There are ghosts to be found

Nick Wolochatiuk - Dances With Words
There are ghosts to be found

My devotion to aviation history has drawn me to make many pilgrimages to military bases on three continents. It is one of my ways of paying homage to those who sometimes ‘gave their all’ in service.

It is difficult to find former army bases, as forests and farming have erased most remnants of the barracks and other facilities. However, most armouries have a Sherman tank (one of more than 50,000 manufactured) as gate guard.  There’ are only floating artifacts such as HMCS Haida (in Hamilton), HMCS Sackville (in Halifax) and HMCS Ojibway (in Port Dover) to bear witness to once was one of the Allies’ largest fleets.

The deep, dark waters of the North Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic waters keep their war-gotten hulks. Remains of corvettes, troopships, destroyers, tankers full aviation fuel, freighters laden with Jeeps, Shermans and ammunition litter the sea bottoms.

Then there’s the air force.  The BCATP (British Commonwealth Air Training Plan) graduated 131,533 personnel for Canada and the Commonwealth’s air forces. The best way to discover the many whose remains still exist, go to Google Earth, or fly over southern Ontario and the prairie provinces. “Aha! There’s one. That must be the triangular pattern left by the airfield! That must be the remains of Detachment Gananoque, a relief (secondary) field for the nearby main base at Kingston.”

Why a triangle of three runways (usually 2.400’ in length)? Because novice pilots don’t handle crosswinds well. One of the three runways offers something better than a ‘Hobson’s Choice’.

If you visit Detachment Gananoque you’ll see a derelict hangar with cladding of wooden shakes, long weathered from light brown to black. If you are allowed to enter, you’ll see what once was a 104’ foot wingspan war surplus PBY-5A Canso amphibian. Its 47” diameter are resting in puddles on the concrete floor.

Each year, more of the PBY’s components are taken apart. Mystery: Is it to be scrapped? Is it being disassembled, to be restored by a museum? Could it ever be brought back to flying condition?

The former BCATP base near Picton is another intriguing find. Some of the many still existing barracks and hangars are still standing, some being stabilized, others being brought back to use as small business workshops, offices, art galleries and logistic facilities. Others have just been allowed to heave a sigh, some creaks, then tumble onto their foundations.

Take an unhurried walk around. You’ll hear sounds made by men and machines long gone.

Find your own former military base. There are traces of hundreds to be found. Pause. Contemplate upon the sacrifices in time, materials and effort that were expended to secure the freedoms we enjoy today.

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