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Forces: Land ~ Air ~ Sea ~ Home
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Summer 2003 Edition

From our CJATC RIVERS Tribute Site
I spent many memorable hours on that base. Back in the '50s, while a member of #317 Strathclair Air Cadet Squadron for eight years, we were often bussed over to this Rivers where we were thrilled to ride in most of the aircraft shown below. The visits to the Rec Hall were a favourite because it was our first exposure to a real gymnasium. We spent many enjoyable weekends practising drill on its huge hardwood floor as well as playing volleyball, Bordenball, and other gym sports. The building also housed a bowling alley, rifle range, snack bar, and an area for films. Later, in the early '60s, while earning tuition money for university, I worked summers in the CE section painting PMQs, hangars, fuel tanks, etc. I boarded in one of the barracks through the week and but many nights I climbed onto the military shuttle bus to Brandon -- guitar slung over my shoulder -- to play with one of the country, rock or TV bands I was playing with at that time. Still later, in the late '60s, Sue-On and I performed many times in the various messes and clubs on the base.

Royal Canadian Air Cadets
Promotion to SergeantAir Cadet WO2 Hillman
Promotion to Sergeant\
Air Cadet WO2 Hillman

Recently Rob Sproule sent an e-mail and photos to encourage me to make a start on this project.

Rob wrote: "I would encourage you to develop a page on CJATC ... It is much needed. To jump start this effort, I attach some photos, etc. My family was there from 1954 to 1957 ... And like you, we have some good memories.

The first stage of this project is to share some of the photos that Rob has sent us. We will add to this site as more material -- photos, anecdotes, documents, maps, etc. -- cross our desk.

Bell 47-D-1
My first helicopter flight was in this Bell 47.
A real thrill for a 14-year-old kid.
The all plexiglass cockpit made for an incredible view
and gave the sensation of floating through the air.
We landed on one of the steep drumlin-like hills outside of rivers - I think to the southwest.
I heard a few years later that the pilot had retired from the air force
and gone into the lumber industry in BC
where he was decapitated after landing and exiting on a steep slope.

C-119 Flying Boxcar
Our cadet squadron took many rides in this aircraft
-- an experience I never looked forward to.
For much of my time in my eight years in the squadron I was a Flight Sergeant and Warrant Officer
and was expected to set an example.
However, the ride was always very noisy and rough...
and I spent every hour in this craft trying to keep from vomiting.
The most memorable ride was the trip to summer camp at  St. Jean, Quebec.
Before reaching our destination, however, we lost an engine and
had to make a tense forced landing at Toronto where we spent and uncomfortable night.
Dakota IV P
The Dakota was another of the planes in which
we were "treated" to regular flights all over SW Manitoba.

Harvard IV
The Harvard trainer was a plane I didn't catch a ride in until 40 years later at the
Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum in Brandon, MB.


"John Raulston Saul, Clarkson's husband, has a more sentimental attachment to the region. Yesterday, he and Clarkson visited Rivers, where Saul lived for three years as a child when his father was commander of a parachute school on the military base that has since been converted into a hog barn.

"Saul climbed a hill where his family used to picnic and picked a bouquet of flowers for his wife, press secretary Stewart Wheeler said."

RCAF historic site falling to pieces
By Adrian Humphreys ~ National Post
Monday, June 30, 2003
SE5A Br. Biplane 1920s by Borden HangarCurtiss JN-4 Canuck biplane under vaulted roof trusses 1917
SE5A Br. Biplane 1920s by Borden Hangar
Curtiss JN-4 Canuck biplane under vaulted roof trusses 1917

Hangar 10 at the CFB Borden now a bio hazard with toxic mouldCadet James Harold Talbot died in first military flying accident ~ Curtiss JN-4 Canuck15 buildings in the original hangar line
Hangar 10 at the CFB Borden now a bio hazard with toxic mould
Cadet James Harold Talbot died in first military flying accident ~ Curtiss JN-4 Canuck
15 buildings in the original hangar line

CFB BORDEN, Ont. - The birthplace of the Royal Canadian Air Force, a string of distinctive aircraft hangars built during the First World War to train pilots for the Western Front, is on the verge of collapse due to age and neglect.

When the line of identical aircraft hangars at Canadian Forces Base Borden, hurriedly constructed in 1917, was named a National Historic Site in 1989, 11 of the original 17 remained standing. Since that prestigious designation from the federal government, three have been demolished because money was unavailable for repairs.

At least four more are in imminent danger. One has already been condemned. The roof sags and water from the last rainfall pools on the floor. Declared a biohazard because of toxic mould creeping from the walls and floorboards, it has a red warning sign on its door: "Danger: Do not enter without respirator protection."

"We don't think they'll survive another winter," said Master Warrant Officer Normand Marion, deputy heritage officer for 16 Wing, the air training unit at Borden. "The situation is critical," said Colonel Peter Abbott, 16 Wing commander. "There are certain things that need to be done immediately or gravity threatens to bring them down."

A group of officers is making an unusual ultimatum to the federal government: Come up with the $6.7-million to save the site or enough money to tear it down. "We shouldn't allow the hangars to fall through some benign neglect. There is a responsibility for people to be aware of what is happening," Col. Abbott said.

Colonel G. M. Mahon, base commander of Borden, has written to Department of National Defence headquarters seeking an answer. "Arguably, this decision is binary and the development of middle options only delays a decision," says Col. Mahon's letter, obtained by the National Post. "Either the hangars that are surplus ... be preserved for heritage purposes or permission be sought to demolish the buildings for both safety and cost-saving reasons."

As perhaps befits military buildings, the soldiers want the hangars to live in glory or die in battle.

* * * * *

Standing alongside the airstrip at Borden, Col. Abbott bends to grip the stalk of one of the innumerable knee-high weeds reaching up from deep cracks in the asphalt. Despite the application of considerable muscle, the plant refuses to budge. No matter. Removing it would make little difference; the weeds claimed his airfield a decade ago.

Now, he fears, nature will also take away his hangars.

At Col. Abbott's back, as he faces the eight remaining wooden buildings of the old hangar line, is a sweeping vista that ends only when the sandy plains meet the distant slopes of the Niagara Escarpment.

It is an unobstructed view that remains unchanged from April 4, 1917, when the first group of Royal Flying Corps recruits gathered for their first day of training. Borden is 80 kilometres northwest of Toronto. Covering 85 square kilometres, it was cut from the wilderness during the First World War to train army recruits before sending them to the battlefields of France and Flanders, where both sides were bogged down in a vicious and costly war of attrition.

Air power was seen as a way to break the deadlock and Britain looked to Canada for help. Our government offered an airstrip, training and a roster of young men willing to be made into pilots. Borden was an ideal spot, offering plenty of space and skies far from enemy aircraft. On Feb. 2, 1917, construction began on what was called Borden's "aerodrome."

Within months, 15 hangars, along with repair shops, stores, a hospital, messes and staff quarters, had been built, said Major Jean-Maurice Pigeon, heritage officer for 16 Wing. Two more hangars were added later. Each identical hangar looked simple from the outside -- measuring 120 feet long and 66 feet wide with straight walls and a bow-shaped roof. At the ends were large sliding doors allowing easy access for the 10 Curtiss JN-4 biplanes that
each housed.

Inside, however, they were an architectural marvel. Long timber posts, supported by diagonal beams, held aloft the intricate wooden lattices that formed the roof trusses. The trick was to keep such a large roof up without supporting columns that would rip the wings from any aircraft being wheeled in or out. The hangars were built end-to-end, equally spaced in a long, lazy S-shape beside the runway, creating the "hangar line."

In 1917, Lieutenant-Colonel Cuthbert Gurney Hoare, who headed the air training effort, wrote to his superiors that the hangars were built as temporary structures in "the cheapest forms of construction compatible with strength."

That any of them remain is a testament to the sound design and skill of the builders. Young men arrived in the spring of 1917 to learn basic airmanship before leaving for Britain.

Just four days after the first day of flight training at the hangars came Canada's first fatal military flying accident. Cadet James Harold Talbot died when his plane crashed into one of the repair shops beside the hangars on April 8, 1917.

By the end of the First World War, Borden had turned out 1,884 pilots, including William Barker, who won the Victoria Cross for an epic, single-handed battle with some 60 German aircraft. "The hangars collectively formed the operational centre for the Camp Borden air station. As such, they were the birthplace of organized military aviation in Canada and illustrate the evolutionary process that led to the creation of the Canadian Air Force in 1920, followed in 1924 by the birth of the Royal Canadian Air Force," says a DND document on the hangar line.

The aerodrome at Borden played a significant role during the Second World War as well, forming part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan that saw air crews from Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Canada train at Borden and scores of other bases across Canada. The success of the program prompted Franklin D. Roosevelt, the U.S. president, to call Canada the "Aerodrome of Democracy."

With a nod to that legacy, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada classified the hangar line a historic site, placing it on an equal footing with the fortress of Louisbourg, the 18th-century fortified town in Nova Scotia, and the Citadelle de Québec, the most important fortification built in Canada under British rule.

"By virtue of both their place in the development of Canadian military aviation and the fact that they are the earliest known surviving examples of their functional building type, the eleven former Royal Flying Corps hangars at CFB Borden, collectively, are of national historic and architectural significance," says a letter from the historic sites board in 1989.

But the designation, while prestigious, means little in real terms. "We do such a poor job in this country of maintaining our history and our heritage," said William J. Coyle, honorary colonel of the Canadian Forces
aerospace technology school at Borden. "There are some really great stories here. If we lose the physical presence of the hangar line, how do we pass them along to our children and grandchildren without them being able to come and see and touch and feel them?

"To sit by and watch them literally fall apart is really soul-destroying." A few of the hangars have been upgraded and converted to more modern use. Classrooms for the Air Cadets are housed in Hangar 3 and halon fire  suppression reserves are stored in Hangar 6.

The smartest of the lot, Hangar 11, is a museum chronicling the history of the RCAF and displaying restored vintage planes, including the oldest flying aircraft in Canada. Both Col. Abbott and Mr. Coyle believe Parks Canada or a private foundation needs to step forward to prevent the museum from one day being the only reminder of the landmark line.

"We do a good job of training soldiers, sailors and airmen, but we're not necessarily good at maintaining historic sites," Col. Abbott said. "As an air force officer, I have some personal feelings on the matter. But I have to
face the very real possibility that the decision could be no, the people of Canada do not want to spend the money to save the hangar line.

"As I've joked to my staff, if the decision comes to tear them down, I'm not going to chain myself to the front hangar doors." At that, Mr. Coyle interrupts: "That's my job," he said.
© Copyright  2003 National Post
Solution to Canada's military budget problems
Solution to Canada's military budget problems

The follow are actual excerpts taken from "employee performance reports"
of the British Royal Navy and Marine officers.

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