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A secret no more – Small London museum tells the story of the top-secret WWII radar project in Canada

September 2018

“At The Secrets of Radar Museum we ask you to imagine keeping a secret for 50 years.  Could you do it?”*

During WWII, Canada was involved in numerous “behind-the-scenes” projects that aided greatly in the Allied victories in Europe and the Pacific.  One of them was the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), an ambitious plan that saw more than 130,000 pilots, aircrew and support personnel trained to fight the air war; a plan that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called the “Aerodrome of Democracy”.

Another one was the development of the radar systems we still use today.

At the London International Airport in London, Ontario, site of a former BCATP training school, is a small museum dedicated to telling the story of the top-secret development of radar in Canada during World War II.

Housed in a small building that once served as a church and moved to the London Airport site beside the sole remaining building from the BCATP school, the Secrets of Radar Museum displays feature original artifacts from the development of radar through the Cold War, thousands of photographs, along with oral histories told by the more than 6, 000 veterans themselves and a sizable archive and library.

Many of these personal stories, from radar mechanics, operators, teachers, trainers, physicists, and researchers, could not be told to the general public as required by the Official Secrets Act, some for as long as 50 years until their secrecy expired in 1991.  Many veterans took the stories of their involvement to the grave, unrecorded and unacknowledged while many other events and stories were told in history books and movies.

Most of the training in Canada was conducted at RCAF Station Clinton, north of London.  Originally opened by the Royal Air Force in 1941, the station was the home to the No. 31 Radio Direction Finding School (No. 31 RDF), a part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. As Radio Direction Finding, or RADAR as it would later be called, was a strictly guarded secret at that time, RAF/RCAF Station Clinton was listed as a communications training facility.

The museum was founded in 2001 as a not-for-profit by veterans of the RCAF, RAF and others with an interest in telling the unique story the development of a technology we pretty much take for granted now.  It officially opened its doors on 24 May 2003 in a building at the site of former Western Counties Health and Occupational Center, a rehabilitation center for World War II veterans.

The museum moved to its present location in the summer of 2017 and remains staffed by an enthusiastic group of volunteers.  Admission is by donation.

Sources:  http://secretsofradar.com, https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/abandoned-veterans-village-at-westminster-ponds.

(*Quote:  Secrets of Radar Museum)

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: https://militarybruce.com/a-secret-no-more-small-london-museum-tells-the-story-of-the-top-secret-wwii-radar-project-in-canada/

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