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Camp Borden – The birthplace of the RCAF and the historic home of the Canadian Armoured Corps

May 2007

Simcoe County has always had a proud military heritage. Canadian Forces Base Borden has been a fixture in the area since it opened on 11 July 1916 as Camp Borden, a training centre for the infantry battalions for the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Named after Sir Frederick Borden, Minister of Militia under Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, Camp Borden was originally established on 18, 500 acres of land in Simcoe County, a lot of it sand dunes.

The first occupants of the camp, the 157th (Simcoe Foresters) Infantry Battalion, under command of Lieut-Col. D. H. MacLaren, and 177th (Simcoe Foresters) Infantry Battalion, under command of Lieut-Col. J. B. McPhee. Both Battalions, part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, were housed in bell tents, as there were no barracks at the time.

As part of the training environment, 11 Miles (18 kilometres) of training trenches were built throughout the training area, replicating the trenches in the European theatre.

The Royal Flying Corps arrived the next year, establishing an aerodrome at the camp. On 2 May 1917 Canada’s first military airfield officially opened, designated No. 42 Wing Camp Borden. 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 time.

The Depot of Royal Canadian Signals was established at Camp Borden in 1923, moving to Vimy Barracks at Camp Barriefield in August 1937. Also around this time, the RCAF established No. 2 Technical Training School.

By the 1930s the two camps, operating as separate military establishments, would become home to numerous training schools including Signals, Armour, Infantry, Service Corps, Medical, Dental, Provost, Intelligence, Nuclear-biochemical schools and the School for Army Co-operation.

During the 1930s, many of Borden’s RCAF training moved to the newly opened RCAF Station Trenton, including wireless training, which once again moved to the Signal Training Centre at Camp Barriefield in 1937.

On 1 May 1938, the Canadian Tank School moved from Wolseley Barracks to Borden along with its founder, MGen F. F. Worthington, known affectionately to his troops as “Worthy”. The school was re-named the Canadian Armoured Fighting Vehicle School.

With the outbreak of WWII, RCAF Station Camp Borden became the home of No. 1 Service Flying Training School, a part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Unlike most RCAF aerodromes during WWII, which were constructed in a triangle pattern, the Borden aerodrome consisted of only two asphalt runways, 05/23, a 2,720 ft runway and runway 18/36, a 3,300 ft runway.

Two relief landing fields were constructed, RCAF Detachment Edenvale, also known as No. 1 Relief Landing Field, opened in 1940 near the village of Edenvale, and RCAF Detachment Alliston, also known as No. 2 Relief Landing Field, near the village of Alliston.

The outbreak of WWII also saw the Army side of Camp Borden become an important training centre for Canada’s emerging Armoured Corps. As the school had no tanks to use for training, Worthy went to the U.S. looking for assistance. With the help of General George Patton, Worthy unofficially bought 265 Renauld tanks, built in 1917 but still in new condition, from the storage facility at the Rock Island Arsenal. As the U.S. was still neutral at this time and could not officially sell arms to other countries, the tanks were sold as “scrap metal” and shipped to the Camp Borden foundry.

The wartime Canadian Armoured Fighting Vehicle School got off to a rocky start, however. In early 1940, National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) ordered the Tank School to close and convert to infantry training. MGen Worthington saw this as a big mistake, and did not disband the tactics, wireless and gunnery training sections of CAVFTC, something that NDHQ did not notice this for a long time. The ill-advised decision to terminate armoured training was reversed on 13 August 1940, with the official formation of the Canadian Armoured Corps. Former Calvery units were converted to Armoured.

The Canadian Armoured Fighting Vehicle School would go through several more name changes before finally settling on A33 Canadian Armoured Corps Training Establishment. Two smaller schools were also established – A27 Canadian Armoured Corps Training Centre and A28 Canadian Armoured Corps Training Centre. A27 CACTC moved to Camp Dundurn in January 1942.

Range facilities were constructed at Borden for the Armoured School, but proved inadequate due to other training going on at the same time. As a result, the Meaford Armoured Fighting Vehicle Range, known locally as “The Meaford Tank Range” opened in 1942 on 17,500 acres of land on the shores of Georgian Bay.

In the nearby Town of Barrie, the Grey & Simcoe Foresters were placed on active service in 1940. The Grey & Simcoe Foresters were broken into Two Battalions, with the newly formed 2nd Battalion remaining a reserve force regiment, providing reinforcements for the active service 1st Battalion. At the time, the Grey & Simcoe Foresters were an infantry regiment, but on 15 May 1942, 1st Battalion was re-designated an armoured regiment.  The regiment was re-named 26 Army Tank Regiment, Grey & Simcoe Foresters, a designation they would hold until 1943, when the unit dispersed and it’s members assimilated with other Active Force armoured regiments.

It’s also interesting to note that for the duration of the war, wives of married Permanent Force members were relocated to accommodations in Barrie.

Several wartime schools also opened in 1940 including A10 & A11 Canadian Infantry Training Centre, A19 Canadian Army Service Corps Training Centre, A22 Canadian Army Medical Corps Training Centre and A32 Canadian Provost Corps Training Centre.

After the closure of No. 1 Service Flying Training School in 1946, primary training was concentrated at RCAF Station Centralia, but Borden’s airfield remained an active air force flying field.

Technical training returned to RCAF Station Camp Borden, run by No. 2 Technical Training School and the Army’s Camp Borden continued to serve as a post-war Army training centre for combat arms and support trades.

RCAF Detachments Edenvale and Alliston were abandoned. All RCAF buildings were either torn down or moved after the War.

The RCAF School of Photography re-located to Borden from RCAF Station Rockcliffe in 1950.

By 1957, the Flying Control School moved into Hangar 9 at RCAF Station Camp Borden, the hangar which also included the control tower.

The Steadman Building, named after Air Vice-Marshall Ernest W. Steadman, was built in 1958 as the avionics maintenance centre for the CF-105 Avro Arrow.  When the Arrow was scrapped the following year, all the equipment related to the Arrow was removed and scrapped.

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, and post-Unification 700 Communications Squadron, staffed the facility.

In 1966, RCAF Station Camp Borden and Canadian Army Camp Borden merged into one large base: CFB Borden. Several new schools were added to Borden’s already large roster including Aerospace and Ordinance, Physical Education and Recreation Instructor, Instructional Techniques, CF Fire Fighting Academy, Music, Aerospace Technology, Leadership, Languages, and Chaplain Schools.

No. 1 Primary Flying School re-located to Borden after the closure of RCAF Station Centralia. This move was short-lived however, as the school once again re-located to CFB Portage La Prairie in Manitoba in 1970, where it became No. 3 Canadian Forces Flying Training School. A flypast of five Chipmunk aircraft at a ceremony on April 13, 1970 signaled the end of flying training at Borden for another 26 years.

The Borden Flying Club, who also re-located to Borden from RCAF Station Centralia in 1958, continued to use the airfield until re-locating again to the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport in 2002.

In 1968, the Canadian School of Aerospace and Ordnance Training was established at CFB Borden and the Air Training Wing became known as the Air Traffic Control Company.

In September 1968, the Naval Supply School, originally from HMCS Hochelaga in Lasalle, Quebec, merged with the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps School and the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps School to form the new Canadian Forces School of Administration and Logistics at CFB Borden.

Infantry training also ended at Borden in the late 1960s when the Infantry School relocated.

Armoured Corps training probably enjoyed the longest continuous stay at Borden, from 1938 until the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps School relocated to CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick in 1970.

Worthington Park, now a part of the Base Borden Military Museum complex, was established in honour of Major-General F.F. Worthington, the father of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps. When “Worthy” died in 1967, his body was flown by a RCAF Caribou aircraft to Camp Borden and in accordance with his wishes, was interred in Worthington Park. Four Centurian tanks fired a 13 gun salute and three RCAF Chipmunk aircraft did a low-level “fly-past”, in tribute to a great soldier and Canadian.

In 1970 the Ammunition Depot became an independent unit, the Canadian Forces Ammunition Depot Angus.

In 1975, the Military Air Traffic Control Company re-located to Cornwall to join with Ministry of Transport Air Traffic Services School, where the remain today, now known as the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Control Operations.

With the end of the Cold War in 1991, several changes occurred at Borden. The Borden Bunker, which fortunately was never used for anything beyond being a communications station, was vacated in 1994. The bunker would later serve 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.

The Edenvale Transmitter Station bunker was occupied until 1988, but it wasn’t until 1994 when the station finally closed. The bunker was sealed up and the Edenvale property was once again abandoned.  The property sat empty for almost 10 years until it was finally purchased by Toronto businessman Milan Kroupa in 2002.  In 2004, the property came back to life as the Edenvale Aerodrome and has gone onto become a very successful private aerodrome with 6 hangars and 3 active runways, although only runway 08/26 is an original runway.

The bunker can still be seen from Highway 26 as an odd looking mound of earth in the middle of an open field, with 2 covered entrances leading into it.  It was re-opened and is now used for storage.

An infantry presence briefly returned to Borden in 1993 with the arrival of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, a 10-90 Battalion (10% Regular Force, 90% Reserve Force), but by 1997 3 RCR had departed for CFB Petawawa.

In 1996, military flying training returned to Borden when 400 Squadron moved to Borden after the closure of CFB Toronto, marking the first time a flying unit had been stationed at Borden since 1970. The Squadron, a combined Regular Force – Reserve Force unit under command of 1 Wing (located at CFB Kingston), with their fleet of CH146 Griffin helicopters, operate from a helicopter pad and the two large, post-World War II “Arch-style” hangars at the east end of the airfield.

The crumbling tarmac was abandoned in 1997, meaning it was no longer maintained, but it wasn’t closed to air traffic until 2003.

In 1999, a new aircraft control tower was constructed at the aerodrome and dedicated to the memory of Royal Flying Corps Cadet James Harold Talbot.  Cadet Talbot has the unfortunate distinction of being the first aviation fatality at Camp Borden, resulting from the crash of his Curtis J.N. 4 “Jenny” aeroplane on 8 April 1917.

Also in 1999, Borden briefly made a return to providing basic training to Canadian Forces recruits. The Naval Reserve Training Division Borden was established to train both Regular and Reserve Force sailors. 16 Wing also provided basic training for members of the Air Force Reserve for a period. Although NRTD remained primarily a recruit school for Reservists, it also instructed Regular Force recruits and currently runs specialized indoctrination courses for Regular Force members. This included the establishment of the Canadian Forces Leadership & Recruit School Detachment in September 2005 to handle overflow recruits from the CFL & RS in St. Jean, Quebec. This training program became a permanent part of Borden under the purview of Naval Reserve Training Division Borden.

In January 2005, the Borden Bunker was closed and sealed up and with it, the door was closed on an interesting chapter in the history of CFB Borden.

Only seven of the original eighteen Royal Flying Corps hangars remain today, and the existence of this important element in Canada’s military and aviation history is in serious doubt. Despite the fact that the hangars have been dedicated as historic buildings, up to three more may have to be demolished.  For now, those hangars have been wrapped in industrial plastic sheeting to forestall any further deterioration.

Additionally, two hangars have been individually dedicated: Hangar #11 was dedicated to the memory of World War I Victoria Cross winner Lieutenant Alan McLeod, VC, on 3 April 2004 and Hangar #18 was named the Grant Building in memory of WWII hero Flight Lieutenant Duncan Marshall “Bitsy” Grant, DFC, in October 2002.

The aerodrome is now a shadow of its former self as Runway 18/36 and the taxiway were ripped up and the land re-sod. A small section of the runway 05/23 remains, along with a helicopter pad.  However, the aerodrome still sees occasional use by air cadet gliders and tow-planes.

In addition to being the home to 400 Squadron, Borden currently has 2 other operational Reserve Force units: 3 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group and 700 Communications Squadron, all of which conduct year-round training for their members at Borden.

On 5 June 2006, Borden honored Wasauksing First Nation war hero Francis Pegahmagabow, Canada’s most decorated First Peoples soldier and a veteran of WWI, by naming headquarters building of the 3 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group after him.   Three Canadian Ranger Patrol is a unit made up almost entirely of 400 Cree, Ojibwa and Oji-Cree reservists living in isolated communities in northern Ontario.  Ontario Lt.-Gov. James Bartleman oversaw the dedication service.

However, Borden’s primary focus is providing training for the “Support Trades”, that being administration, supply, Mobile Support Equipment Operators (MSE OPs), medical personnel, military police, firefighters, mechanics, weapons technicians and aircraft technician trades, just to name a few. These support trades are the backbone of the military. The infantry may be the ones on the front line fighting the enemy, but they wouldn’t be able to do their jobs for long if not for the support trades. For example, Supply Technicians provide the infantry with things like their ammunition and food, the MSE OPs to deliver the ammunition and food to the front lines and the medical personnel to “patch them up” when they are wounded. Helicopter and fighter pilots also wouldn’t be able to do their jobs if not for the Aircraft Structures Technicians. This is where Base Borden provides a vital function.

The schools under the command of the Canadian Forces Support Training Group are: Canadian Forces Chaplain School, Canadian Forces Fire Academy, Canadian Forces Nuclear Biological Chemical School, Canadian Forces School of Administration & Logistics, Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineering School and Canadian Forces Training & Development Centre.

The Canadian Forces Support Training Group also oversees 3 additional schools: Canadian Forces School of Military Intelligence (located at CFB Kingston), Canadian Forces School of Construction Engineering (located at CFB Kingston) and Canadian Forces School of Military Engineering (located at CFB Gagetown).

16 Wing Borden, guardian of the Royal Canadian Air Force presence at Base Borden, is Canada’s largest Air Force training wing. 16 Wing oversees 3 training schools: Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology and Engineering, which trains almost half of all Air Force personnel, RCAF Academy, which provides Air Force leadership and Professional Development training and Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Control Operations, located at the NAVCAN Training School in Cornwall, who provide training to military air traffic and weapons controllers.

Other schools and units located at Base Borden include: Royal Canadian Medical Services School, Canadian Forces Language School Detachment Borden, Canadian Forces Military Police Academy, Canadian Forces Recruiting Group Headquarters, 31 Canadian Forces Health Services, Canadian Forces Health Services Training Centre, 1 Dental Unit, Canadian Forces School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, Canadian Forces Chaplain School, Canadian Forces Logistics Training Centre, Canadian Forces Fire and CBRN Academy.

Recommended readings more on the above: For the full history of the Pinetree Line radar stations, visit the Pinetree Line web site at – www.pinetreeline.org. Visit the Diefenbunker web site at www.diefenbunker.ca . The Edenvale Radio Control Flyers Club web site – www.edenvaleflyers.ca. The Edenvale Flying Club web site – www.edenflight.com . The Edenvale Aerodrome web site at www.edenvaleaerodrome.com. Read “Abandoned Military Installations of Canada Volume I: Ontario”, “Abandoned Military Installations of Canada Volume II: Quebec”, “Abandoned Military Installations of Canada Volume III: Atlantic”, and “Bunkers, Bunkers Everywhere” by Paul Ozorak.

Source Material: www.c-and-e-museum.org, information supplied by Greg Barker, Department of Justice Canada (2001), information supplied by Fred Simpson, Treasurer, Borden Flying Club (2002), Sentinel Magazine from September 1966 & September 1972, Armour School History web page – http://www.brunnet.net/armourschool/History.htm  the personal recollections of the author (2000), Central Region Cadets web site – http://www.central.cadets.ca/public/ecadre_e.html, The Borden Gazette, dated 13 March 2002 & information supplied by Master Warrant Officer Norman Marion, 16 Wing Public Affairs Officer/Wing Historian (2001 – 2004).

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/camp-borden-the-birthplace-of-the-rcaf-and-the-historic-home-of-the-canadian-armoured-corps/

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