The art of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

News Article / July 18, 2016

To view additional photos, click the photograph under “Image Gallery”.

Major Bill March

Much is being made this year about the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) and its impact on Canada. Although the catalyst for the commemoration is the formation of overseas squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) under Article XV of the agreement, the massive undertaking to train tens of thousands of Canadian and allied airmen was truly a national project.

The BCATP was a whole-of-Canada undertaking that involved federal, provincial and municipal governments, the RCAF, industry, and average citizens. Thousands of men and women were recruited from across Canada to see to the function of the airfields, facilities and units that made up the Plan. When the thousands of trainees from far-flung corners of the land are added to the mix, it’s easy to appreciate just “how big a deal” the BCATP was to Canada’s history.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that “The Plan” captured the imagination of a host of aviation artists.

It is not possible to do justice to all of the excellent work and talented artists who have chosen the BCATP as a subject. Consider this a sampling. The artists whose works are featured in this article are members of the Canadian Aerospace Artists Association (CAAA). As implied by the name, it is an organization that supports and promotes artists whose interests include the rich aerospace history of this country – both civilian and military. The CAAA website is well worth a visit.

The focus of the selected artwork is the aircraft of the BCATP: the “Big Yellow Birds.” This was a deliberate choice. For many, the most poignant memories they have of the BCATP are the sights and sounds of a yellow-painted aircraft roaring – or puttering, in the case of some of the smaller ones such as the deHavilland Moth – overhead.

As you admire the art, keep in mind the human dimension behind the image: the instructors and young trainees in the aircraft, many of whom will not survive the war; the men and women on the ground, supporting the training; and the families who lives became intertwined with the Plan in some form.

Truly, the BCATP is a Canadian success story.


Ardell Bourgeois

Mr. Bourgeois was born in Alberta and moved around North America with his family, settling in Chilliwack, British Columbia, after his father’s retirement from the Canadian Armed Forces. After secondary school, he attended the Emily Carr College of Art and Design, majoring in animation and three dimensional studies.

He is working as a freelance artist with a primary interest in aviation subjects, a lifelong obsession. He has had works accepted in several Canadian- and U.S.-based international aviation art exhibits. His paintings have hung in the National Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa; the Seattle, Washington, Museum of Flight; and the National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, to name a few, and are also found in private, government and corporate collections.

Mr. Bourgeois was selected to participate in the pilot project for the Canadian Forces Artist Program, and traveled overseas to observe the Air Force contingent of Operation Apollo (the Canadian contribution to the war on terrorism). He spent 12 days in-theatre in July 2002, flying on a supply mission to Kabul and a maritime patrol over the Gulfs of Arabia and Oman.

He is a charter member, western coordinator and president of the Canadian Aviation Artists Association, and past president of the American Society of Aviation Artists.

Colin Bowley

Now retired, Colin Bowley lives in Sidney, British Columbia, where he devotes much of his time to his painting, both landscape and aviation subjects. Art and aviation have always been an important part of his life.

He spent six years in the Air Force and served in Africa, the Middle East and England. On return to civilian life he worked as a commercial artist for various art studios in Toronto, Ontario, and in 1958 joined the Avro Aircraft Company as a technical artist during the final dramatic days of the Avro Arrow. He opened his own graphic art studio in Toronto in 1973 and eventually moved the business to Victoria, British Columbia, in 1995.

Mr. Bowley was an avid pilot and continued with his flying up until retirement, owning several aircraft and logging hundreds of hours over the years.

He has received many awards at juried art shows and has paintings in private, public and corporate collections in Canada, the United States and Europe.

Don Connolly

Don Connolly has served three separate terms as an "aviation nut". The first was as an avid teenage model designer and builder; the second as an RCAF navigation specialist (1950-1966); and the ongoing as a professional artist, during which time well over half of his paintings have focussed on aviation subjects. Most are now in private collections, although many have also appeared as book covers or as limited-edition prints. About 150 are in major collections such as the Canada Aviation and Space Museum and the Canada War Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario,  and the RCAF Museum at 8 Wing in Trenton, Ontario, as well as in a number of squadron collections.

 He was one of the founders of the Canadian Aerospace Artists Association and for a number of years was an active member of the U.S. equivalent. Mr. Connolly is at present increasing his focus on “Space Art”. His most recent painting in this field is of the International Space Station passing southeastward over Toronto.

Layne Larsen

Layne Larsen is a founding member of the Canadian Aviation Artists Association, past president and long-serving editor of the CAAA Newsletter “AerialViews.”. He is an electrical engineer who served in the RCAF and Canadian Armed Forces over a 37-year career as an aircrew officer, engineer, and intelligence specialist, and as deputy commandant of the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario, and in military personnel appointments in Canada and Europe. He retired in the rank of colonel to take up his interest in art. Colonel (retired) Larsen’s works in aviation and wildlife art are in collections throughout Canada and the world. He lives in Kingston, Ontario.

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