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The Plan in Alberta

July 22, 1940, No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) opened in Lethbridge and Alberta’s contribution to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) began. Training schools continued to open across the province for the next two years, and thousands of aircrew graduated from them until the last school, No. 3 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) in Calgary, closed its doors September 28, 1945. It must have been difficult to end the program, but everyone left knowing that the Allied war effort had been a success due in part to the training that occurred right here in Alberta.

"The most grandiose single enterprise upon which Canada has ever embarked – The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan"
Charles Gavan Power, Minister of National Defence for Air during WWII
At the inception of the BCATP, sites were chosen based on terrain, accessibility and existing facilities. In some cases, local flight clubs provided both their facilities and staff for Elementary Flying Training Schools. While the program’s mandate and its supervisors were Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), experienced civilians became an integral part of the Plan and were hired to fill a variety of positions. Facilities and staff that were not already available in Alberta were built or brought in, respectively, and most of the schools quickly became efficient training grounds for men from all over the world.

The BCATP trained all air personnel. Men began with Initial Training School (ITS). There, it was decided in which trade they would specialize. Some men graduated and moved on to Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS),  Service Flying Training School (SFTS) and Flight Instructor School (FIS). Others were moved to a Bombing and Gunnery School (B&GS), an Air Observer School (AOS) or a Wireless School (WS). There were a number of other positions that were essential to running the program, but the training institutions for these were located outside of Alberta. No. 5 Elementary FlyingTraining School

Most recruits became accustomed to the base fairly quickly, and after work was done, there was time to enjoy life a little bit. Sports leagues were formed, dances were held, and most of the classes had a few members willing to put together some sort of entertainment for the rest. These people were often far from home and family, and they turned to each other and the community they were based in to fulfill their basic human needs. A number of Albertan families opened their homes to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) airmen, and many relationships blossomed, some of them lasting decades.

While the BCATP ceased operation over 60 years ago, its legacy remains apparent in Alberta. Some of the province’s airports, such as in Edmonton, Claresholm and Lethbridge, are former BCATP locations. Other bases have since been closed and returned to pasture, but monuments have been erected as reminders of what once was.


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