THE GOLDEN YEARS (1950-1964)

Aquilina family archives

Petty Officer 1st Class Sam Aquilina.

Near the town of Centralia, Ontario, north of London, is the Centralia Airport, a small general aviation airport.

From 1942 to 1966, thousands of flight cadets trained at Royal Canadian Air Force Station Centralia, originally under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan during the Second World War, and then under the NATO Air Training Plan during the Cold War.

For those men, there are a multitude of memories, good and bad, including drinking a “Sam Special” in the flight cadets’ mess, served by a man affectionately known as Centralia Sam.

Centralia Sam Aquilina was born Salvator Victor Aquilina in 1904 in Malta and served as a steward with the Royal Navy from 1925 to 1947. He retired as a chief petty officer and immigrated to Canada, settling in Exeter, Ontario. Here Sam began his second career when he was hired to run the flight cadets’ mess at Centralia.

Thousands of pilot and navigator trainees from Canada, America and other NATO nations came to Centralia for their training, and Sam was there to greet them with a friendly smile, a drink and good conversation. He looked after and guided “his boys” and would even tell them when they should stop drinking and go back to their barracks to study.

Aquilina family archives

Sam prepares cocktails for a mess dinner, around 1963.

Sam was so well liked by all who knew him that the officers tried to capture him as bartender for their mess, but he wanted to stay with “his” cadets.

One of his most prized possessions was a large framed picture of the Snowbirds, autographed by the pilots, all of whom had served time in Sam’s mess.

In 1967, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) closed down Centralia and Sam was asked to transfer to Candian Forces Base (CFB) Esquimalt in Victoria, British Columbia. He did so, but his stay there was short-lived. He returned to Exeter soon afterward, where he retired for the second and final time.

“Centralia Sam” Aquilina died peacefully on August 16, 1999.