This Week in History


The Power of Flight

For the week of Monday, May 18, 2015

On May 23, 1940, Charles Gavan Power was appointed Minister of Defence for Air in Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s wartime Cabinet. Known as “Chubby” Power, he played a pivotal role in Canada’s  efforts during the Second World War.

A portrait of Charles Gavan “Chubby” Power
© Canada Post Corporation / Library and Archives Canada

Born January 18, 1888, in Sillery, Quebec, Power’s military involvement began when he enlisted in the army in 1914. He was sent overseas the following year, returned home in 1916 after being injured, and was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery.

Power’s political career began in 1917, when he was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Québec South. Starting in the 1930s, he also served in many Cabinet positions, including Minister of Pensions and National Health, and Postmaster General. When Mackenzie King expanded the wartime Cabinet to include both an Air and a Naval Services ministry in 1940, he appointed Power Minister of Defence for Air.

Power immediately pursued a policy of “Canadianization” of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Since most RCAF personnel sent overseas were sprinkled throughout units of the British Royal Air Force (RAF), Power pushed for the creation of separate Canadian squadrons within the RAF. Successful, Power’s work allowed Canadian pilots to serve with their own commanders and crews and showcased Canadian pride and independence from Great Britain.

(L-R): Charles G. Power, C.D. Howe, Winston Churchill, and W.L. Mackenzie King at the Chateau Frontenac during the Octagon Conference
© National Film Board of Canada. Phototheque / Library and Archives Canada / C-071095

Power was also responsible for the administration of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), one of Canada’s major contributions to the war effort. He overcame the many challenges of rapidly constructing the air crew training facilities and supplying them with equipment and instructors. More than 130,000 airmen from the Commonwealth countries trained at these schools throughout Canada.

Power’s ministerial career, however, ended before the war did. He resigned from Cabinet in 1944, because he opposed Mackenzie King sending conscripted troops overseas. Power continued to serve as an MP until he was appointed to the Senate in 1955, where he stayed until his death in 1968.

Charles Gavan Power is a National Historic Person. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan is a National Historic Event, as is the Service of the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.

This year marks the second in the 75th anniversary of the Second World War. To learn more, please read Canada's War Effort Takes Flight, Calling Out the Reserves, and Aerodrome of Democracy in the This Week in History archives. Also visit the Government of Canada’s World War Commemorations page.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada! As well, click here to learn more about the work of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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