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Canadian Forces Base Borden – The complete history

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 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 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 Frederic Worthington, known affectionately to his troops as �Worthy�. The school was re-named the Canadian Armoured Fighting Vehicle School.

With the outbreak of WWII in 1939 the Canadian Government 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, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, was nothing short of remarkable.

The 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.

No. 1 Service Flying Training School (1 SFTS) was established 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, 14 & 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 farmhouse 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.

The outbreak of WWII also saw the Army�s 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. Worthy 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.

Locally, the Grey & Simcoe Foresters of Barrie 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. 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. Also in 1940, No. 13 X Depot, a detachment of No. 1 Supply depot in Weston, was established in the north end of the army camp as an ammunition depot. Also in 1940, several other wartime schools opened 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.

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. Camp Borden also continued to serve as a post-war Army training centre for combat arms and support trades.

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. All RCAF buildings were either torn down or moved after the War.

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.

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

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.

Military flying training returned in 1966 when the Primary Flying School re-located to Borden after the closure of RCAF Station Centralia, north of London. This move was short-lived however, as the school once again re-located to CFB Portage La Prairie in Manitoba in 1970. 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.

Infantry training also ended at Borden in the late 1960’s 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.

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

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 wasnï’t until 1994 when the station finally closed. The bunker was sealed up and the Edenvale property was once again abandoned. The bunker can still be seen from Hwy 26 as an odd looking mound of earth in the middle of an open field.

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. A new control tower was constructed for their use in 1999.

While helicopter training did return to Borden, aircraft training did not and the crumbling airfield was officially closed in 2002, leaving Borden�s aerodrome a shadow of its former self. Only eight 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 four more may have to be demolished. 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.

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

That’s the past, but what is going on at Borden today? In addition to being the home to 400 Squadron, 2 other operational Reserve Force units are stationed at Borden: 3 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group and 700 Communications Squadron, all of which conduct year-round training for their members at Borden.

However, Borden’s primary focus is providing training for 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.

In 1999, Borden 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.

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 at Borden in September 2005. This training program became a permanent part of Borden under the perview of Naval Reserve Training Division Borden.  Although NRTD is primarily a recruit school for Reservists, it  also instructs Regular Force recruits and currently runs specialized indoctrination courses for Regular Force members.

The crumbling tarmac was abandoned in 1997 and finally closed to air traffic in 2003.   The west runway and taxiway were ripped up and the land re-sod.  A small section of the east runway remains, along with a helicopter pad.

As for the former RCAF Detachment Edenvale, in 2002, Toronto businessman Milan Kroupa purchased Lots 13 & 14 from the Federal Government and by 2004, the old aerodrome came back to life when Kroupa opened his newest business venture, the Edenvale Flying Club (www.edenflight.com). Runway 08-26, the east-west runway, was re-opened and a new 50″ x 150″ x 14″ steel-sided hangar was built alongside. The original farmhouse, once the Sweetbriar Lodge Nursing home, was renovated and now serves as the administration building for the Edenvale Flying Club.

The Borden Flying Club moved its operations to Edenvale from the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport in 2006.  Other tenants at the aerodrome
include the Collingwood Classic Aircraft Foundation and the Edenvale Radio Control Flyers Club.  By 2008, four additional hangars were added.  A second paved runway, 13-31 and a grass strip, 17-35 were added.

Lot 15, where the RCAF buildings, hangar and the taxiway were built remains owned by other interests.

The Edenvale Radio Control Flyers Club uses a small section of the northwest to southeast runway for flying model aircraft.

As for RCAF Detachment Alliston today, not the slightest trace remains today.


The Cold War:In addition to its primary function as a training base, Borden would have played a very important role in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. 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 Federal Government in the event of an emergency. Most Provincial Governments followed suit by building their own bunkers. The Ontario Government chose Camp Borden for the site of their Emergency Operations Centre bunker, a two story underground facility that also doubled as a communications station, staffed by personnel from 40the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals. A smaller remote communications bunker was also constructed near Edenvale, at the site of a former RCAF airfield.Fortunately, the bunker was never used for its intended purpose and with the end of the Cold War, the 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 January 2005, the Borden Bunker was permanently sealed up, and with that, the door closed on an interesting piece of Ontario’s, and Simcoe County’s, military history. A similar bunker in Debert, Nova Scotia, as well as the former Federal Government bunker near Ottawa, have both been turned into Cold War museums. The “Diefenbunker” has been a great success and is a great tourist asset to the Ottawa area. Perhaps Borden’s bunker might prove to be a great tourism asset to the Barrie / GTA area, as well as a great addition to the Base Borden Military Museum organization, a museum which is currently operates from three locations including the aforementioned Hangar #11 and one of the few remaining WWII-era “H-huts” at Borden.

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/canadian-forces-base-borden-the-complete-history/

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