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Canadian Forces Base Borden – Preparing for War

First Air Force graduating class at Camp Borden, 1917

The year was 1914. The First World War was ramping up across Europe. At the time, Canada and Britain had close ties to each other. The day Britain declared war on Germany, Canada was right behind them. Canada, like so many others, expected a short war. The Canadian Prime Minister at the time, Robert Borden, was fully behind supporting the British. Once it was realized the war was going to be drawn out, something had to be done to train soldiers for the battlefields of Europe.It became a priority to find a place to train new conscripts and volunteers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In 1914, 18,000 acres of land was purchased for $1-3 per acre [4]. By April of 1916, the 35th regiment of the 157th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force began clearing the land and developing what would become one of Canada’s most important military bases, at the time known as Camp Borden.

Camp Borden was named after Sir Frederick Borden, who was the former Minister of Militia responsible for improving the militia by updating training, education, and equipment. Early on the camp was rough. While clearing land, the 35th, also known as the Simcoe Foresters, lived out of tents and bathed in nearby rivers until the proper facilities could be constructed. [4] Interestingly, several kilometers of trenches were built around the camp to assist with training and allow the soldiers to adjust to a new form of warfare and weapons training. Due to this, the new Camp Borden became instrumental to the Canadian Military.

The use of military aviation was expanded the end of the First World War. Britain had asked Canada for space to train new airmen for battle. In response, 1,000 acres of Camp Borden was assigned to the Royal Flying Corps and completed by May 1917 and training was well underway [1]. Soon after the war, the base remained in use and the camp was renamed Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Station Borden. Not only did the airfield grow, but also the training grounds and disciplines. Borden now had Signal, Armor, Infantry, Service, Medical, Dental, Intelligence, Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical schools [6]. To this day, the Air Control Tower is named in honor of Cadet James Harold Talbot. Talbot was the first casualty at Camp Borden. Talbot was born in Buffalo, New York July 22, 1893. His father, John Talbot, was the Postmaster of Dorchester, Ontario. James H. Talbot enlisted with the Royal Flying Corps and was assigned to the 81st Squadron. He died during a training accident on April 8, 1917. He is buried at Dorchester Union Cemetery, Ontario, Canada. [2]

A Re-branding of Borden

The significance of Camp Borden begins with the Air Corps. It became the first flying station in Canada, effectively becoming the birthplace of the Canadian Air Force [1]. Since Camp Borden was heavily used as an Air Corps station, it was appropriately renamed to Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Station Borden. At the outbreak of the Second World War, RCAF Station Borden arguably hit peak significance. An agreement between Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Great Britain, known as the British Commonwealth Training Plan, or BCATP, became the largest air training program ever [7]. It created a program of training across multiple military bases in multiple locations, but was primarily situated in Canada due to its size, geography, and weather.  The BCATP divided training into several disciplines, such as elementary flying, service flying, navigation, bombing and gunnery, etc. RCAF Station Borden was the top Service Flying Training School established under the BCATP. As a Service Flying Training School, RCAF Station Borden was responsible for training pilots for combat missions and advanced flying [7]. One of the major reasons that Canada was chosen hosting many of the BCATP training facilities was location. Canada was geographically distanced from the major fighting of the war. The terrain and weather of Canada allowed for navigational training and good flying weather. This allowed for minimal hiccups to the 130,000 plus troops that were trained under the agreement, arguably one of Canada’s most important contributions to the allied Air Forces during the Second World War.

In addition to being a Service Flying Training School, Borden also saw the birth of the Canadian Armoured Fighting Vehicle School. Worthington Park, part of the base, was named in honor of Major General Frederick Franklin Worthington. He is known as the father of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps. He was a proponent of armoured military fighting, and was responsible for the purchase of 265 antiquated US tanks for training. Because the United States was still neutral at the time, the sale was for 265 tanks billed as scrap metal to be delivered to the foundry at Camp Borden. Worthington had used the WWI tanks as aroured training vehicles at the Camp Borden Armoured Fighting Vehicle School. Due to the priority of Air training at Borden, armoured unit training was eventually moved during the war to a separate range. After his death in 1967, he was buried at Base Borden in Worthington Park. [3]


Canadian Forces Base Borden was made for training men for war. Established just before World War I, Camp Borden was intended to prepare Canadian soldiers to assist the British. At the end of the war, aviation was becoming a new technology of war. The Camp saw the first military flying installation in Canada and became the birthplace for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Fittingly renamed, RCAF Station Borden had hit its peak as the No. 1 Service Flying Training School under the British Commonwealth Training Plan. It oversaw some of the most important training for both the RAF and RCAF during World War II. In addition to Air Forces training, Borden saw the birth of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps. Worthington Park is remembered for the founder of the Armoured Corps, Major General F.F. Worthington. He had noticed the importance of Armoured fighting vehicles in modern warfare, so he facilitated the Canadian military acquiring equipment and training men. Borden had grown to be one of the most notable and important military installations in Canada.

The impact of Borden during World War II was not unnoticed. Today, CFB Borden houses the Base Borden Military Museum. It houses numerous items and artifacts important to Canadian Military History, it is effectively four museums encompassing all eras of Canada’s military history.   The base is still in use today as a training center for multiple aspects of the Canadian Military, not just flying. One of the base’s most prominent events is its annual air show, showcasing the location’s history in aviation. [5]

Primary Sources

[1] “The Aircraft Production Board.” Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science in the City of New York, vol. 7, no. 4, 1918, pp. 104–114.

[2] Leroux, Marc. “Canadian Great War Project.” Cadet James Harold Talbot, Canadian Virtual War Memorial,

[3] Worthington, Larry (1961). “Worthy”: A Biography of Major-General F.F. Worthington CB, MC, MM. Macmillan.

Secondary Sources 

[4] Chajkowsky, William E. (1983), The History of Camp Borden, 1916-1918, land of Sand, Sin and Sorrow, Station Press

[5] Borden Centennial Heritage website,

[6]  Ozorak, Paul (1991), Abandoned Military Installations of Canada, Volume 1: Ontario

[7] Hatch, F.J. Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan 1939-1945 . Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1983.

Further Reading