BCATP Airfields Then and Now

This forum contains affiliate links to products on Amazon and eBay. More information in Terms and rules


Nov 16, 2008
Some time ago in the "WW2 in my Backyard" thread, I mentioned that I might post pictures of former Bomber Command Air Training Plan (BCATP) airfields that I have visited. Several of these are in the vicinity of where I now live and their legacies can be seen to this day in varying degrees. Given that there was some interest and also given that the potential scope is very large, I thought it best to dedicate a thread to the subject rather than bury it in the other one. Well, having now cancelled my golf game today due to severe smoke levels from active forest fires in the province, I thought it might be a good time to sit down and start this project. First off, some historical background is in order and, rather than attempt to write it myself, I have shamelessly extracted the below information from this site: The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan - The Second World War - History - Remembrance - Veterans Affairs Canada

In 1939, [Canadian] Prime Minister Mackenzie King had a dream which he believed was a sign of "the power of the airplane in determining ultimate victory" for the war effort. That dream became a reality in the form of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP).

Across the country, Canadians mobilized to take part in this gigantic undertaking—an army of experts had to be assembled, airfields developed and equipment, including airplanes, had to be obtained. Between 1940 and 1945, some 151 schools had been established across Canada with a ground organization of 104,113 men and women.

By the end of the Second World War, the BCATP had produced 131,553 aircrew, including pilots, wireless operators, air gunners, and navigators for the Air Forces of Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The challenge was formidable. But when the free world needed a champion, Canada answered the call.

Creation of the Plan
At the start of the Second World War, the British Government looked to the Dominions for air training help because the United Kingdom did not have the space to accommodate training and operational facilities, and because aerodromes in the United Kingdom were vulnerable to enemy attack. In comparison with Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, Canada offered particular advantages: its proximity to Britain allowed for easier transportation of men and equipment; Canada had a larger capacity to manufacture aircraft; and Canadian industries had easy access to the U.S. market for aircraft parts.

Upon considering the United Kingdom's September 1939 proposal, Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King believed the training plan would be "the most essential military action that Canada could undertake. " It was an opportunity for the Canadian government to make a significant commitment to the Allied war effort without repeating the dark legacies of the First World War: stalemated trench warfare, unprecedented casualties, and conscription to replace the depleted troops. According to King's initial conception of the BCATP, volunteers for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) would remain in Canada, training recruits from other parts of the Commonwealth (namely the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand). King could keep his no conscription promise and still help the Allies.

The Agreement
The final agreement—signed by Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand on 17 December 1939—listed the percentage of trainees each country would send, the percentage of costs each would take on, the training schedule, and the aerodrome opening schedule. To accommodate its shortage of foreign currency, the United Kingdom paid its portion by supplying and transporting necessary materials that Canada could not provide, such as aircraft, spare parts, airframes, and engines.

When the BCATP came to a close on 31 March 1945, the four participating governments had spent $2.2 billion on the training plan, $1.6 billion of which was Canada's share. After the war, the Canadian government calculated that the United Kingdom owed Canada over $425 million for running British schools transferred to Canada and for purchasing aircraft and other equipment when Britain could not provide the necessary numbers. By March 1946, the Canadian government canceled Britain's debt, absorbing the cost itself.


A Demanding Training Regime
The BCATP expected a lot from its recruits. The exhaustive curriculum and intensive schedule of classroom and flight training turned out air crew members at a dizzying pace, ready to serve overseas.
Elementary training took approximately eight weeks, which included at least 50 hours of flying. Aircraft commonly used at Elementary Flying Training Schools [EFTS} were de Havilland Tiger Moths, Fleet Finches, and Fairchild Cornells.


A tractor pulls a Fairey Battle from its hangar, Trenton, Ontario, February 1940.
Library and Archives Canada PA-143898

Successful trainees then progressed to Service Flying Training Schools [SFTS] for more advanced instruction. Because syllabus revisions were made throughout the war, the course length varied from 10 to 16 weeks, and flying time varied from 75 to 100 hours. Potential fighter pilots trained on single-engine North American Harvards while pilots selected for bomber, coastal, and transport operations received training on twin-engine Avro Ansons, Cessna Cranes, or Airspeed Oxfords.

After five weeks of theoretical training at Initial Training Schools, air observers would move to Air Observer Schools for a 12-week course on aerial photography, reconnaissance, and air navigation. This also included 60 to 70 hours of practical experience in the air. Observers learned the science of bombing during their 10-week stay at a Bombing and Gunnery School. With an additional four weeks at an Air Navigation School, recruits were then ready for posting overseas. After June 1942, the duties of the air observer were divided between navigators and air bombers, thus replacing the observer category.


Pilot descends from a Fleet Finch at #7 Elementary Flying Training School, Windsor, Ontario, July 1940. Canadian Forces Photo Unit PL-1025

Navigators specializing in bombing spent eight weeks at a Bombing and Gunnery School and 12 weeks at an Air Observer School. These men were then qualified as both navigators and bomb aimers. Navigators specializing as wireless operators trained for 28 weeks at a Wireless Training School and 22 weeks at an Air Observer School. Airmen studying to be air bombers spent five weeks at an Initial Training School, 8 to 12 weeks at a Bombing and Gunnery School, and six weeks at an Air Observer School. Besides learning how to drop bombs accurately, air bombers learned the map-reading and observations skills necessary for assisting navigators.

Wireless operator-air gunners spent 28 weeks at a Wireless Training School where they became proficient in radio work. Gunnery training took six weeks at a Bombing and Gunnery School. Straight air gunners, also taught at Bombing and Gunnery Schools, underwent a 12-week program involving ground training and actual air firing practice. Later in the war, a flight engineer was added to heavy bomber crews. Besides being an aero-engine technician, flight engineers received enough training to be able to replace a pilot who was killed or injured. Most engineers were trained in the United Kingdom, but about 1,900 engineers eventually graduated from the Flight Engineers School in Aylmer, Ontario, once it opened in July 1944.


A Cornell from #5 Elementary Flying Training School, Lethbridge, Alberta. Canadian Forces Photo Unit PMR-81-270


Community Connections
Although the BCATP was only in operation for five years and ended decades ago, its widespread impact can still be felt today. All provinces except Newfoundland (which had not joined Confederation yet) hosted schools, and many current-day communities can trace connections to the BCATP. Often, local residents joined the RCAF and attended these schools, while scores of communities hosted a main BCATP airport, relief aerodrome, or emergency landing field.

An Economic Boom
Coming on the heels of the Great Depression, the economic benefits of the BCATP were warmly welcomed by Canadian communities. Even before the final BCATP agreement was signed, local officials began lobbying the government to build an aerodrome in their community.

As bases were being built, local companies expected to win contracts for labour, gravel, and lumber supplies. Residents hoped to be employed on construction crews, while merchants anticipated that construction workers would spend their pay cheques on housing, food, clothing, and recreation.


Aerial view of #5 Bombing and Gunnery School, Dafoe, Saskatchewan.
Canadian Forces Photo Unit REA-107-119

Construction was not the only economic benefit of the BCATP aerodromes—large numbers of students, instructors, and their families brought business to local merchants. Host communities also benefited when local companies secured contracts for supplying electricity, water, natural gas, coal, and food to the base. Once in operation, the airport needed to fill many civilian positions, from clerical posts to aerodromes and aircraft maintenance.

Newspapers in Saskatoon noted how "Jarvis [Ontario], with a normal population of less than 600, has been transformed into a thriving town since preparations for the training centre [a Bombing and Gunnery School] began.As Yorkton, Saskatchewan, waited for construction of its aerodrome to be completed, the local newspaper projected the Service Flying Training School to be staffed "with personnel of one thousand with a monthly payroll of $100,000. In addition, the town estimated that "fifty percent of the officers will be married and will require furnished quarters.


Australian pilots making snowballs at #2 Service Flying Training School, Ottawa, Ontario, November 1940. Canadian Forces Photo Unit PL-1831

Civilians Doing Their Part
Besides gaining employment as mechanics, cooks, clerks, engineers, and labourers at BCATP aerodromes, civilians also contributed to the training plan by instructing and operating schools. Twenty-nine Elementary Flying Training Schools and all 10 Air Observer Schools were run by local companies, airlines, and flying clubs. Incorporating civilians into the early stages of air crew training allowed the RCAF to take advantage of qualified instructors and already-built aerodromes as early as the spring of 1940. This civilian participation kick-started the BCATP even as the aerodrome infrastructure was being expanded and recruits were being trained as instructors for advanced pilot courses.

Snow rollers compacting the snow into a hard icy surface several inches thick, at #36 Service Flying Training School, Penhold, Alberta. Canadian Forces Photo Unit PMA-84-978

Shaping Canada's Social Fabric
While lobbying for BCATP construction, Canadian communities were also eager for the social benefits of interaction with the air force. The Secretary-Treasurer of Mossbank, Saskatchewan, believed that a training school would bolster national pride in the citizens of his town: "The work and presence amongst us of many members of the Air Force would give our people a new spirit, make them conscious they are directly interested in the successful issue of the war, stimulate recruiting, [and] arouse their national feelings.

Canadians took great pride in making the trainees feel a part of their communities, and the air force personnel warmly welcomed the morale-boosting recreation that came from meeting with local civilians, who were often invited to station parties and dances. Local residents attended wings presentations and graduation ceremonies, and bases were often open for the public to view and participate in sports competitions. Communities provided recreational diversions for airmen with summer fairs and winter carnivals, while station bands frequently provided the entertainment for community events. At some schools, airmen helped civilians bring in fall harvests.


Residents of St. Catherines, Ontario—including this woman refueling a Tiger Mother—made #9 Elementary Flying Training School their special war effort. Canadian Forces Photo Unit PMA-75-361

The mingling of residents and trainees often permanently altered the demographics of a community. When local women married airmen from Britain, Australia, or New Zealand, the new wives would leave their community and move to her husband's country. Conversely, many grooms relocated to Canada after the war, bringing with them different cultures and customs. By the end of the war, more than 3,750 RAF, RAAF, and RNZF members found Canadian wives.


A de Havilland Tiger Moth. Canadian Forces Photo Unit PL-3581

Present-Day Reminders
Many reminders of the BCATP can be seen across Canada today. The airports of many cities and towns were once part of the BCATP aerodrome infrastructure. Some of these civilian aerodromes may have already existed in 1939, but they received significant upgrading and modernization such as paved runways and runway extensions to meet BCATP requirements. Many other communities entered the world of commercial aviation for the first time by taking over the RCAF training aerodromes in their areas once the schools closed. Numerous military bases in use today were once BCATP schools, and even Canada's participation in NATO air training stems from the BCATP legacy of the Second World War.

Canadian communities have been left with other permanent reminders of the BCATP's impact on their history. Some airmen paid the supreme sacrifice – losing their lives in training accidents, other mishaps or due to illness without even leaving Canadian soil. Of the 856 BCATP participants who either died or were seriously injured while at training schools, 469 were RCAF, 291 RAF, 65 RAAF, and 31 RNZF. Sadly, some Royal Canadian Air Force–Women’s Division members also lost their lives while serving at BCATP bases during the war. Although the bodies of the fallen Canadians were usually returned to their hometowns, Commonwealth recruits who died were buried in cemeteries of nearby communities. Usually one town was chosen as the official burial site, and these graves can still be found today. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains the graves of those members of the Commonwealth Forces who died in Canada.

The BCATP was a tremendous feat in itself: more than 100 aerodromes and emergency landing fields were built and more than 130,000 airmen were trained—all in only five years. The BCATP and its contribution to the Second World War air effort and the Allied victory should be remembered not only because it was an important chapter in Canada's history, but also because of its lasting legacy.

This legacy can still be seen today in the museums and memorials to this important chapter of Canada’s Second World War heritage. Perhaps the most visible of these is the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum in Brandon, Manitoba. This large museum, on the site of a former BCATP base, preserves a number of original buildings as they were during the conflict, numerous war-era aircraft (some of which are still flying), ground vehicles and thousands of other smaller artifacts.

Also on the site is the beautiful Royal Canadian Air Force Second World War British Commonwealth Air Training Program Memorial which lists the names and dates of death for the more than 18,000 men and women who gave their lives in service to the RCAF, as well as the Canadians who died while serving in the Royal Air Force, Fleet Air Arm and Ferry Command during the Second World War.

Other military museums and memorials that pay tribute to the BCATP can also be found across the country in places like Middleton, NS, Oshawa, ON, Regina, SK, and Sidney, BC, to name just a few.

****End of Extract****

With that, I will begin posting shortly information that I collected on specific airfields that I visited and invite anyone else to jump in and do the same.


Benevolens Magister
Aug 24, 2008
Cheshire, UK
Good stuff Andy, looking forward to some pics.
Back in the 1980's and early '90s, I visited a number of former BC airfields in Britain, where runways, dispersals, and a few buildings still survived.
Sadly, 'progress' has now eliminated most of these, although their outlines can often still be seen from the air (or on Google).


Nov 16, 2008
Thanks for your interest Terry and yes many of the legacies can be seen only from the air as will become evident.

OK, I'll start with #15 SFTS, Claresholm Alberta. First, to get you oriented. Claresholm is a town about an hour's drive south of my home in Calgary.




Here's a period pic taken in September 1943 (source Library and Archives Canada). As you can see, many of the buildings are still standing. Note the triangular layout of the runways typical of many of these fields.

Last edited:


Benevolens Magister
Aug 24, 2008
Cheshire, UK
Again, good stuff.
Old airfields have always fascinated me, and visiting them often has a 'certain atmosphere', imaging the events that took place, and the people involved.


Nov 16, 2008
Yep, more on this soon. I hit the "Post" button too quickly and will add more soon. It takes a while to gather all the pics and post descriptions. Stay tuned.


Nov 16, 2008
From: Claresholm Industrial Airport has rich military past – Canadian Military History

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.

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 built their 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.

Here are my pics taken May 29, 2019:

Claresholm 19052901.jpg
Claresholm 19052902.jpg
Claresholm 19052903.jpg

Original hangar from the 40's with modern HVAC added

Claresholm 19052904.jpg

A pity that there was smoke haze in the area as you can just see the foothills of the mountains in the background. It must have been a beautiful area to fly in.

Claresholm 19052905.jpg
Claresholm 19052906.jpg
Claresholm 19052907.jpg
Claresholm 19052908.jpg
Claresholm 19052909.jpg

Old hangar with modern enhancements:

Claresholm 19052910.jpg

More to come....


Jun 13, 2019
HI! I am actually modeling in 3D the BCATP 9th Bombing and Gunnery school of Mont-Joli, QC. Understandably not a lot of attention has been given to the buildings, so its very hard ( for me ) to find accurate information about specific buildings. Your pictures just gave me a lot of references for the maintenance garages. Thank you so much!


Senior Master Sergeant
Aug 10, 2009
Would be interested in Summerside PEI. Have only found a small grainy photo so far.

Users who are viewing this thread