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Camp Borden’s Ongoing Legacy

Published in Esprit de Corps Magazine
June 2006
Published in the Barrie Advance
November 2005
Simcoe County has always had a proud military heritage. Canadian Forces Base Borden has been a fixture in the area since it opened on July 11, 1916. Named after Sir Frederick Borden, Minister of Militia under Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, Camp Borden was originally established as an infantry training centre. The first occupants of the camp, the 157th and 177th Infantry Battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, were housed in bell tents, as there were no barracks at the time.

The camp quickly grew to include a Royal Flying Corps pilot training school and airfield, which has the distinction of being Canada’s first military airfield, in March 1917. By 1924, RCAF Station Camp Borden would be the largest military flying station of its day.

The two camps, Canadian Army Camp Borden and RCAF Station Camp Borden would continue to operate as separate training camps, with separate Base Commanders, until 1968 when they were merged to form CFB Borden, unified under a single Base Commander.

So what is going on at Base Borden today? Well, a lot has changed at Borden over the years, but one thing has remained the same: the primary focus of training Canada’s military personnel.

One of the changes is that Base Borden is no longer an Army base or an Air Force Base. As mentioned above, while this was once true, Base Borden is actually considered a Training Base; home to 11 training schools, the majority of which are under the command of the Canadian Forces Support Training Group and 16 Wing Borden. With a permanent population of approximately 3,200 military personnel, 1,500 civilian personnel, a student population of 4,000 – 6, 000 and a field training area of 22,000 acres, Borden serves as a training centre for approximately 45 military occupations from the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Another change is that Base Borden is no longer a training camp for infantry, armoured corps (tanks) and aircraft pilots, otherwise known as “Combat Arms” trades. Aircraft pilot training in ceased in 1946, made a return in 1966 and then ceased again in 1970 when the Primary Flying School re-located to CFB Portage La Prairie in Manitoba.

Infantry training ended at Borden in the late 1960s when the Infantry School relocated. An infantry presence did return 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.

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.

Today, Borden’s primary focus is the “Support Trades”, that being administration, supply, truck drivers, 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 their bullets and food, the truck drivers to deliver the bullets and food 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, Canadian Forces School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering 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, guardians of the 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, Air Command 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: Canadian Forces Health Services Academy, Canadian Forces Language School Detachment Borden, Canadian Forces Military Police Academy, Canadian Forces Recruiting Group Headquarters, Regional Cadet Support Unit (Central) Headquarters, which supports the Blackdown Army Cadet Summer Training Centre, Regional Cadet Instructor School, and one of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets Central Region Gliding Centres.

Although no longer a training centre for aircraft pilots, flying training did make a return to Borden with the arrival of 400 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in 1996. The squadron, a combined Regular Force – Reserve Force unit under command of 1 Wing (located at CFB Kingston), operate from a helicopter pad and the two large, post-World War II “Arch-style” hangars at the east end of the airfield. However, the airfield was abandoned in 2002 and the slowly crumbling runways are currently void of airplanes.

In addition, Borden 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. Borden is also making a return to providing basic training to Canadian Forces recruits. In 1999, the Naval Reserve Training Division Borden was established to train both Regular and Reserve Force sailors. As well, 16 Wing provides basic training for members of the Air Force Reserve.

Base Borden’s most recent initiative is the establishment of the Canadian Forces Leadership & Recruit School (CFL & RS) Detachment to handle overflow recruits from the CFL & RS in St. Jean, Quebec. Due to increasing enrollment levels, 300 recruits began their basic training this past September at Borden. This training program is expected to last until at least 2007, when the Borden Detachment could become a permanent school.

This increase in enrollment in the Canadian Forces is even reflected here in Barrie, where the Canadian Forces Recruiting Centre Barrie has seen a significant increase in the number of recruits coming through their doors. According to Sergeant Peter Stibbard, CFRC Barrie has recruited more candidates this year to date than all of last year. Many of the recruits Sergeant Stibbard sees are highly educated, informed and motivated people who want a good career with benefits, job security, good training, a pension, room for advancement and adventure. “Many tell us we are their employer of choice,” says Sergeant Stibbard.

Sergeant Stibbard attributes this rise in recruitment in part to an increased recruiting initiatives, with great support from the Chief of Defense Staff, Major General Rick Hillier, CMM, CD, which include an enhanced web site (www.recruiting.forces.gc.ca), multi media presentations, increased initiatives in schools and taking advantage of the technological advances. Sergeant Stibbard stressed that a great tool for recruiters has been “e-recruiting”, where the potential recruit can submit all the initial recruiting forms on-line and a recruiter contacts them later for the necessary in-person stages. This tool has proven great for communities and people that don’t have easy access to recruiting Centres.

However, Base Borden is not solely about all things military. The base also has a strong sense of community involvement. Approximately 700 military and civilian personnel recently raised $28,000 for the Terry Fox Run and base personnel continue to raise money year round with the United Way program, which allows military members to wear civilian clothes to work in return for a donation.

Base Borden personnel are also increasingly becoming residents of Simcoe County communities. A good housing market in Barrie, Alliston and surrounding areas has provided an incentive for more and more military members to purchase homes off base instead living in rented military housing, known as Private Married Quarters (PMQs), many of which were built in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Obviously the appeal of the PMQs for service members has traditionally been the ability to simply pack up and move when they are posted to a new base, rather that having to worry about selling their house. Now service members are able to have a sense of putting down roots, build home equity and become a part of the neighboring communities.

Base Borden returns the favour by providing services, education and entertainment to residents of the surrounding communities. Base Borden is open to the general public, who are welcome to shop at the Base Canex Store, visit the Base Borden Museum (which features some military vehicles that are the only ones of their kind left in existence), use the Borden gym and arena, take in a round of golf on one of the two golf courses on base, have a meal at Bleachers Restaurant & Sports Bar or take in a movie at the Terra Theatre. Incidentally, special family and birthday party rates at Terra Theatre are the lowest in Simcoe County.

The general public may also join any of the numerous clubs on the base, including the Aikido Club, Badminton Club, Barracuda Swim Club, the Climbing Club, Figure Skating Club, Bowling Club, Quilting Interest Group, SCUBA Club, Motorcycle Club or the Base Borden Rod & Gun Club, just to name a few. Base Borden is home to the Canadian Forces National Sports Program and as such annually hosts several National Sports Competitions. Next year will be the host for some venues connected to the Ontario Winter Games. The Commonwealth Games may even come to Base Borden in 2014.

In 2006, CFB Borden will be celebrating the 90th anniversary of its founding. According to the Base Commander’s Staff Officer, Major Eldon Ellis, as a part of the anniversary celebrations, Base Borden will make a formal request to the City of Barrie to exercise their “Freedom of the City” with a parade through the downtown core. Other initiatives include a proposed Military Heritage Park for Barrie.

Base Commander Colonel Stewart E. Moore, CD, would like to extend an invitation to all members of the public to take part in Borden’s celebrations, both on the base and elsewhere.

Thanks to Lieutenant Fraser Clark, Public Affairs Officer, Major Eldon Ellis, Staff Officer, Chief Warrant Officer A.G. Grosse, Base Chief Warrant Officer, Sergeant Harry Strain & Corporal Steve Boyd, Canadian Forces Military Police Academy, Sergeant Peter Stibbard, CFRC Barrie, The Base Borden Military Museum, & The Borden Citizen for their assistance.

Highlights from Borden’s history:

  • July 11, 1916 – Camp Borden established as an Infantry Training Centre
  • March 1917 – the Royal Flying Corps establish a Flying Training School at Borden
  • Post-war – Borden becomes a permanent training camp
  • 1924 – the Royal Canadian Air Force is formed at RCAF Station Camp Borden
  • 1938 – the Tank School comes to Borden, renamed the Canadian Armoured Fighting Vehicles School
  • 1939 – No. 1 Service Flying Training School opens
  • 1942 – Camp Borden opens a detachment near Meaford
  • 1946 – pilot training ceases at Borden, concentrates on technical training
  • 1962 – the Provincial Government’s Emergency Operations Bunker opens
  • 1966 – RCAF Station Camp Borden & Army Camp Borden merged to form CFB Borden
  • 1966 – aircraft pilot training returns to Borden under the Primary Flying School
  • 1970 – Primary Flying School and RCACS relocate, leaving Borden a as “Support Trades” training base
  • 1989 – Royal Flying Corps Hangars declared a national historic site
  • 1994 – 16 Wing is reformed at Borden after its disbandment at CFB St. Jean
  • 1996 – helicopter training returns to Borden with the arrival of 400 Squadron
  • 1997 – Borden airfield abandoned, but continues to be used by cadet & civilian aircraft
  • 2002 – Borden airfield closed to all but helicopter flying
  • 2005 – Borden bunker officially closes and is sealed up

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-bordens-ongoing-legacy/

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