A brief timeline of military aviation training in Canada

by Major Bill March

One hundred years ago, in 1917, military aviation training began in Canada, only eight years after the first powered, heavier-than-air, controlled flight had taken place in Canada with the flight of the “Silver Dart”.

The Royal Flying Corps came to Canada to recruit and train airmen for combat during the First World War. By the end of the 22-month endeavour, 16,663 cadets, mechanics and support personnel had been recruited and 3,135 pilots graduated (2,539 had gone overseas), along with 137 observers (85 sent overseas). During the First World War, some 20,000 Canadians served in the Imperial Flying Services (Royal Flying Corps, Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Air Force). Approximately 1,500 lost their lives.

1909 | 19141915 | 1916 | 1917 | 1918 | 1919

LAC Mikan 4474057

Cadet Course No. 9a. August 1917.

1909 Events

 

DateEvent
February 23 J.A.D. McCurdy pilots the “Silver Dart” biplane, one-half mile over ice-covered Baddeck Bay, Nova Scotia. This is the first airplane flight in Canada.
June-August J.A.D. McCurdy and F.W. Baldwin demonstrate the military potential of the “Silver Dart” and “Baddeck No. 1” to senior officers and members of the Militia Council at Camp Petawawa, Ontario. Cabinet refuses to authorize expenditures on aviation.
August 4 Britain declares war on Germany; the Dominion of Canada is automatically in a state of war.
August 25 In response to a query from the Minster of Militia and Defence, Colonel Sam Hughes, the British reply that up to six expert aviators could be taken at once and perhaps more later. None exist in Canada at that time.
September 16 Colonel Hughes authorizes the formation of the Canadian Aviation Corps (CAC) consisting of provisional commander Captain Ernest Lloyd Janney and Lieutenant William F.N. Sharpe with Staff Sergeant Harry A. Farr as mechanic. Neither of the officers are qualified to fly although Lieutenant Sharpe has had lessons. The CAC is equipped with a second-hand Burgess-Dunne float-plane purchased from the United States.
September 30 The CAC sails with the First Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) to England. Neglected, and its Burgess-Dunne aircraft slowly rotting away, the CAC ceases to exist by May 1915.

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PL-113637

Silver Dart in Flight

1914 Events

 

DateEvent
August 4 Britain declares war on Germany; the Dominion of Canada is automatically in a state of war.
August 25 In response to a query from the Minster of Militia and Defence, Colonel Sam Hughes, the British reply that up to six expert aviators could be taken at once and perhaps more later. None exist in Canada at that time.
September 16 Colonel Hughes authorizes the formation of the Canadian Aviation Corps (CAC) consisting of provisional commander Captain Ernest Lloyd Janney and Lieutenant William F.N. Sharpe with Staff Sergeant Harry A. Farr as mechanic. Neither of the officers are qualified to fly although Lieutenant Sharpe has had lessons. The CAC is equipped with a second-hand Burgess-Dunne float-plane purchased from the United States.
September 30 The CAC sails with the First Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) to England. Neglected, and its Burgess-Dunne aircraft slowly rotting away, the CAC ceases to exist by May 1915.

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1915 Events

 

DateEvent
February 4 Lieutenant William Sharpe is killed at Shoreham, England, while flying a Maurice Farman biplane. He attempts a sharp, climbing left hand turn and stalls the aircraft at a height of approximately 1,000 feet; the aircraft nose-dives into the earth. Lieutenant Sharpe, from Prescott, Ontario, is the first Canadian aviator killed in the First World War.
February 7 The British War Office asks the Canadian government’s permission to actively recruit candidates for the Royal Flying Corps (RFC).
April The British Admiralty follows the example of the Royal Flying Corps and requests permission from the Canadian Department of Naval Service to enlist applicants in the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). Candidates for the both the RFC and RNAS are required to secure pilot’s certificates at their own expense.
May 10 Curtiss Aeroplanes and Motors Limited, managed by J.A.D. McCurdy, opens an aviation school at Toronto Island and Long Branch, Ontario.

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DND AH-369

Instructor and students, Toronto Harbour, 1915.

1916 Events

 

DateEvent
December 15 Canadian Aeroplanes Limited is incorporated and takes over the former Curtiss Aeroplanes and Motors Company building on Strachen Avenue, Toronto.
December 21 Numerous discussions between the War Office, Imperial Munitions Board and the Canadian government take place, leading to a decision to establish a military flight training organization in Canada, supported by an aircraft manufacturing capability.
December 23 The Canadian High Commissioner is officially notified that an Imperial Flying Services training organization will be set up in the New Year.

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LAC Mikan 3390059

The first JN-4 “Canuck” built by CAL, January 1917.

1917 Events

 

DateEvent
January 1 At an Air Board meeting in London it is decided to send out an advance party, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Cuthbert G. Hoare, as soon as possible. They would be followed periodically by small teams of specialists to form the nucleus of the anticipated 20 training squadrons and supporting units required for the training program – Royal Flying Corps Canada.  
January 1 The prototype JN-4 “Canuck,” a modified Curtiss JN-3 “Jenny”, is completed at Canadian Aeroplanes Limited. It will become the primary training aircraft of the Royal Flying Corps Canada.
January 19 Lieutenant-Colonel Hoare and his advance party arrive at St. John, New Brunswick. He goes to Ottawa to meet with officials while he staff travels to Toronto.
January 23 After a meeting with Lieutenant-Colonel Hoare in Ottawa, Sir Willoughy Gwatkin, the Chief of the Canadian General Staff, orders commanders of military districts to render all assistance possible to the Royal Flying Corps Canada.
January 25 Lieutenant-Colonel Hoare arrives in Toronto. Headquarters space at the Imperial Oil Building, 56 Church Street, Toronto, is occupied. The Royal Flying Corps Canada is established.
January 26 After a brief visit to the snow-covered fields, Lieutenant-Colonel Hoare selects space within the militia training area at Camp Borden, Ontario, as the site of the first major Royal Flying Corps Canada aerodrome.
January 26 A contract is signed to construct new plant facilities for Canadian Aeroplanes Limited (CAL).
January 27 The contract is let to begin construction of an aerodrome at Camp Borden. Despite the snow and winter weather, gangs of labourers start work on February 4, after the rail line into Borden, closed due to winter conditions, is reopened.
End January Arrangements are made for the Royal Flying Corps Canada to take possession of the buildings and a small landing field operated by the Curtiss Aviation School at Long Branch, Ontario.
February 5 A Recruit Depot is opened at the Givens Street School, Toronto. The Depot provides accommodation, testing, medical examinations, issue of kit and basic military training to new recruits. Its location will change periodically, due to the large numbers of new cadets who pass through its doors during its existence – approximately 16,000.
Mid-February Lieutenant-Colonel Hoare, concerned that training capacity will outstrip student supply, gains approval for the Royal Flying Corps Canada to undertake advanced, as well as basic, flight training.
Mid-February Two Royal Flying Corps officers travel to British Columbia looking for suitable fields for winter training. Although properties are leased at Stevenson on Lulu Island and Ladner on the south arm of the Fraser River and construction starts, the project halts due the training agreement with the United States.
February 24 Over a quiet Saturday lunch, with new airfields under construction and members of the first nucleus flights still on their way across the Atlantic, Lieutenant-Colonel Hoare unexpectedly announces to his startled staff, “We have…two machines at Long Branch. We have enlisted some cadets and airmen. Why the hell are we not flying? I want flying training started by Monday!”
February 27 The Cadet Wing is established. Initially operating primarily out of University of Toronto facilities, the Wing provides basic training and introduces cadets to subjects such as artillery observation, aircraft rigging and aero-engines.
February 28 “X” Squadron begins flying at Long Branch with a JN-4 aircraft; by mid-March nine cadets are undergoing flying training.
March 2 The Royal Flying Corps Canada officially takes over the aerodrome at Camp Borden.
March 16 No. 79 Canadian Training Squadron is formed at Camp Borden.
March 28 The first cadets arrive at Camp Borden.
March 30 Flight training begins at Camp Borden
April 8 The Royal Flying Corps Canada has its first fatality when Cadet James Harold Talbot is killed in a flying accident at Borden. He is buried in his hometown of Dorchester, Ontario.
April 10 Nos. 78, 79, 80, 81 and 82 Squadrons are now operating at Borden albeit at considerably less than full strength. Nos. 78 and 82 Squadrons specializes in wireless and artillery observation while Nos. 79 and 81 Squadrons deals with aerial photography and cross-country flying. No. 80 Squadron is designated as an aerial gunnery squadron.
April 20 Construction beings on two airfields at Deseronto, Ontario, known as Camp Rathbun and Camp Mohawk.
May 1 With the assistance of the Aero Club of Canada, a volunteer civilian organization, a major recruiting effort begins throughout the Dominion of Canada.
May 1 The School of Aerial Gunnery is established at Camp Borden with No. 80 Squadron as its flying unit.
2 May The Royal Flying Corps Canada formally takes over its new aerodrome at Camp Borden.
Mid-May “X” Squadron and No. 86 Squadron are operating from Camp Rathbun and Nos. 83, 84 and 87 Squadrons are operating from Camp Mohawk.
May 31 Construction beings on an aerodrome at Leaside, Ontario, just north of Toronto. Encompassing 222 acres, by the end of hostilities – in addition to the hangars – there is accommodation for 89 officers, 230 cadets, 83 warrant officers and sergeants, and 600 rank and file.
June 2 The initial construction project at Camp Borden is complete.
June 16 The first 16 trainees to graduate from the Royal Flying Corps Canada are sent to England and commissioned as second lieutenants. By August, a total of 167 pilots will graduate; 50 will be retained in Canada as instructors. Those who survive further training in England will eventually make their way to front-line units such as No. 45 Squadron on the Italian Front.
June 20 Although providing training since May 1917, the Armament School moves to permanent quarters in a former factory belonging to Canadian Westinghouse Limited in Hamilton, Ontario. Training covers machine guns, ammunition, gunnery, synchronizing gear, bombs, bomb sights and bombing.
June 22 A training agreement is signed between the Royal Flying Corps Canada and the United States Signal Corps whereby ten American squadrons will be train in Canada over the summer and fall in return for the RFCC’s use of fields in Texas for instruction over the winter.
June Construction begins on the aerodrome at Beamsville, Ontario, where the School of Aerial Gunnery will be located upon the return of the Wing from Texas. Along with the hangars, a number of firing ranges (from 25 to 200 yards) are built and provision is made for the use of raft-borne targets on Lake Ontario. As well, an armoured boat serves as a moving target for students. By the end of the war 122 officers, 400 cadets, 96 warrant officers and sergeants and 768 rank and file are housed here.
July 1 No. 4 School of Military Aeronautics is formed, housed at the University of Toronto. Over a four-week period, cadets are instructed on engines, rigging, wireless, artillery observation, machine guns, instruments and bombs. The Cadet Wing moves to Long Branch where cadets are housed in canvas tents.  
July 9 The first of an eventual 1,400 personnel from the United States Signal Corps and United States Navy arrive in Canada for training with the Royal Flying Corps Canada.
End July By this time, Canadian Aeroplanes Limited has produced 150 JN-4s for the Royal Flying Corps Canada.
September 24 An advance party of four United States officers and 50 personnel, plus four Royal Flying Corps officers and 34 men, depart for Texas. They will form the nucleus of a Wing headquarters there.
September 26 The advance party arrives at Fort Worth, Texas, and find that they have been assigned three flying fields located to the north (Hicks), south (Benbrook) and west (Everman) of the city. To the U.S. Signal Corps they will be known collectively as Camp Taliaferro, Fields 1, 2 and 3.
October 12 American cadets in Canada leave for Texas to complete their training.
November 2 The School of Aerial Gunnery departs Borden and arrives in Texas on November 4. The first student is airborne the following day.
November 15 The staff and students from 42 Wing (Borden) and 43 Wing (Deseronto) depart for Texas on board six special trains. 44 Wing remains in North Toronto to experiment with winter flying.
November 17 The Royal Flying Corps Canada Wings arrive in Texas. 42 Wing is assigned to Everman Field, 43 Wing to Benbrook Field and the School of Aerial Gunnery shares Hicks Field with United States Air Service squadrons.
November The Cadet Wing moves from its tented accomodation at Long Branch to barracks at Camp Borden and Deseronto that had been vacated by the move to Texas. Basic training continues at these locations until the two segments of the wing are reunited in early April at Long Branch.

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Borden Military Museum Image

Cadet JH Talbot, from Dorchester, Ontario.

LAC Mikan 3404210

Class Room instruction, No. 4 School of Aeronautics, University of Toronto.

1918 Events

 

DateEvent
February 6 Pressure from the United States State Department halts “official” recruiting of American citizens for the Royal Flying Corps.
Spring The transfer of large numbers of men to the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (Army) results in a labour shortage; women are actively recruited to serve as “civilian subordinates”. Initially employed primarily as clerks, by the end of the war women will serve in a variety of occupations ranging from drivers to engine mechanics. It is estimated that 1,196 women are employed at various locations throughout the training organization.
March 27 Second Lieutenant Alan McLeod, a Royal Flying Corps Canada graduate, and his observer, Second Lieutenant Arthur Hammond, are involved in an action in France for which Second Lieutenant McLeod will be awarded the Victoria Cross.
April 1 A School of Special Flying is established at Armour Heights (in what is now North York, Toronto) to focus on training instructors.
April 1 The Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps amalgamate to form the Royal Air Force (RAF). Henceforth, the training organization in Canadian is known as the Royal Air Force Canada.
Mid-April Royal Air Force Canada squadrons return from Texas. However, they have left behind a number of comrades at a cemetery in Fort Worth.
May The Armament School opens in Hamilton and provides elementary instruction weapons after cadets have learned to fly.
May 29 The Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force agrees to the formation of “Canadian” squadrons within the RAF.
June The School of Aerial Gunnery in Borden begins instruction for observers.
June 24 Captain Brian A. Peck, a Royal Air Force Canada instructor, pilots a JN-4 from Montreal to Toronto carrying 124 letters. This is the first official airmail flight in Canada.
July The School of Aerial Gunnery is renamed the School of Aerial Fighting, with an increased emphasis on combat tactics.
August 22 A Canadian Air Force detachment forms at the School of Technical Training in Halton, United Kingdom, to train Canadian mechanics for the two proposed “Canadian” squadrons in the Royal Air Force.
September 5 The formation of the Royal Canadian Naval Air Service, operating two patrol stations in Nova Scotia, is authorized.
November 11 The Armistice is signed and the First World War ends. Virtually overnight, the Royal Air Force Canada’s operations cease.
December 19 The training squadrons at Camp Borden are demobilized.

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DND RE-18219

Captain B.A. Peck

MIKAN-3390086

Pioneers of winter flying in Canada.

1919 Events

 

DateEvent
January 7 The last Royal Air Force Canada personnel depart from Camp Borden.