History of Debert

From RCAF base to industrial park.

History of DebertDebert Airport has been the home of the Truro Flying Club since 1972. However, long before it became a civilian airport it was a military aerodrome. The aerodrome was adjacent to an army base called Camp Debert and the history of the two establishments are closely linked. The following is a brief history of both the airfield and the army base.

In the fall of 1938 the Department of National Defense purchased a piece of land to construct a Royal Canadian Air Force aerodrome. Less than two years later in the spring of 1940 the Department of National Defense acquired an adjacent piece of land to construct a Canadian Army camp. Construction of both projects began in November 1940 and was completed in April 1941.

During World War II the Royal Canadian Air Force aerodrome was used as a British Commonwealth Air Training Plan facility for training aircrew.

The army camp was capable of accommodating over 20,000 fully equipped troops and was used as an overseas staging area for armed troops awaiting Halifax embarkation and also as a training center for formed units. It also housed a housed a large ammunition storage area.

Following the end of World War II both the Army and Royal Canadian Air Force sites were phased into relative inactivity.

In 1949 the camp was re-activated.

The aerodrome supported active flying operations until 1954 as a center for flight training practice, aircraft refueling and maintenance. However, no operational squadrons or training flights were actually stationed at the airfield.

In 1960 the aerodrome was transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy for use as a Flight Carrier landing Practice Center. Flight carrier landings practices began in 1961 with crew provided by Shearwater Naval Air Station. This programme continued until 1969 at which time the Department of National Defense closed the aerodrome.

A number of units were housed at Camp Debert area:

1948-1958 3rd Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery
1948-1958 12th Regional Ordnance Depot
1948-1965 31st Ordnance Ammunition Depot
1949-1958 Royal Highland Regiment of Canada
1950-1952 Royal Highland Regiment of Canada

In 1958 the Director of the Canadian Corps of Signals presented a report to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, proposing the location of joint emergency government headquarters/communications center complexes at various strategic locations across Canada. Camp Debert was one of the seven locations chosen to house one of these centers. Construction began on an underground building in 1960. It was originally called the Bridge Site, then the Regional Emergency Government Headquarters and then the Staff/Receiver Building. The building became functional in 1964 and housed the Provincial Warning Center and 720 Communication Squadron on a full time basis along with allocated space for the Provincial Emergency Government.

In the Fall of 1958 it was planned that a Regional Medical Equipment Supply Depot would be located at Camp Debert. As a result the Regional Medical Equipment Supply Depot located at H.M.C. Dockyard in Halifax moved to newly renovated quarters in the Hangar Number 3 at the aerodrome in December 1963. In 1966 the armed forces were unified and Command of the Regional Medical Equipment Supply Depot was transferred from the Royal Canadian Navy to Maritime Command Headquarters in Halifax.

In 1971 the Department of National Defense placed approximately 4800 acres, including most of Camp Debert and including the airfield with the Crown Assets Disposal Corporation. The Government of Nova Scotia purchased this land for development as the Debert Air Industrial Park.

For more details about RCAF Debert, you can read Gerry Madigan's excellent publication "At the Crossroads of Time", which chronicles the story of Operational Training Unit 31, RCAF No. 7 Squadron (and RCAF Tiger Force).