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Abandoned military installations in Simcoe County

Essa Times
Novermber 2007
Simcoe County has always had a proud military heritage. Canadian Forces Base Borden has been a fixture in the area since it opened as Camp Borden on July 11, 1916. Originally an infantry training centre for the Canadian Expeditionary Force of World War I, The Royal Flying Corps, the fore-runner to the Royal Canadian Air Force, established Canada’s first military airfield at the camp a year later. By the time the Royal Canadian Air Force was established in 1924, RCAF Station Camp Borden would be the largest military flying station of its day.

 

The Grey & Simcoe Foresters, B Company, an Army Reserve unit, has been a fixture in Barrie since it was founded as the 35th Simcoe Battalion of Infantry on 14 September 1866. However, Simcoe County’s military history goes deeper than these two entities.

Maybe some people will remember the giant white globes that once sat on a hill near the Village of Edgar. This was one of Simcoe County’s contributions to the Cold War. Royal Canadian Air Force Station Edgar was a radar station in the Pinetree Line, a network of radar stations established in the early 1950s under command of NORAD. This line, which stretched along the 50th parallel, down the eastern coast and into southern Ontario and Quebec, acted as an early warning detection system against a Soviet air attack.

RCAF Station Edgar, the southern most station, opened in 1952 as the home of No. 31 Aircraft Control & Warring Squadron and No. 3 Air Defence Control Centre. The Station had a brief 12 year existence, closing in 1964. From 1965-1999, the former station was home to the Ontario Government’s Adult Occupational Centre for handicapped adults.

Today the former station sits vacant. Except for occasional use by various Army Reserve units, who utilize the property for urban warfare training, the security guards guarding the property are the sole remaining occupants. All of the station’s buildings remain except for the Operations Control Centre building and the radar towers (they were demolished long ago), but they are slowly deteriorating.

As for the rest of the Pinetree Line, in 1985 the Canadian Government announced that the Pinetree Line would be shut down as a part of the North American Air Defence Modernization Plan. By 1991, the last of the Pinetree stations closed and an era in Canada’s military history passed.

However, Simcoe County’s military history still doesn’t end there. Perhaps not as well known, or atleast forgotten, are two other military installations: the former RCAF Aerodromes near Edenvale and Alliston.

In 1939, the Canadian Government, in an effort to play an important role in the war with Germany, conceived a plan to train pilots, navigators, air gunners, air bombers and flight engineers for the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Air Force, and other Commonwealth air forces. What became of this plan was nothing short of remarkable.

The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) saw more than 130,000 personnel from Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand graduate from 107 training schools across Canada – a remarkable feat by any standards. Canada was an ideal location to train aircrew as it was far enough away from the fighting, with plenty of land away from towns and cities to build training schools. Many of today’s municipal airports were originally RCAF aerodromes.

Simcoe County’s contribution to the BCATP was No. 1 Service Flying Training School (1 SFTS) at RCAF Station Camp Borden. All flying training schools had one or two relief landing fields located nearby. The relief field, usually consisting of either grass or asphalt runways, one hangar, maintenance facilities and barracks for overnight stays, allowed pilot trainees to conduct circuit training on landing and taking-off in their airplanes. Some also served as sub-unit training schools.

RCAF Detachment Edenvale, also known as No. 1 Relief Landing Field, opened in 1940 near the village of Edenvale (Lots 13-15, Concession 10 in Sunnidale Township). The triangular airfield consisted of three 3000 ft asphalt runways. Edenvale was also home to the Advanced Training Unit, a sub-unit of No. 1 SFTS, which conducted bombing training. Students spent 3 weeks at the ATU, living in the original farm house on the property, while the instructors stayed in the barracks.

RCAF Detachment Alliston, also known as No. 2 Relief Landing Field, also opened in 1940 near the village of Alliston (Lots 6, 7 & 8, Concession 11, Tecumseth Township). RCAF Detachment Alliston consisted of three runways in a triangular pattern, but unlike Edenvale, they were compressed grass runways and there were no lights for night landings.

Flying training at Borden ended with the closure of No. 1 Service Flying Training School in 1946, and for the next 20 years, RCAF Station Camp Borden concentrated primarily on technical training, run by No. 2 Technical Training School. Some RCAF airfields throughout the country became, or reverted to municipal airports, like the Oshawa Airport, the Kingston Airport and even Pearson International Airport in Toronto. Other airfields, like RCAF Detachments Edenvale and Alliston, were simply abandoned.

In 1950, the Edenvale Aerodrome came back to life as a racetrack for sports car and motorcycle racing. Known at various times as the Stayner Speedway and the Edenvale Raceway, the former airfield continued in this capacity until 1959, when it was once again abandoned.

Today, very little remains from the RCAF days. Besides the runways, the roadways and the hangar pad also remain. All other RCAF buildings disappeared long ago.

In 2002, Toronto businessman Milan Kroupa purchased Lots 13 & 14 from the Federal Government. By 2004, the old aerodrome came back to life when the Edenvale Flying Club opened as an ultralight pilot training school and general aviation facility. The east-west runway 08-26 was re-opened and several new steel-sided hangars were built. Lot 15, where the RCAF buildings, hangar and the taxi-way were built remains owned by other interests.

For many years, the original farm house was the Sweetbriar Lodge Nursing home, but it now serves as the administration building for the Edenvale Flying Club. The Edenvale Radio Control Flyers Club uses a small section of runway for flying model aircraft.

Nothing remains of RCAF Detachment Alliston today as the land was returned to farming.

Orillia was also had an army training camp during World War II, built in April 1942 on land locally known as the Quinn farm, roughly bordered by Rynard, Brant, North and Lawrence Streets today. The camp at trained both infantry and armoured coprs recruits and was known at various times as No. 26 Canadian Army (Basic) Training Centre (1942-43), No. 26 Canadian Armoured Corps (Basic) Training Centre (1943-44), No. 26 Canadian Infantry (Basic) Training Centre (1944-45) and finally the 13th Infantry Training Battalion (1945-46).

The camp, sometimes referred to as Champlain Barracks closed in 1946. All 42 buildings were either moved or demolished and today, not the slightest trace remains of the former Champlain Barracks. The former camp has been replaced by tree lined residential streets, commercial development and schools.

The “Diefen-bunker”:

By the late 1950s, the threat of a nuclear war had become so great that the Canadian government decided to construct a secret underground bunker to house the major elements of the government in the event of an emergency. A four story underground bunker, officially known as No. 1 Army Signals Unit, but nick-named by the press (so much for the secret) as the “Diefen-bunker”, after Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, was constructed near the Village of Carp outside of Ottawa. Most Provincial Governments followed suit by building their own bunkers. The Ontario Government chose Camp Borden for the site of their bunker. All Government bunkers also doubled as a communications station, and thus had a remote communications bunker located some distance away. This second bunker, usually a single story structure, was staffed exclusively by communications personnel.

For their remote bunker, Camp Borden chose the site of the former RCAF Detachment Edenvale. In 1962, the site was re-activated as the Edenvale Transmitter Station, and a bunker was constructed beside one of the old runways. Personnel from Royal Canadian Corps of Signals staffed the facility. The bunker was occupied until 1988 and finally abandoned in 1994.

The abandoned communications bunker remains today, but the radio antennas that once dotted the property are gone.

Fortunately, neither the Borden bunker nor the Edenvale bunker were never used for anything beyond being a communications station and with the end of the Cold War, the Borden bunker was vacated in 1994. Borden’s Bunker served as the Headquarters for the Regional Cadet Support Unit (Central) from 2001-2004, until they re-located to the Maple Conference Centre, formerly the Officers Mess for RCAF Station Camp Borden. In early 2005, the Borden Bunker was sealed up and with it, a door was closed on an interesting chapter in the history of CFB Borden.

As for the “Diefenbunker”, Canadian Forces Station Carp, as it was re-named in 1968, closed in 1994 and is now a Cold War museum, a living monument to the never realized horrors of World War III.

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/abandoned-military-installations-in-simcoe-county/

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