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Military Bases

With the outbreak of war, the recruiting of soldiers, sailors, and air personnel started in towns and cities across Alberta. Calgary and Edmonton hosted major recruitment centres—in part because of their size, but also because most units based in these communities were designated for active, overseas service. Militia units based in small towns and villages served as conduits, funnelling new recruits to those units based in the larger communities. The Loyal Edmonton Regiment (LER) and the Calgary Highlanders and South Alberta Regiment were based in Edmonton and Calgary respectively, but they drew recruits from all over the province.

In Edmonton, the LER operated from the Prince of Wales Armoury, situated just south of Kingsway Avenue. This facility was built in 1914–15 to house a number of already existing militia and First World War units; it now houses the City of Edmonton Archives and several heritage agencies. During the Second World War, the armoury housed the regimental offices of LER Headquarters personnel, stores including basic arms and ammunition, classrooms, a gymnasium, and mess halls. Other personnel, namely the lower ranks, were quartered in nearby huts, each capable of housing approximately 60 men. Quarters included hot showers and flush toilets. Edmonton’s Great Western Garment Company (GWG), a garment manufacturing business, produced many of the uniforms issued to and worn by these recruits. The daily routine for recruits included drills, training exercises, classroom work, marches, sporting activities, and free time to visit, write letters, listen to or play music, or visit Edmonton's numerous theatres, parks, dance halls, or diners.

Blatchford Field, named for Edmonton Mayor Kenneth Blatchford and former name of the City Centre Airport, was one of the busiest airports and largest aircraft service depots in North America during the war. Blatchford Field hosted numerous British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) operations, training schools, squadrons, and other units. The No. 16 Elementary Flying Training School and the No. 2 Air Observer School operated from Blatchford Field; they closed in 1942 and 1944, respectively. The demand on this site, namely the large number of American lend-lease plans destined for the Soviet Union, was so large that a new military airport was needed; construction of the Namao facility north of Edmonton began in 1943. Namao commenced operations the following year. The Americans maintained control of the Namao facility until 1945; the RCAF completed the transfer of all operations from Blatchford to Namao by 1955.

In Calgary, Mewata Armouries, located to the west of the downtown core, served as headquarters to the Calgary Highlanders. The unit, among many others, used Sarcee Camp (located on the Sarcee Indian Reserve to the southwest of the city) for training purposes. Sarcee had been in use prior to the First World War. Mewata Armouries was built in 1917 at a cost of $282,000; it was designated a National Historic Site in 1991. Over the years, it has housed numerous Alberta-based units, including the Lord Strathcona's Horse, the 19th Alberta Dragoons, and the King's Own Calgary Regiment. The other key recruiting and training facility in Calgary was Currie Barracks, named for General Sir Arthur William Currie, commander of the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War.

Editor's Note

For more information, read Blatchford Field: The War Years, 1939–1945 by Mark Hopkins.

Reference

Graves, Donald E. South Albertas: A Canadian Regiment at War. Toronto: Robin Brass Studio, 1998.


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