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Claresholm Industrial Airport has rich military past

Claresholm Local Press

2 December 2009

Longtime residents of the Claresholm area will probably remember a time when the air buzzed with the sound of RCAF aircraft from an aerodrome west of Claresholm. Early in the Second World War, the Royal Canadian Air Force entered into an ambitious project: the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, an astounding program that saw 130,000 personnel from Great Britain, Canada and other Commonwealth countries graduate from 107 training schools across Canada.

The aerodrome west of Claresholm was originally opened on 9 June 1941 as No. 15 Service Flying Training School, under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

Two Relief Landings Fields were also established near the villages of Woodhouse & Pultney. The relief fields usually consisted of one hangar, maintenance facilities and a barracks for overnight stays. Some of these relief fields also housed advanced training units for bombing or gunnery training training.

No. 15 SFTS, was an advanced flying training school where student pilots trained on the twin-engine Avro-Anson and the Cessna Crane.  The first class consisted of about forty young Canadian pilots.  Subsequent training courses consisted of pilots from Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, and even Americans, who despite their (at the time) country’s refusal to enter the war, enlisted in Commonwealth air forces.

No. 2 Flight Instructor School also operated at the Aerodrome from April-September 1942, when it re-located to Vulcan.

The end of the European war lead to the termination of the BCATP and as a result, No. 15 SFTS closed on 30 May 1945.  Approximately 1800 pilots had graduated, receiving their pilots wings in a “Wings Parade”.

The station, although not abandoned, was left with only a small caretaker staff for the rest of the 1940s and the early 1950s.

However, the Detachments at Woodhouse & Pultney were abandoned.  Today, the abandoned runways remain at Woodhouse, but nothing remains of Pultney.

The post-war growth of the RCAF resulted in many WWII stations being re-activated. RCAF Station Claresholm re-opened in 1951 under NATO Aircrew Training Plan and run by No. 3 Flying Training School (3 FTS).  Like the BCATP, the NATO Air Training Plan trained aircrew from the many countries that made up the NATO Alliance.

The station expanded from its WWII days as a result of this new training plan.  More than 140 housing units were constructed to house families of staff permanently posted to the station.  An eight room school was built, along with two churches were built, a grocery store and a barber shop.  The station now had a population of approximately 1100, including the civilian employees.

Group Captain Sampson was appointed the first commanding officer of No. 3 FTS, taking over command in mid-August 1951.  However this revitalization of RCAF Station Claresholm would sadly prove to be short-lived

By 1957, many of the countries involved had their built own training facilities so the program began to wind down.  That summer, the final intakes of students under the original NATO Aircrew Training Scheme arrived for training.  Activity at No. 3 F.T.S. began to wind down and the station officially closed August 25, 1958. Over-seeing the station closure procedures was the last C.O., Group Captain J.P. McCarthy, DFC, CD.

Although the station closed,  No. 3 F.T.S. re-located to RCAF Station Gimli, where it continued operations.

From 1958-1961, the abandoned runways were used as a racetrack for sports car and motorcycle racing.

The former station is now the Claresholm Industrial Airport. All seven original hangars remain, as do some of the station’s former buildings, including the fire hall, maintenance garages and four post-war PMQ houses.

Amongst the companies that occupy the former air force base are Frame Avaiation, an aircraft maintenance and repair company; EMERCOR, a structural insulated panel manufacturing company and Augsburg Cabinetry, a cabinet maker.

Additionally, the Municipal District of Willow Creek re-located their offices to the station, occupying a new building built for their use.

The airfield still operates as active airport, but only one runway of the original six runways remain in use.

A memorial cairn was placed at the airport and a Harvard airplane stands in Centennial Park in Claresholm, both serving as a monuments to the men and women who served at RCAF Station Claresholm and No. 15 SFTS.

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/claresholm-industrial-airport-has-rich-military-past/

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