Edmonton was playing an important role in the British
Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), with its Manning Depot,
Air Observer School, Initial Training School, and Elementary
Flying Training School, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour
and Americans saw a new threat from the Pacific. The Americans
wanted to increase the defence of Alaska and sought to provide a
direct link so that troops and equipment could be moved quickly
north. Edmonton had a proven record as a good base for air
travel to the far northwest in 1937, when Yukon Southern had
carried out flights from Edmonton to locations like Fort St
John, Fort Nelson, and Whitehorse.
There was a sudden increase in interest in the airfields in
northern centres like Grande Prairie, even though there had been
ongoing improvement to such airfields for some time before.
Facilities were rapidly enhanced with the construction of a line
of landing fields marking the way between Edmonton and
Fairbanks, Alaska. This series of landing fields and facilities
for aircraft was known as the Northwest Staging Route. The
effort paid off, allowing aircraft to travel rapidly from
Edmonton to Alaska. The perceived threat from Japan quickly
faded, but the new airfields played an important role in
providing planes to Russia for the Lend-Lease program. This
Lend-Lease program was set up by the United States to help
various countries defend themselves from Axis invasions, and it
provided the Russians with transport aircraft, bombers, and
fighter planes, which were flown to Alaska by American pilots.
Russian pilots then flew the aircraft from Alaska into Russia.