by Peter C. Conrad
The coming of the Air Training Plan was dramatic for the Prairies, which was just emerging from nearly a decade of Depression, as it promised millions of dollars of development. With the two unrelated phenomena of the worldwide economic depression and a prolonged drought, the Prairies had suffered more than any other region in Canada during the 1930s. For other regions, the worst of the Depression was over by mid-1933, but in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, the worst years were 1936 and 1937. There was a great expectation across the West that the region would benefit substantially from the Air Training Plan.1
Communities that hoped to win a school had to demonstrate the ability to provide services it would need: roads, sewers, electric power, and water. Communities or sites in mountainous regions, with their safety hazards, or within five miles of the United States border, over which student pilots might stray, were not considered. The bombing and gunnery schools needed very large areas, about one hundred square miles, in order to avoid any danger to people or property. The navigation schools required regions to fly over containing as many different types of geography as possible, including bodies of water.
When a site fulfilled the requirements, its value, as a postwar civil or military airport was considered, with locations appearing to have potential as an active airport after the war preferred.
The value of each site was considered in terms of what it would contribute to the training command it was associated with. Every command was to have all elements of aircrew training available, as well as all of the services needed to sustain the training effort. Each of the four training commands was to be self-sufficient, with a recruiting organization, supply depots, repair depots, and training schools. In all four commands, there were initial schools, elementary flying schools, service flying schools, air observer schools, bombing and gunnery schools, and wireless schools. Sites that contributed to any one of the training commands were given preference.2
Lobbying for Schools
Most of the large cities across the Prairies had no fear that they would be ignored in the Air Training Plan. Winnipeg, Prince Albert, Regina, Saskatoon, and Calgary had been given notification of the establishment of air training facilities as early as the January before the federal election of March 1940. The cities were obvious choices as they each had a large population and the services needed and could benefit from the establishment of an airport or an upgraded airport.
By the autumn of 1940, the city of Edmonton realized the assumption that the city would automatically receive one of the largest facilities because of its existing airport was a mistake. The Edmonton Journal reported that lobbying would be needed because the city had only received an air observer school: “Announcement of the airport development expansion came within a few hours after the Edmonton chamber of commerce had protested to Ottawa that the plans for the airport were meagre in comparison with those for other centres.” The newspaper printed the contents of the protest that had been sent to Ottawa: “Edmonton businessmen are becoming disappointed over the meagre plans for the development of Edmonton’s airport compared with what is being done at other points in Alberta, such as Calgary, Macleod, Medicine Hat, and Penhold, which cannot be regarded as more important than Edmonton in this respect…. The city has made strong representations, which have been supported by this chamber of commerce that Edmonton insists on being equitably dealt with in this matter.”3
Students gather around a map at the photographic section at air observer school in Edmonton. The air observer school was established at Edmonton before the elementary school. (JRA 01534807)
The call for more participation in Edmonton was answered when the city became the host of the Number Sixteen Elementary Flying Training School on November 11, 1940 and was given Number Four Initial Training School in the summer of 1941.
Call for Their Share
Edmonton was not the only community to complain about not receiving its share when the first schools were announced. Don O’Hearn, an airframe mechanic, recalled “There was a lot of lobbying by politicians and would-be politicians to get a base in his town, to get a plant nearby. A lot of them were lobbying to get an airfield because of the construction jobs it would bring, but there would also be a lot of military people there that would spend money in the community.”4 A large number of communities across the Prairies that were angered by their absence from the first list, which included only the larger cities in the West, began lobbying efforts. The larger centres that received major facilities—Estevan, North Battleford, Yorkton, and Moose Jaw—had all followed the same pattern of lobbying for these establishments. These towns and cities acted by passing resolutions in their councils requesting that their area be considered for future air training facilities. These requests were then carried to Ottawa by civic delegations. Local members of Parliament pursued the same goals. The mayor of Moose Jaw even wrote directly to the minister of national defence to win a facility for his city. The decision to locate a school at Moose Jaw had already been made but had not been announced.5
Two communities that had unsuccessful campaigns to win an air training school were Rosetown and Melville. Both felt they had a “just claim” for a facility in their communities because they felt that their location was equal to others that had received schools. Civic delegations passed resolutions calling on the federal government to place airports in their communities, then carried them to Ottawa. However, these towns did not stop there. Both took steps to locate more wells for a better guarantee of an adequate water supply and pledged to supply roads, sewers, and power if schools were located at their centers.6
Melville made a strong claim based on the fact that it was a railway center with buildings, shops, and tradesmen available because of the CNR and the town’s poor economic condition since the railroad left the community. In the summer of 1940, Melville claimed:
The Melville and District Board of Trade has no wish to embarrass the Government with extravagant demands on behalf of this community, but believing that it has an obligation to the town, has petitioned the authorities regarding the “just” claims in connection with war developments. The board has pointed out that the town of Melville was developed as a rail road town and on the understanding that it would continue as a divisional point. The town has been one of the hardest hit by unemployment since the Canadian National Railways moved the superintendent’s office staff to Saskatoon in 1934 and the car shops closed as well as other railway work curtailed. At peak, over 200 families were in receipt of relief in this town of 4,000 population. The car shops were reopened two years ago, though not to former capacity, and increased railway traffic lately has improved … but there are still 100 families on relief. In view of these facts, the trade board believes that Melville should receive every consideration when the Government is allotting new airports etc. because the present unfavourable position of the towns is due primarily to the previous action of the nationally owned railway.7
This somewhat emotional appeal for an air training school did not result in a positive reply. No reasons were given for denying any community a school.
Placing the Schools
A pattern in the allocation of schools across the Prairies was emerging. Most Liberal constituencies received a school early in the war, followed by constituencies that had a CCF Member of Parliament, especially those CCF constituencies that had previously been Liberal. Melville was an exception to the pattern because it had been a long time supporter of the Liberal party and continued to elect Liberals during and after the war. Few Conservative constituencies received facilities.
The chances of receiving an air training school appeared to be reduced in towns that had a railway depot. It was clear from the comments in The Souris Plaindealer that general disappointment prevailed in communities that were passed over when the first schools were announced. The newspaper reported that Sir Edward Beatty, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, had given his annual address to the CPR luncheon club at Montreal, and drew “sharp attention to the fact that ‘special advantages’ have been given to the nationally-owned railway in the location of war industries.” He went on to state that:
>It has an advantage over this company in connection with the development of war industries. It has been the duty of the management of this company to impress on the government that those Canadian citizens who are in the employ of the Canadian Pacific Railways are as much entitled to share in the stimulated business activities of the nation, as are workers of the competing system been most unfortunate that, owing to the possession by the state of a railway system, which has involved the public treasury in colossal losses, there has been a very real pressure on the government to make some effort to give the publicly owned railway
The Plaindealer editorialized that Beatty’s point was well taken.
At a Souris Board of Trade committee meeting a few weeks ago. The Plaindealer drew the attention of the members to the fact that up to the present every air school established in Manitoba has been located on the Canadian National Railway. As Sir Edward Beatty says, the railway employees of the Canadian Pacific have an equal right to share in the stimulated business created by these activities of the nation.
This policy of the government is not only unfair to Canadian Pacific employees; it is having the effect of bringing towns like Souris to a state of unnecessary stagnation through citizens having to abandon their homes and move to CNR towns in order to get war employment.8
There was no evidence to support the claim that CNR towns received more air training facilities than CPR towns, however. In fact, Souris was given Number 17 Service Flying Training School in March 1943, after this report appeared in The Souris Plaindealer.
Newspapers across Saskatchewan reported much wider political lobbying in that province than did newspapers in Alberta and Manitoba. Considering that when the first schools were established in 1940, Saskatchewan had eleven, Alberta six, and Manitoba two, lobbying appears to have had some effect. As more schools were needed, Saskatchewan became host to approximately 40 percent of those in the Prairies, while Alberta claimed about 33 percent, and Manitoba won 26 percent.
Notes for Chapter 3
Building for the Future
1. The Parliament of Canada, Sessional Papers, and the Department of Finance publications did not contain provincial or school financial records that would allow one to estimate how much was spent in the prairie provinces reliably.
2. Hatch, Aerodrome of Democracy, pp. 41-42.
3. The Edmonton Journal, Sept. 4, 1940.
4. Interview: Don O’Heam with the author, June 27, 1988.
5. J. W. Corman to Norman Rogers, March 18, 1940, Town Council Records, Moose Jaw City Archives, cited in Brereton Greenhous and Norman Hillmer, “The Impact of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan on Western Canada: Some Saskatchewan Studies,” Journal of Canadian Studies, Vol. 16 (Fall-Winter, 1981), p. 134.
6. Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Oct. 26, 1940.
7. Ibid., July 30, 1940.
8. Souris Plaindealer, Jan. 15, 1941.