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Community Involvement

The decision to include various Alberta locations in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) took the province by storm. Today, most of the aircraft are long gone and some of the bases are overgrown or have been returned to farmland, but although one may not see it, the BCATP had a profound effect on this province and the communities that hosted the bases.

No. 3 Service Flying Training School PublicationSimilar to many prairie communities, Alberta was having difficulties recovering from the Great Depression and terrible drought of the 1930s. An infusion of federal spending that came with a training base was definitely welcome and served to stimulate stagnant local economies. The arrival of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) gave a definite boost to local commerce and business owners were more than happy to satisfy the needs of the influx of people. It became rather common to see businesses directing their advertising toward the RCAF.

Members of the community were hired in a number of capacities to get the Plan off the ground. Some were involved in the construction of bases, fashioning runways, barracks and hangars. Others were hired to work at the bases themselves, filling positions from aircrew instructors to cooks as well as everything in between. While the RCAF brought their own personnel to each of the bases, they could not have run the Plan without the help of community members. An undertaking of the magnitude of the BCATP required the participation and cooperation of a lot of people. All of a sudden, where jobs were previously scarce, almost anyone who wanted work could find employment.

Ray and Margaret Woodard on leave in Banff, 1944.The economic changes were only one of the effects of the Plan. A social shift occurred as well. Aircrew trainees arrived in droves, all of them with one thing in common: they were a long way from home. While every day duties were considerably different from civilian life, when all of the work was done, life on the base became reminiscent of "normal" life. Recreational activities were organized and those training at the bases began to associate with members of the outlying community. Some trainees made lifelong friends, others met their future wives and others still simply dropped in to a local home for supper and family camaraderie. At the end of each training session, when a new class of graduates was awarded wings and posted onward, goodbyes must have been difficult and heartfelt, but all left with the memory of the training base they had been stationed at and the small community they probably would never have been to otherwise.

After the war, some men were drawn back to Alberta—some by the discovery of a beautiful patch of land they did not want to live without, and others to a sweetheart with whom they would begin their new life. They came back, because some time during their training, they had found something that felt like home.

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