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Claresholm Industrial Airport has rich military past

Claresholm Local Press

2 December 2009

Longtime residents of the Claresholm area will probably remember a time when the air buzzed with the sound of RCAF aircraft from an aerodrome west of Claresholm. Early in the Second World War, the Royal Canadian Air Force entered into an ambitious project: the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, an astounding program that saw 130,000 personnel from Great Britain, Canada and other Commonwealth countries graduate from 107 training schools across Canada.

The aerodrome west of Claresholm was originally opened on 9 June 1941 as No. 15 Service Flying Training School, under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

Two Relief Landings Fields were also established near the villages of Woodhouse & Pultney. The relief fields usually consisted of one hangar, maintenance facilities and a barracks for overnight stays. Some of these relief fields also housed advanced training units for bombing or gunnery training training.

No. 15 SFTS, was an advanced flying training school where student pilots trained on the twin-engine Avro-Anson and the Cessna Crane.  The first class consisted of about forty young Canadian pilots.  Subsequent training courses consisted of pilots from Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, and even Americans, who despite their (at the time) country’s refusal to enter the war, enlisted in Commonwealth air forces.

No. 2 Flight Instructor School also operated at the Aerodrome from April-September 1942, when it re-located to Vulcan.

The end of the European war lead to the termination of the BCATP and as a result, No. 15 SFTS closed on 30 May 1945.  Approximately 1800 pilots had graduated, receiving their pilots wings in a “Wings Parade”.

The station, although not abandoned, was left with only a small caretaker staff for the rest of the 1940s and the early 1950s.

However, the Detachments at Woodhouse & Pultney were abandoned.  Today, the abandoned runways remain at Woodhouse, but nothing remains of Pultney.

The post-war growth of the RCAF resulted in many WWII stations being re-activated. RCAF Station Claresholm re-opened in 1951 under NATO Aircrew Training Plan and run by No. 3 Flying Training School (3 FTS).  Like the BCATP, the NATO Air Training Plan trained aircrew from the many countries that made up the NATO Alliance.

The station expanded from its WWII days as a result of this new training plan.  More than 140 housing units were constructed to house families of staff permanently posted to the station.  An eight room school was built, along with two churches were built, a grocery store and a barber shop.  The station now had a population of approximately 1100, including the civilian employees.

Group Captain Sampson was appointed the first commanding officer of No. 3 FTS, taking over command in mid-August 1951.  However this revitalization of RCAF Station Claresholm would sadly prove to be short-lived

By 1957, many of the countries involved had their built own training facilities so the program began to wind down.  That summer, the final intakes of students under the original NATO Aircrew Training Scheme arrived for training.  Activity at No. 3 F.T.S. began to wind down and the station officially closed August 25, 1958. Over-seeing the station closure procedures was the last C.O., Group Captain J.P. McCarthy, DFC, CD.

Although the station closed,  No. 3 F.T.S. re-located to RCAF Station Gimli, where it continued operations.

From 1958-1961, the abandoned runways were used as a racetrack for sports car and motorcycle racing.

The former station is now the Claresholm Industrial Airport. All seven original hangars remain, as do some of the station’s former buildings, including the fire hall, maintenance garages and four post-war PMQ houses.

Amongst the companies that occupy the former air force base are Frame Avaiation, an aircraft maintenance and repair company; EMERCOR, a structural insulated panel manufacturing company and Augsburg Cabinetry, a cabinet maker.

Additionally, the Municipal District of Willow Creek re-located their offices to the station, occupying a new building built for their use.

The airfield still operates as active airport, but only one runway of the original six runways remain in use.

A memorial cairn was placed at the airport and a Harvard airplane stands in Centennial Park in Claresholm, both serving as a monuments to the men and women who served at RCAF Station Claresholm and No. 15 SFTS.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: http://militarybruce.com/claresholm-industrial-airport-has-rich-military-past/

18 comments

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  1. mitch fisher

    I currently live at the air port in one of the two remanding duplex’s and I would just love it if you had or know were I could get my hands on some old photographs of the air base from the 30’s,40’s,50’s or 60’s im very interested in the history of the area?

    thanks for your time Mitch Fisher

    1. Bruce Forsyth

      Hi Ralph,

      Thanks for stopping by my web site. I do have some photos from the 40s to 60s that I found on the internet. I can send some of them to you.

      Since you live at the airport, can you give me a status update of what remains at the airport and the current uses of the remaining buildings? I understand one of the hangars was demolished recently. You can find the base history in the “Abandoned Bases – Alberta” section.

      Bruce

      1. Cathy Byrnell

        Hello Bruce, I would be interested in pictures as well. I was born at Claresholm on March 25, 1958. Dad was RCAF.

  2. mitch fisher

    Thanks for getting back to me i will do a little investigating over the next few days and yes they have torn down one of the old hangers i believe they are in the poses of building a new structure but i will check it all out and take a lot of pictures and find out what all businesses are out here as for the houses there is 2 duplexes left (i live in one) and 3 regular houses.

    thanks Mitch Fisher

  3. Dave S. Clark

    Does anyone know what the surface of the unused runway is like? Who manages the airport now? I’m a motorsport historian and I’ve love to be able to just drive (not race!) on the old runways once the weather is better. I’m planning a bit of a road trip around motorsports history, so it would be great to be able to see it.

    Thanks,
    Dave

  4. Helen Pust

    Do you have information on the men who were training pilots in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s? I have a picture of Cliff King standing by his Harvard training plane. Plus the 3 FTS Claresholm jacket patch.
    Any info would be great.

    1. Bruce Forsyth

      Hi Helen,

      Thanks for stopping by my web site. All that I know about pilot training is here on the web site. In the 40s, pilot training was done under the BCATP. The best that I know right now for the 50s and 60s is that pilot training was under control of the RCAF. Claresholm in the 50s was a NATO pilot training centre run by No. 3 Flying Training School. Other than that, you might be best contacting your local Legion or the National Archives in Ottawa.

      Bruce

      1. Helen

        Good Morning Bruce

        I was going to visit the air museum in Nanton and give Cliff’s picture and his badge to them. I do know they used all the airports in this area for their training.

        Thanks for replying and I enjoyed your web

        Helen

  5. DIDIER LAURENT

    Hi Bruce.

    I was one of these NATO French Pilot who trained course 5309 at Claresholm. I am now 87 years old and remind quite well my training as a pilot and received my Pilot’s wings in 1954. I am researching for British Pilots still alive training with me on course 5309. Could you please give me a site where i eventually could join them. Thanks for doing so. Best regards. DIDIER LAURENT

    1. Bruce Forsyth

      Hi Didier,

      Thanks for stopping by my web site. You might want to try the Royal Canadian Legion and see if they can help.

      Bruce

  6. DIDIER LAURENT

    Thanks Bruce for answering. Will tell you if I succeed. DIDIER

  7. Ray Stone

    I joined the RCAF in 1953 as a meteorological observer. After a few weeks basic training at St Jean Quebec, I was sent on temporary duty to Claresholm where I worked in the Met office in the control tower. I lived in the barracks with about twenty other guys. I soon became more interested in the photo unit and my Flight Sergeant in the Met branch kindly allowed me to work with the station photog. He probably wanted t get rid of me !! One strange assignment involved a flight with one of the F/L flight instructors in a Harvard. I grabbed my speed graphic camera (about five pounds!) and jumped into the back seat. We flew to Waterton Lakes in Montana, and did some EXTREMELY low level flying through a few gullies looking for Elk. We found a few and flew at eyeball level with the herd. I stood up in the back seat with the canopy open and took several photos. The elk were not amused !! I’m a cartoonist and graphic artist on the side, so I illustrated a few of the station publications, and did some work with the local Claresholm newspaper. It was a terrific station – we went pheasant hunting in the stubble fields, tracked down a local ‘prospector’ who lived I a self-sufficient cabin in the outback — he had dammed a creek and had his own little lake stocked with fish. His dirt floor contrasted with an amazing kitchen – a strange Rube Goldberg contraption enabled him to remotely open any cupboard door !!! I was finally transferred to Camp Borden photo school, and eventually enjoyed a fantastic 12 years in RCAF PR in Metz, Ottawa and KI Sawyer AFB in Michigan. I had been coimmissioned in the meantime much to everyone’s surprise. Later I was drafted into the Reserves where they offered me a S/L rank. I went back to Claresholm in the 80s with my wife Terry ( and ex RCAF WD) who was on a business tip to Calgary. It was a disaster area, and very depressing to see how neglected the place was. Glad to hear it’s now back in shape.
    I now live in sunny Southern California but I treasure every moment I spent in the good old RCAF — and all the great friends I made and still enjoy.
    Per Ardua Ad Astra kids !!
    Ray Stone.

    1. Bruce Forsyth

      Hi Ray,

      Thanks for stopping by my web site and for your story. It’s sad what has become of a lot of our former bases, including Claresholm.

      Bruce

      1. Ray Stone

        We had the best of the best in those days !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
        Ray

    2. Bruce Forsyth

      Hi Ray,

      I didn’t look at the article that your were talking about as I have written 2 on this subject. You should check out the other article that I wrote, advocating for a CFVM like you are proposing too.

      http://militarybruce.com/canada-should-issue-a-canadian-volunteer-service-medal/

      Bruce

      1. Bruce Forsyth

        Oops, wrong person. Well, you might want to look at the article anyway (ha, ha). I get a lot of mail.

  8. Roger N. LeBlanc

    I was stationed in Claresholm from Oct 2, 1957 through to December 2, 1958. I was one of about 20 airmen and 2 Civil Servants on the closing ‘Rear Party’ whereby we had to pack-up all equipment and supplies for disposal. A lot went to Crown Assets Disposal Corporation and some supplies mostly to # 7 Supply Depot in Alberta. It was quite an experience. The Rear Party was led by, no other than, Squadron Leader ‘Spud Murphy’.

    I lived on the base the whole time. From, I believe, June through December, since all facilities other than sleeping accommodations and Fire Station (location of the only telephone) were closed, we had to eat in town at Pete Hawley’s restaurant. Pete was an outstanding owner – I will never forget him.

    In around August of 1981 on behalf of Underwriters’ Laboratories of Canada, I visited a company by the name of “Trust Joist” which was located in, I believe, Hanger 7 on the base. I had to witness the fabrication of joists which were shipped to the Lab in Scarborough to be setup in a floor system for testing under fire conditions. My second visit to the base was with my family in 1995 on our way from Toronto to Vancouver. We did take a photo or two during this visit. If you wish. I can have a look for them and send them to you.

    Roger

    1. Bruce Forsyth

      Hi Roger,

      Thanks for sharing your story. I’d love to see any photos that you have. You can send them to bruce@militarybruce.com.

      Bruce

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