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The Canadian Military Reaches New Heights

For the week of Monday January 27, 2014

On January 27, 1917, construction contracts were signed to build aviation facilities in Ontario at Camp Borden, a militia-training centre situated north of Toronto. The completed “aerodrome” was the first of its kind in Canada and was the main Canadian training ground for the British Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force during the First World War.

Aerial gunnery class at Camp Borden, 1917
© Canada. Dept. Of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada
As the War progressed, Britain’s military forces sustained heavy losses and looked to its Dominions for support. In December 1916 the Royal Flying Corps Canada was established, and a British delegation led by Lieutenant-Colonel Hoare arrived in Canada to set up the operation. On the advice of Canadian officials, Hoare selected Camp Borden as the first site for an aerodrome. The location, an army base built in 1916, was advantageous because it was already government property and had infrastructure in place. By June 1917 they had constructed 17 hangars, as well as barracks, workshops, and numerous other buildings.

At the Borden aerodrome, cadets received instruction in cross-country and bombing flying technique; air gunnery; wireless communication with Morse code, mirrors, and smoke signals; and photography. Cadets trained using Curtiss JN-4 planes every day except Sunday, when they spent their free time playing sports, watching movies, or listening to music. During two years of war-time operation, 1,884 pilots were prepared for action!

Gunnery training at Camp Borden, 1917
© Canada. Dept. Of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada

Following the War, the Borden aerodrome became the location for the “School of Aviation” of the Canadian Air Force and, not surprisingly, was also the site where the future of Canadian aviation was decided. There, in 1920, the Air Board discussed plans that led to the creation of the Royal Canadian Air Force four years later. Borden remained the main aviation station during the 1920s and continued to be used by the military, again serving as a training ground in the Second World War.

Today, the Royal Flying Corps Hangars are a National Historic Site. Though intended only to be temporary buildings, several of the original hangars still stand and remain in use at today’s Canadian Forces Base Borden. Canadian Participation in the Royal Flying Corps is a national historic event. Other national historic sites commemorating the role of Canadians during the First World War include the Manitoba training site Camp Hughes and the memorial at Vimy Ridge.

It is the first year of the centennial anniversary of the First World War! To learn about pilots who flew in the First World War, please read Protector of the Air, Pioneer of Bush Aviation, and Billy Bishop: An Ace up Canada's Sleeve.

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