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Cadet Hilliard Bell stands in front of a Curtiss JN-4, the main trainer aircraft for the 1917-18 RFC Canada training program.

There is no shortage of military heritage in the County of Simcoe. Most people in villages and rural communities – including Coldwater - have heard stories about local soldiers joining the army to go fight for King and Country in faraway lands. But how many are aware of the leading role played by the county in the birth and development of Canada's national air force? Indeed, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) personnel at CFB Borden are celebrating this month the 100th anniversary of military flying in Canada, something in which their base stood at centre stage a century ago. Military aviation at Camp Borden (today CFB Borden) goes back to early 1917 when a series of aircraft hangars and aviation facilities were built to support the training of aviators for the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). Canada did not have its own air force at the time, so the organisation known as RFC Canada was in fact a British organisation operating in Canada for the purpose of recruiting and training Canadian aviators for service in the RFC overseas. There were other RFC Canada airfields operating in south-central Ontario, but Borden was the main one, home of the headquarters, and the first one to officially open on May 2, 1917. By the end of 1918, a total of 1,184 pilots had completed training at Camp Borden.

After the Great War, Camp Borden became the central point around which military aviation would develop in Canada. In 1919, an Imperial Gift of over one hundred war surplus aircraft found its way to Canada, most of the aircraft going to Borden to provide the nucleus of a national air force. Following the creation of the Canadian Air Force in 1920, Camp Borden was once again selected as the main training centre for aviation. During the Twenties, Camp Borden saw the birth of the RCAF and claimed many firsts including the graduation of the first RCAF pilots in 1924. Camp Borden was also home to the first RCAF aerobatic team, the Siskins, in the early Thirties.

Camp Borden continued to lead during the Second World War, opening the first Service Flying Training School (No 1 SFTS) as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Thousands of pilots from Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New-Zealand, and other Allied countries were trained at Camp Borden.

One of the 15 original RFC Canada hangars in Borden.

After the war, Camp Borden scaled down flying activities and concentrated on the training of aircraft technicians and other RCAF trades. Today, members of 16 Wing Borden take pride in preserving such a long tradition of excellence in training Canada's air forces. The Wing is responsible for coordinating the activities of six RCAF schools, two of which are co-located in Borden.

A century after their construction, many of the RFC hangars still stand, one of them being home to the Air Force Annex of the Base Borden Military Museum. Collectively, the hangars have been declared a national historic site. They are the only remaining witnesses of so many great moments in the history of the RCAF and its "birthplace", Camp Borden.

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