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Home arrow Articles arrow History arrow A Short History of Abandoned and Downsized Canadian Military Bases
A Short History of Abandoned and Downsized Canadian Military Bases - Introduction Print E-mail
Written by Bruce Forsyth   
Article Index
The Past
Pre to Post-Unification
Abandoned Bases Intro
Abandoned Bases: AB
Abandoned Bases: BC
Abandoned Bases: MB
Abandoned Bases: NB
Abandoned Bases: NL
Abandoned Bases: NT
Abandoned Bases: NS
Abandoned Bases: NU
Abandoned Bases: ON
Abandoned Bases: PE
Abandoned Bases: QC
Abandoned Bases: SK
Abandoned Bases: YT
Abandoned Bases: Outside Canada
Closed Bases That Still Have A Military Presence
Closed Bases That Still Have A Military Presence: AB
Closed Bases That Still Have A Military Presence: BC
Closed Bases That Still Have A Military Presence: MB
Closed Bases That Still Have A Military Presence: NB
Closed Bases That Still Have A Military Presence: NS
Closed Bases That Still Have A Military Presence: ON
Closed Bases That Still Have A Military Presence: PE
Closed Bases That Still Have A Military Presence: QE
Downsized Bases Or Bases That Have Changed Their Function
Bases That Have Downsized or Changed Their Function: BC
Bases That Have Downsized or Changed Their Function: NB
Bases That Have Downsized or Changed Their Function: NWT
Bases That Have Downsized or Changed Their Function: NS
Bases That Have Downsized or Changed Their Function: ON
Bases That Have Downsized or Changed Their Function: SK
Bases That Have Downsized or Changed Their Function: QE
The Pinetree Line
The Pinetree Line: AB
The Pinetree Line: BC
The Pinetree Line: MB
The Pinetree Line: NB
The Pinetree Line: NL
The Pinetree Line: NWT
The Pinetree Line: NS
The Pinetree Line: ON
The Pinetree Line: QE
The Pinetree Line: SK
The Mid-Canada Line
Distant Early Warning Line
The North-West Territory
Distant Early Warning Line
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
Canadian Army Training Centres of World War II
The Northwest Staging Route
Abandoned Armouries
Abandoned Armouries: AB
Abandoned Armouries: ON
The Future
The Future: AB
The Future: NL
The Future: NWT
The Future: NS
The Future: ON
The Future: QE
The Future: SK
Current Canadian Military Bases



12 Wing Shearwater:

12 Wing Shearwater has the distinction of being the birthplace of Canadian Naval Aviation. From 1948 until they were disbanded in 1975, Royal Canadian Naval Air Station HMCS Shearwater was the home base of Canada's naval air squadrons.

Originally established at Baker Point by the United States Navy in 1918 as United States Naval Air Station Halifax, it was shortly afterwards the station was taken over by the Royal Canadian Navy and re-named Royal Canadian Naval Air Station Dartmouth. However, Canada's first experiment with a Naval Air Service would be short lived as it was disbanded shortly after World War I ended.

The Station fell into virtual disuse by the military, becoming simply a storage depot for surplus war equipment. Flying operations at the Station were limited to aerial photography and fishery patrols conducted by the Canadian Air Board.

The Royal Canadian Air Force was established in 1924 and by the 1930's had grown to such a point that new Air Stations were needed. In 1934, the Station re-opened as RCAF Station Dartmouth and became the home of No. 5 (Flying Boat) Squadron, who conducted flying operations for the RCMP and the military. A pigeon loft was also constructed at the station, one of 8 such sites across Canada for the purpose of housing and training homing pigeons for use by RCAF aircrews.

Defence Department cutbacks in the 1930's resulted in the elimination of all pigeon lofts except the ones at RCAF Stations Jericho Beach and Dartmouth.

The onset of World War II brought about a whole new phase in the history of RCAF Station Dartmouth. The Royal Navy formed a Naval Air Section at Dartmouth and as a result, a new airfield was constructed. Several Air Force and Naval fighter, bomber and transport squadrons were moved to the Station, such as No. 5 and No. 11 Bomber Squadrons.

No. 118 (Coastal Artillery Co-operation) Squadron transferred from RCAF Station Saint John in April 1944, but later disbanded. 431 Bomber Squadron, RCAF, formed in England, re-located to RCAF Station Dartmouth at the end of World War II disbanding there on 5 September 1945. The Squadron was re-activated on 1 April 1978 as 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, more commonly known as the Snowbirds, Canada's premier flyers.

In 1946 the Royal Canadian Naval Air Service, later re-named the Naval Air Branch, was formed and in 1948, RCAF Station Dartmouth was taken over by the Navy for use as a Naval Air Station. The Station was re-named Royal Canadian Naval Air Station, HMCS Shearwater, "...following the Royal Navy tradition of naming air stations after sea birds," (12 Wing Shearwater web page) and became home to the Atlantic Fleet's Aircraft Carriers and Naval Air Squadrons. The Shearwater Station Squadron Fleet Requirement Unit, later re-named VU-32 Squadron, was formed in May 1946 and VS-881 Naval Air Squadron in May 1947 as part of the 18th Carrier Air Group. In October 1947 No. 103 Rescue Unit relocated from Shearwater to RCAF Station Greenwood.

In 1951, HMCS Shearwater became the primary home to the Royal Canadian Navy's new helicopter squadrons and training units. It was the RCN in-fact who pioneered the concept of flying helicopters from destroyer size ships, a concept that was adopted by other navies of the world. No. 1 Helicopter Flight stood up in August 1951 and was tasked with search and rescue, aerial photography, recovery of ships' practice torpedoes and light transport duties.

On 5 November 1952, Experimental Squadron Ten (VX-10) was formed to test and evaluate maritime aircraft and related equipment. VF-870 Squadron and VF-871 Squadron were formed at Shearwater in January & May 1951 respectively, as was VT-40 Air Training Squadron in May 1954. By 1956, Shearwater also became the home of HS-50 Anti-submarine Helicopter Squadron, HU-21 Squadron and VS-880 Squadron, formerly from RCAF Station Summerside. VT-40 Squadron merged with VU-32 Squadron in May 1959.

In November 1955, VF 870 and VF 871 squadrons replaced their Sea Fury aircraft with the F2H3 Banshee all-weather jet fighter, the pride of naval aviation in Canada. However the Banshee would have a short career in the service of the navy. In 1962, the Canadian Government disposed of the Banshee aircraft and elected not to replace them and thus, VF 870 squadron disbanded in September 1962 (VF 871 merged with VF 870 on 16 March 1959). RCN fighter squadrons had lasted a mere 16 years.

As a result of the Unification in 1968, HMCS Shearwater was re-named CFB Shearwater. The Naval Air Branch was eventually disbanded and all flying duties became the responsibility of Air Force personnel. Canada's last Aircraft Carrier, HMCS Bonaventure was de-commissioned in 1970 and as a result, the Navy's fixed-wing aircraft were now all shore-based.

Also in 1970, VX-10 Squadron was disbanded and its personnel were transferred to the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment at CFB Uplands.

The disbandment of the RCN Air Arm led to a change of duties for many of the former aircraft carrier squadrons. VS-880 Squadron, with their fleet of Tracker aircraft, switched from an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) role to surveillance duties in conjunction with the federal Department of Fisheries, operating out of Shearwater and their forward detachment at the Torbay Airport. 443 Anti-submarine Warfare Helicopter Squadron re-activated at Shearwater on 25 October 1974.

CFB Shearwater officially reverted back to an Air Force establishment in 1975, when control of the base was transferred to Air Command, although it's primary function was still to provide helicopter and aircraft support to the Navy. As the home of 420 (Fighter) Squadron, the Fleet Diving Unit, the Maritime Command Sea Survival School, 406 Squadron, 415 (Swordfish) Squadron, 413 Transport & Rescue Squadron and the Atlantic fleet's Sea King helicopters, 423 Squadron, Shearwater was an extremely busy Maritime Air Base.

The Helicopter Operational Test & Evaluation Facility (HOTEF) was established at Shearwater in 1980, charged with the responsibility of researching and testing operational equipment for the Sea King helicopters, as well and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and other support equipment trials, marking the return of a dedicated naval air testing facility for the first time since the disbandment of VX-10 Squadron in 1970.

In June 1992, VU-32 Squadron disbanded in a ceremony held at Shearwater, ending 46 years of service to the Canadian Navy. 434 Composite Squadron, originally a bomber squadron, re-formed on 4 July 1992. The squadron was later re-designated a Combat Support Squadron.

The introduction of the Wing concept at Air Force establishments resulted in the base being re-named 12 Wing Shearwater in 1993. However, more change in the wind due to the Federal Government's planned reductions in Canada's Air Force. As a result, Shearwater was downsized to a detachment of CFB Halifax in 1994, although it remained a component of No. 1 Canadian Air Division, Headquartered in Winnipeg.

12 Air Movements Squadron and the Helicopter Operational and Testing Evaluation Facility also remain at 12 Wing. When the Sea King replacement, the Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone, comes on line in 2008, it will be HOTEF that will conduct the trials on the new helicopter.

443 Anti-submarine Warfare Helicopter Squadron re-located at the Victoria International Airport in British Columbia in 1985 as a detached squadron of 12 Wing. Shearwater's fighter-aircraft squadrons 434 and 420 Squadrons re-located to 14 Wing Greenwood.

12 Wing Shearwater is now solely a helicopter facility and remains the centre of naval aviation in Canada as the principal home of 30 CH-124 Sea King helicopters Maritime helicopters flown by 406 Maritime Operational Training Squadron and 423 Maritime Helicopter Squadron.  The runways are now abandoned.

HMCS Acadia Sea Cadet Summer Training Centre re-located to 12 Wing Shearwater. from Cornwallis. 

Approximately three-quarters of the base property was turned over to the Canada Lands Corporation for disposal. The Air Force is also retaining all but one of the hangars, the messes, barracks, supply, transport, construction engineering buildings and the World War I era "Y" hangar (on the opposite site of Highway 322 down to the shore), currently used by the Fleet Diving Unit (Atlantic).The Canadian Forces Housing Agency still maintains 300 PMQs (now called Residential Housing Units) for military members.

There are currently numerous construction projects ongoing at Shearwater in support of the soon-to-be-acquired CH-147 Cyclone Maritime Helicopter,  including the Maritime Helicopter Training Center where 406 Squadron will be located, as well as a new 423 Squadron hangar facility, a new 12 Air Maintenance Squadron facility with 6 repair bays, and a new Operational Support Facility where the Helicopter Operational Test and Evaluation Facility (HOTEF) and various 12 Wing headquarter functions will be located.

Source Material: DND press release from February 1994, "Sentinel" Magazine from March 1967, pg **, June 1968, May 1970, September 1971, May 1974, pgs 12 - 15, June 1974, pg. 9, and February 1992, pg. 21, the personal recollections of Petty Officer 2nd Class John Slor (Ret'd), (1999), pamphlet printed by Studio High Techniques of Toronto (1998), information provided by The National Aviation Museum, Rockcliffe, Ontario (1999), 14 Wing Heritage web site - , "Badges of the Canadian Navy" by LT (N) Graeme Arbuckle, the 12 Wing Shearwater web page -, information provided by Ernest Cable Shearwater Aviation Museum Historian (2003), The Manitoba Military Heritage Project - & the Shearwater Aviation Museum On-line -


Naval Radio Station Newport Corner:

Naval Radio Station Newport Corner was established in 1942 near Newport Corner, Nova Scotia, as a transmitter station for Naval Radio Station Albro Lake.

NRS Albro Lake and its sub-unit NRS Newport Corner was renamed HMC NRS Albro Lake on July 1, 1956.

With the closure of CFS Albro Lake, Newport Corner became the transmitter station for CFS Mill Cove, functioning much as before.

Defence cutbacks in the late 1990s saw both the NRS Newport Corner transmitter and NRS Mill Cove receivers were automated. They are currently operated remotely HMCS Trinity at CFB Halifax and function as detachments to CFB Halifax. The Canadian Forces Housing Agency still maintains 17 PMQs (now called Residential Housing Units) for military members.

"Abandoned Military Installations of Canada Volume III: Atlantic " by Author Paul Ozorak & information supplied by the Canadian Forces Housing Agency (2011).

Last Updated ( Thursday, 21 November 2013 )
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