During World War Two the Royal Canadian Air Force constructed a number of air bases in Southern Alberta to be used by the Commonwealth Air Training Program. It’s here where pilots from all over the British Empire were instructed in flying fighters, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. The airport seen here near the town of Vulcan and is an example of one of those bases.
Actually it’s not really in Vulcan and instead is some 16km away nearer a town called Kirkcaldy (Vulcan, KIRKcaldy there is a pattern here – there is also a Kirk’s Tire in Vulcan – funny stuff).
Opps, I’m off topic…
This particular base opened in 1942 and closed by the spring of 1945. Afterwards it was used as a public airport and an industrial site, but over time fell into disrepair. Only recently has there been an effort to save or at least re-use this historical base.
Since my previous visit some fifteen years ago (no pictures) when the placed seem totally abandoned, now there is some activity. There is a sky diving operation and many of the hangers have been stabilized and seem to be used for storage and such. Plus the grounds have been cleaned up, for the most part anyway. The brush has been cut down and most old junk removed. There were lots of old tires around the site before.
This visit just one hanger seemed unused, but even it was not in terribly rough shape, save for many broken windows. Looking inside it appears as though some work was being done on it. We limited our exploration to this hanger and the immediate area.
At one corner of the base, an odd looking concrete structure is seen, looking much like a drive-in theatre screen. According to some limited information found it was used to line up sights on the aircraft (or maybe not – see comments), although how exactly that’s done was not made clear. I have seen these same exact looking structures at other Commonwealth Air Training Program bases elsewhere, so they were in some way an important feature.
In addition to this Aerodrome, there were other bases in this part of Alberta, including one in Calgary, DeWinton (or De Winton), High River, Claresholm, Fort MacLeod, Pearce and Ensign and maybe one or two others I have not yet heard of.
Of those mentioned the Calgary site has only a couple hangers left and the rest has been paved over and is an industrial park deep inside of town. High River’s is just a shadow in a field with one hanger left, used by an industry, and also for the most part obliterated, is the one at Ensign. The others however are still recognizable as air bases to one degree or another. The DeWinton one has a sign stating it’s the South Calgary Airport – we’ve visited it.
Nearly all these old airports have been used for other purposes after being decommissioned, the hangers that is, and they host or have hosted a number of business and industries over the years. These large hangers are well suited for this.
Those airports turned into industrial parks include Calgary, High River (only one building), and some of Claresholm’s and Fort MacLeod’s.
Those still functioning as a working airport to some degree include Vulcan, only recently reactivated and used today by a sky diving company for one. Fort MacLeod is also a working airport, albeit they had a new runway built over top of the old ones, and is also part industrial park. Claresholm is also half airport, half industrial park.
Those that appear totally abandoned or for the most part forgotten include DeWinton, Pearce and Ensign.
In additional to infrastructure to support the aircraft and their maintenance, for the people working here there were dormitories, commissaries, schools and sports fields. It was much like a small self contained town and they even had their own fire department. On my last visit in the 1990s many of these out buildings still stood, including one belonging to the motor pool, but these are now gone.
Notice the alignment of each airport and how all are similar in this respect. I am not sure the reason behind this, or if it was just the way it worked out. Perhaps someone can chime in?
Update November 2013: I have just learned of two more WW2 era RCAF airports, one of them in Pearce. For some reason I overlooked this one, perhaps because there is little information online or maybe that it was overshadowed by the nearby Fort MacLeod airport. These two things could have conspired to make it easy to miss – in any case, it’s on my to-do list to research.
The second new-to-me airport is in Ensign Alberta. This one is mostly gone and only some ghost outlines of the runways and some cement pads can be seen. The facilities at this airport seem smaller than the others and I have been told this was a “backup” airport, used for practice approaches and emergency landings only in support of the Vulcan (Kirkcaldy) facility. Only a hanger existed here from the looks of it, little else.
Satellite pictures courtesy of Google.
To see a World War Two era truck that may have worked at one of these airfields, refer to this report…
A treasure trove of old trucks.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: October 2011
Location: Near Vulcan AB.