History of the
Penhold Base 1939-1995
In 1939, farmland was purchased and land cleared for the future Penhold
base. In 1940, the base opened as a RCAF Manning Depot with one building
while 5 hangars and 31 other buildings were being constructed well into
1941 including barracks, service buildings and administrative buildings.
Six hard surfaced runways 900 to 1075 metres long made up the airfield.
Two additional hangars were built for a total of seven.
In August 1941, the base was handed over to the RAF and No. 36 Service
Flying Training School was transferred from Britain, one of several
schools established as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training
Plan (BCATP), an agreement with Britain to train Commonwealth pilots, a
key component in Canada's contribution to the Second World War. Relief
fields were set up at Innisfail and Blackfalds.
The first two trains arrived in Penhold in August bringing in 600
officers and personnel.
facility started with 20 training aircraft with others in reserve. The
trainers were primarily twin-engined Airspeed Oxfords. Eventually there
were close to 200 Oxford trainers being used.
Trainees had already learned basic flying on light aircraft at an
Elementary Flying Training School (one of which was established at
Bowden). Once at Penhold, trainees took more advanced flying and
navigation. At times, four courses of 60 pilots each trained at once,
each course lasting 12 weeks in the beginning but extended to 20 weeks
as time went on, in part due to inconsistent weather conditions.
During the next three years, 42 classes of 35 to 60 pilots were trained
and well over 1,200 pilots graduated, the majority being British.
Aircraft crashes accounted for 20 fatalities during the period. The
average station strength was 1,400 personnel but reached almost 1,500
early in 1944.
station was officially handed back to the RCAF in October 1944 and was
promptly closed down. The only personnel to remain were a small RCAF
Signals Unit. Most of the surplus electronic equipment was destroyed in
1945 when the base was taken over by the Department of Transport. Many
of the buildings were demolished or disposed of through Crown Assets.
However, a few of the buildings remained, including all of the hangars.
Surplus Lancaster bombers were stored on site for a time until disposal.
In 1951, the airport hosted an airshow that attracted 5,000 people.
the early 1950s, the federal government decided to rehabilitate the
station under an agreement with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO). Additional land was expropriated and work commenced in 1951 to
construct new buildings and
services for RCAF No. 4 Flying Training School.
The base officially opened with limited facilities in May 1952 using
mostly existing buildings.
work, including the repair of runways and aprons, and new construction
continued until the summer of 1954.
The first NATO trainees arrived from Calgary in May 1953 even though
many of the buildings were still under construction and accommodations
were limited. The first group consisted of 22 RCAF trainees, 10 RAF, 6
French Air Force, 7 Italians and 5 Royal Netherlands Air Force.
began with the 20 North American Harvards (Mark 4) on site although the
first trainer to arrive was a Beechcraft Expeditor. A mass formation of
44 Harvards flew in from Calgary in July. Between July 1954 and February
1955, 18 Beechcraft T-34A Mentors were used as trainers as an experiment
but were found to be unsatisfactory. Innisfail Relief Field, used for
some training, was maintained by the Penhold base.
on the 243-unit married quarters that comprised of houses, duplexes and
townhouses, began in September of 1953. A year later, the PMQs were
officially dedicated as Mynarski Park, in memory of Andrew Mynarski, VC,
the Second World War air gunner who had lost his life trying to rescue
his crewmate in a burning Lancaster.
the same time, the base school was dedicated as Andersons of Craigmyle
School in memory of three Red Deer brothers who died in active service
with the RCAF, also during the Second World War. In the early 1960s, additional married
quarters were built in Red Deer in a complex known as Vista Village.
The complete loss of Hangar 5 by fire, occurred in April 1954 when 9
Harvards and an Expeditor were destroyed. It was not rebuilt.
During the next several years, additional new buildings and facilities
were constructed. Extensive landscaping and tree planting was carried
out. A curling rink was built in 1958. A new and larger control tower
went into operation in 1961. A new outdoor swimming pool opened in 1964.
NATO agreement came to an end with the final class in the spring of
1959. However, training on Harvards continued until 1965 primarily for
the RCAF but also for the Royal Canadian Navy and pilots from around the
world. The role as a flying training school ended in 1965 when the last
RCAF Harvard to be flown in an operational mission flew at the Penhold
base. It was trainer 20370, built at Fort William Ontario in 1952.
Purchased by the City of Red Deer, it was presented to the base in 1968
where it was displayed for several years at the main gate. It was later
given to the Red Deer Flying Club for restoration and maintenance and is
currently mounted at the entrance to the Red Deer Regional Airport.
The City of Red Deer took over operation of the airport in 1966 as the
Red Deer Industrial Airport and the province extended the runway in
the airfield ceased functioning as a military air training facility, the
base continued with a variety of other responsibilities. The base was
named CFB Penhold in 1966 as a result of armed forces unification.
In 1961, a long-range radar station had started construction about
24 kilometres east of the base as part of the Pinetree Line of NORAD.
No. 43 Radar Squadron formed in 1962 and operated out of a hangar until
the new site opened in 1964. Most radar personnel lived at
Vista Village in Red Deer until the mid 1970s. The radar site closed in 1986.
The first ground was secretly broken in the summer of 1961 for a 77,000 sq.ft.
semi-underground earth-covered concrete Regional Emergency Government
Headquarters and Provincial Warning Centre bunker east of the base.
Sometimes referred to as the 'Diefenbunker' it became operational in
1964. Until the bunker was ready to move into, equipment and a skeleton
staff operated out of one of the barracks on the base. A secondary
bunker was built several miles away.
743 Communications Squadron was formed in 1966 and was also housed in
the bunker. The facility officially became non-operational in 1993 and
the 743 was relocated to CFB Calgary in 1994. The bunker was sold to
private interests in 1995, bought back and demolished in 2001.
Several other activities occurred on the base including the Air Defense
Command School, the Refrigeration Maintenance School, the Hail Research
Project, RCMP Training School, the Canadian Forces Junior Leader School
and the Air Reserve National Training School.
addition, the base continues to host the annual regional Air Cadet
summer camps that had been held since the Second World War. In the
1960s, they were joined by the national scholarship flying programme on
gliders and light aircraft that lasted for several years. In 1966, the
cadet summer camp was expanded to include all of western Canada and has
served approximately 1,700 cadets since.
base was downgraded to a detachment of CFB Edmonton in 1990 and
decommissioned and closed in 1994. Mynarski Park, the residential
portion of the base, was renamed
Springbrook in 1995 when private
developers purchased the lands from the Department of National Defense.
The former military base area was sold to a different developer who
referred to the area as Harvard Park.
In 1999, the airport operations were taken over by the newly-created Red
Deer Regional Airport Authority, a partnership of the City of Red Deer,
Red Deer County and the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce.