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A Little Piece of Norway in Canada

For the week of Monday April 7, 2008

On April 9, 1940, Germany’s armed forces launched a surprise attack on Norway.

Pilot trainees with Curtiss P-36 aircraft at Little Norway, Toronto Island
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-136047
Due to their neutral status this offensive came as a complete shock to the Norwegians who were caught completely off guard. Compared to the coming onslaught the Norwegian forces were miniscule. The Norwegian government and Royal family fled into exile while Norwegian and Allied forces attempted to repel the German forces. Active resistance in Norway ended two months later on June 10, 1940.

Once the active resistance was over, the Norwegian government looked to Canada to relocate the Royal Norwegian Air Force. Canada was seen as an ideal location due to its spaciousness and its close proximity to the United States, from whom Norway was purchasing planes. The Royal Norwegian Air Force’s training centre, ‘Little Norway,’ officially opened at Island Airport in Toronto on November 10, 1940.

1946 Norwegian stamp “Wings for Norway” honouring pilots trained at Little Norway.
© Canadian Bank Note Company
Throughout the war many young men fled Norway for Canada to join the Norwegian Air Force and Navy. From 1941 to 1945, ‘Little Norway’ had an average strength of 700 people. In May 1942, to alleviate Torontonian’s fear of air crashes, the Air Training and ‘Little Norway’ Camp were moved to the Muskoka area, and the elementary flight training was relocated to the local Dominion Airport.

The Royal Norwegian Air Force fought as independent units within England’s Royal Air Force, thus the training at Little Norway was synchronized with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Upon completion of elementary training at Little Norway, students entered into the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and were then posted to various training schools across Canada. Thirty-three hundred airmen in various capacities were trained at Little Norway during the war.

Visit of the Royal Norwegian Family to Little Norway, Muskoka, 1943
© Embassy of Norway 2003/2007

The first Norwegian unit, 330 (Norwegian) Squadron, Coastal Command, RAF went to Iceland in April 1941 and the first all-Norwegian fighter squadron 331 (Norwegian) Squadron, Fighter Command, RAF, went on active service in England in June 1941. Norwegian Squadrons 332 (Fighter Command) and 333 (Coastal Command) soon joined the Royal Air Force.

The Norwegian recruits received a very warm welcome from both the Canadians and the Americans. Many Canadian families and organizations took in the recruits and treated them like family during their time in Canada. Many of the Norwegian recruits ended up marrying Canadian girls and many others returned to Canada after the war.

Norwegian training in Canada during the Second World War was designated a National Historic Event in 2001.

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