training and professional development has been upheld by 16 Wing and its units.
Another interesting event in the 1990's was the arrival in Borden of the Griffon helicopters from 400 Tactical Helicopter Squadron (THS). Although 400 Squadron does not come under 16 Wing, this move was of significant importance as it marked the return of a flying unit in Borden for the first time since the departure of the Primary Flying School in 1970.
Of course, Borden's military aviation history does not end here. Until now, the history of military aviation in Borden has been divided into historical periods that marked the creation or disbandment of major organisations. It is therefore interesting to note that with the formation of 16 Wing in the fall of 1994, it could very well be that Borden has entered a new era of its aviation history. One thing is sure: the men and women in blue at 16 Wing are ready to stand proudly and carry the torch that was passed on since the days of the Royal Flying Corps Canada.