The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP)
The relative ease with which Hitler's armies dispatched Polish forces in September 1939 and again in 1940, when German forces rolled westward to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, shocked most in Britain and the rest of the world. It had become clear to all that Britain's survival was not only dependent upon her Navy and her resolve, but also upon a much improved and enlarged air force. Training large numbers of aviators in Britain would not be practical or possible. The island nation did not posses the required land; was subject to unpredictable maritime weather; lacked the necessary resources to develop the infrastructure to train thousands of pilots, navigators and others; and was under the constant threat of invasion and bombardment by Nazis forces who occupied much of the European continent. Canada was a logical choice and most historians agree that the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) was Canada's greatest contribution to the war effort.
Canada had a remarkable history of producing talented, courageous, and highly skilled pilots. Ten of the 27 highest-scoring fighter pilot aces in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War were Canadian.
Canada offered all of the necessary requirements and prerequisites to ensure the program was a success: vast tracts of land for the development of runways and support facilities; stable weather; and the guarantee that these facilities would be free from enemy attacks. The BCATP would quickly mould recruits into the military system, reinforcing the value of a positive attitude, teamwork, and cooperation. Perhaps more importantly, Canada agreed to bear the brunt of the cost of the program which exceeded $2 billion by 1945.
The BCATP called for the creation of Elementary Flying Training, Service Flying Training, Air Observer, and Flight Engineer schools. Seventy-four of these centres were built in various locations across Canada. Sites in Alberta and the other Prairie provinces proved to be ideal locations for training pilots. The flat landscape lent itself to the development of airfields: a minimal amount of work was necessary for the construction of runways. BCATP facilities were developed in a host of small communities such as Vulcan, Fort Macleod, and Penhold. Large numbers of civilians were employed building, maintaining, and teaching at these facilities. Following the mass unemployment of the 1930s, there was no longer a shortage of work; anyone who wanted to work could find a job. Evidently, the presence of the BCATP had an immense impact on the local community, creating employment and diversifying the economy. "Watching the War Fly By: The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Alberta," an article by Patricia A. Myers, will shed more light on the formal training process involved in the BCATP.
Barris, Ted. Behind the Glory: Canada's Role in the Allied Air War. (Toronto: Thomas Allen Publishers, 2005).
Byfield, Ted. “The Prairies become a runway for the ‘aerodrome of democracy’” in Alberta in the 20th Century: The War That United the Province 1939–1945, ed. Ted Byfield. Edmonton: United Western Communications, 2000.