The RCAF in Toronto: A century of flying in formation

News Article / August 28, 2017

Click on the photo under “Image Gallery” to see more photos.

For 100 years, the Royal Canadian Air Force and Toronto have had a close history.
That relationship continues on September 1, 2017, when the Governor General
will present new  Colours t
o the RCAF in Nathan Phillips Square.

From RCAF Public Affairs

The history of the Royal Canadian Force began in Toronto 100 years ago, with the first recruitment and training of Canadian aircrew for service overseas during the First World War. In addition to the Toronto-based headquarters of the Royal Flying Corps Canada, Camp Borden, near Barrie, Ontario; the University of Toronto; Long Branch and Leaside airfields in Toronto; and other Toronto-based schools, were key locations.

The Royal Flying Corps Canada’s Wing Commander William George Barker, who was born in Manitoba in 1894, is Canada’s most highly decorated war hero. He was also the first President of the Toronto Maple Leafs. When he died in 1930, his funeral procession was the largest public event Toronto had ever seen, with a 2,000-man guard of honour and more than 50,000 spectators. He is interred at Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery, where a monument to his memory was dedicated in 2010.

In the period between the world wars, the establishment of a permanent Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) on April 1, 1924, led to an increased demand for personnel. The government subsidized local flying clubs to train pilots, including the Toronto Flying Club, which operated from an aerodrome at Dufferin Street and Sheppard Avenue West.

The Club supported the formation of No. 10 (Army Cooperation) Squadron (Auxiliary) on October 5, 1932, which was later recognized as the “City of Toronto” Squadron. Renumbered as 110 Squadron, the “City of Toronto” Squadron distinguished itself as one of the first RCAF units to be sent overseas in February 1940. It completed its wartime service as No. 400 (Fighter) “City of Toronto” Squadron.

By 1944, the RCAF was the fourth-largest Allied air force. Toronto played a key role in the RCAF’s growth by hosting a number of British Commonwealth Air Training Plan schools, headquarters, research facilities, and recruiting establishments. The RCAF was also the first of the three services to recruit women during the Second World War, with the first training depot for the RCAF Women's Division established at Havergal College in Toronto.

The Royal Canadian Air Force War Staff College was established on the grounds of the Strathrobyn Estate (formerly owned by Frederick Burton Robins) in 1943. Two years later, it was renamed the Royal Canadian Air Force Staff College, and in 1962 it became a component of the Air Force College. Today, at the same location on Yonge Boulevard, the Canadian Forces College is a world leader in defence and security education, research, and outreach, and contributes to RCAF leaders mastering air power.

Following the Second World War, RCAF Station Downsview became the premier air force location, supporting aeromedical training, research, and education. Toronto was an innovation leader in Canadian aviation history, home to such aircraft companies as Avro Canada—famous for the CF-100 Canuck and the ill-fated CF-105 Arrow fighter jet—and De Havilland, creator of the D.H.100 Vampire 3, the first fighter aircraft to enter RCAF service. Downsview personnel and facilities played a role in the development of these aircraft. And Wilbur Franks, a graduate and researcher at the University of Toronto, developed the G-suit (anti-gravity suit) for the Allies in 1940.

Today, that innovative strength is returning with the RCAF Flight Deck in Communitech, the innovation super-hub in nearby Waterloo, Ontario. Toronto’s Seneca College and the RCAF have an innovative partnership training Air Force pilots under Seneca’s Bachelor of Aviation Technology program.

Toronto was home to a number of air reserve units and headquarters in the post-war period, the best-known being 400 and 411 “County of York” Squadrons. Aircraft from these reserve units were common sights over Toronto's skyline. When Canadian Forces Base Downsview ceased military flying operations, 400 Squadron transferred to Borden, becoming a tactical helicopter squadron, while 411 Squadron was disbanded.

On November 10, 2009, the airport on Toronto Island was renamed Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport in honour of one of the RCAF’s most cherished heroes. Among other decorations, First World War flying ace Captain William Avery “Billy” Bishop was the first Canadian airman to receive the British Empire’s highest decoration for valour, the Victoria Cross.

Toronto continues to be home to several Royal Canadian Air Cadet squadrons and Royal Canadian Air Force Association (for Air Force veterans) wings.

Date modified: