Last week I returned from spending a week in Canada. This trip was a continuation of my journey in telling the story of John Magee. I was also going to do a bit of scouting, finding locations where 1940-1941 Canada might be recreated. With the exception of a short visit to the province of Quebec, the entire trip was in Ontario.
I drove from North Carolina to Buffalo, New York, where I crossed into Canada, the land of liters and kilometers. Having never visited Niagara Falls, I took the opportunity to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I have to say, it was pretty impressive! I’m sure that John visited the Falls more than once during his stay in Canada.
Magee’s first flight in a training aircraft was at #9 EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School), located at St. Catharines, a stone’s throw from Niagara. Now known as Niagara District Airport, there is little left of the BCATP (British Commonwealth Air Training Program, which trained pilots during WWII) airfield. I was able to see some of the old photographs of the courses which attended #9 EFTS, but couldn’t spot Magee anywhere.
From St. Catharines I drove to Dunnville, home of #6 SFTS (Service Flying Training School). There is a museum (http://www.dunnvilleairport.com/museum.php) located there, and though it was not officially opened, the President of the Museum Don Oatman kindly showed me around. If you are ever in the area, do not skip this Museum!
Not only did they have a great museum, but there were several BCATP hangers present in great shape. Apparently parts of the movie Amelia was filmed here (http://youtu.be/8xtWrjamrhM), as well as parts of the PBS series Bomber Boys. This would do very nicely to recreate a BCATP airfield.
Next on my list was to visit the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton (http://www.warplane.com/). I was very impressed by the collection of aircraft here. They also offer flights in a number of aircraft including a Harvard, Stearman and Chipmunk. Sorry to say that my budget did not allow me to indulge… maybe next time!
A short hop from Hamilton found me in Toronto. I have to admit that I had no idea just how large Toronto is! And has traffic to match.
In the Toronto area, I visited an author who had written an article on Magee. I had a great visit, and we traded flying stories as well as notes about John. Beautiful country north of Toronto, I could’ve stayed considerably longer.
But no dilly-dallying allowed… I had to head to downtown Toronto to the site of the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition), aka the “Ex.” In the early days of the BCATP, this site was one of two Manning Depots, where raw recruits reported for their initial duty. In rooms that used to house horses and cows, hundreds of pilot-hopefuls were initiated into the Canadian Air Force. John Magee apparently did not enjoy the experience…
Many of the buildings that were there in 1940 are still there, and still being used. The buildings are a sight to behold; the architecture was amazing. I took quite a few pictures, and it is a possibility that this site could be used for filming.
Still in Toronto, I had to visit another combination BCATP airfield and Museum. Located at Downsview, this is the location of the Canadian Air & Space Museum (http://www.casmuseum.org/), not to be confused with the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa. There is much history to this location… de Havilland built many of its WWII aircraft here, including the Mosquito. They have a full-size replica of the ill-fated Avro CF-105 Arrow (I didn’t know the airplane was quite so large!). If you visit, be sure to get the tour, or talk to one of the museum guides.So much to see, so little time… so on I went… next stop, Trenton! - continued in “O Canada (Part 2) -