The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) is considered to be Canada’s primary contribution to the Second World War. Although the Plan was only in existence from 1940 to 1945, it left a lasting impact on Alberta and Canada as a whole. One of the most visible results of the Plan was the building construction that boomed during this time. There are examples of buildings produced during the BCATP period that are still in existence and the historical significance of these structures is evident today, one of which is Hangar 14, located at the former Blatchford Field and Municipal Airport site in Edmonton. This post will look at the foundation of the BCATP and summarize the distinct features of Hangar 14 that demonstrate the building’s significance as a provincial historic resource.
At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, there was an urgent need for the British government to develop an air training plan for the Commonwealth. However, Britain did not have the appropriate conditions to establish a large-scale aviation program within their own country and called upon the Dominions for their help. Britain wanted Canada to be the primary location for the Plan, since Canada was further away from axis territory, had suitable weather and wide open spaces to accommodate flying and the new facilities that would be required.
By mid-October 1939, British representatives met in Canada to discuss the formation of the Plan. This resulted in months of negotiations until an agreement was finally signed on December 17th by Prime Minister Mackenzie King and representatives from Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
Canada did indeed become the Plan’s major recruiting and training centre and this became a significant time for the country. The benefits that came with the implementation of the BCATP were evident, particularly in the creation of building and employment opportunities. Assistance was needed for the construction and administration of the Plan, and work suddenly became available for a range of duties including electricians, plumbers, clerks and stenographers, and of course for flight instructors and aircraft service staff. In total, the BCATP employed 6,000 civilian employees and over 35,000 aircraft and air force personnel across Canada. Historian Patricia Myers notes that a large portion of paycheques received from BCATP job creation often stayed within their communities, indicating that the increase of employment activity was of local benefit. It is the creation of the BCATP that is often viewed as the initiative that pulled Canada out of the Great Depression, in which the Prairies had been adversely affected.
There were new training institutions being built and existing airfields and buildings that were being repurposed to accommodate the Plan. Land was cleared, including farmer’s fields, to make way for fully operational schools to be built. Runways, tarmacs, hangars and other buildings were constructed to accommodate and instruct BCATP recruits. At the height of the Plan, there were 107 training schools and 184 supporting units across Canada. A number of facilities were established across Alberta, including a regional headquarters (Calgary); an Initial Training School (Edmonton); five Elementary Flying Training Schools (Lethbridge [moved to High River in 1941], Edmonton, De Winton, Bowden and Pearce); seven Service Flying Training Schools, (Fort Macleod, Claresholm, Vulcan, Medicine Hat, Penhold and two in Calgary); a Flying Instructor School (Vulcan [moved to Pearce in 1943]); two Air Observer Schools (Edmonton and Pearce); a Wireless School (Calgary); and a Bombing and Gunnery School (Lethbridge).
In August 1940, Blatchford Field in Edmonton became home to the No. 2 Air Observers School (AOS) and a few months later, the No. 16 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS). The AOS primarily taught recruits aerial reconnaissance and navigational skills and the EFTS taught pilots the flying basics. Edmonton was also home to the No. 3 Manning Depot, which taught recruits the basics of military life, and the No. 4 Initial Training School, where recruits learned math, underwent medical examinations and were introduced to the Link Trainer, an early flight simulator.
By the end of the war in 1945, the BCATP had trained over 130,000 members for air forces in Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. More than half of the air personnel who graduated were trained in North America, indicating the major role that Canada had in the success of the Plan.
Hangar 14, which was known as Hangar “M” during the Second World War, is located at the former Blatchford Field in Edmonton, Alberta. The hangar was built in 1942 as an addition to the existing airport terminal and served as a supply, staging, training and repair centre.
Hangar 14 exemplifies the standard BCATP layout that was applied to other hangers built in Canada under the Plan. It is a one-story rectangular building with reinforced concrete slab floors and an exposed interior frame and truss structure. The vertical wood posts, made from Douglas fir trees, support the long Warren trusses. The design has an open interior layout to accommodate aircraft storage, mechanical equipment and a workshop.
The hangar possesses a number of character defining elements that make the building distinct, particularly, its “double wide, double long” dimensions. This is the only remaining hangar that is of this type in Canada and the purpose of this design was so that the building could be doubled in width or depth, depending on the size that was required. The size of the hangar that was built for Edmonton indicates that the location was anticipated to be a hub of activity.
This historic resource remains a notable landmark of Canada’s contribution to the Second World War and an important time in Alberta’s military history. When constructed, the Hangar was a functional industrial design, but the historical value of the structure remains intact today. The former Hangar 14 is now home to the Alberta Aviation Museum and displays BCATP exhibits as well as an Avro Anson and a de Havilland Tiger Moth, which were used as training aircraft during this period.
Written by: Erin Hoar
Sources and further reading:
Alberta Register of Historic Places. “Hangar #14.” Accessed February 25, 2015.
Bomber Command Museum. “British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.” Accessed February 25, 2015.
Conrad, Peter C. Training for Victory: The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in the West. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1989.
Designation file # Des. 1827, in the custody of the Historic Resources Management Branch.
Douglas, W.A.B. The Creation of a National Air Force: The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Vol. II. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986.
Hatch, F. J. Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1939-1945. Ottawa: Directorate of History, Department of National Defence, 1983.
Hopkins, Mark. “Blatchford Field: The War Years, 1939-1945.” In For King and Country: Alberta in the Second World War, edited by Ken Tingley, 229-42. Edmonton, Canada: Provincial Museum of Alberta and Reidmore Books Inc., 1995.
Myers, Patricia A. Sky Riders: An Illustrated History of Aviation in Alberta, 1906-1945. Saskatoon: Fifth House Publishers, 1995.
Myers, Patricia A. “Watching the War Fly By: The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Alberta.” In For King and Country: Alberta in the Second World War, edited by Ken Tingley, 243-254. Edmonton, Canada: Provincial Museum of Alberta and Reidmore Books Inc., 1995.
Veterans Affairs Canada. “The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.” Accessed February 25, 2015.
Veterans Affairs Canada. “The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan – Historical Sheet.” Accessed February 25, 2015.