Summerside, Prince Edward Island was the site of three British Commonwealth Air Training Plan schools during World War II. No. 9 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) opened on January 6 1941 and closed on July 8 1942 after operating for 548 days in service to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. No. 9 SFTS moved to Centralia Ontario to make room for No. 1 General Reconnaissance School (GRS) which took over operation of the BCATP station from July 6 1942 to February 3 1945, operating for a total of 943 days.
When No. 9 SFTS opened for business, Summerside had about 5000 residents. At its peak, the BCATP stations increased the town’s population by 2000. Two Summerside companies - Curran & Briggs Ltd. and M.F. Schurman Co. Ltd. were the contractors responsible for the construction of the station which opened ahead of schedule. Both companies still exist today.
The first SFTS students graduated and received their wings on April 16 1941. They flew Harvard aircraft for training. Members of the RCAF Women’s Division were first assigned to Summerside in March 1942.
The primary purpose of No. 1 General Reconnaissance School was to supply trained pilots and navigators for general reconnaissance on the North Atlantic Ocean. Run by RCAF personnel, No. 1 GRS was modelled after No. 31 GRS in which was relocated to Charlottetown PEI from Britain early in the war. It was Royal Air Force managed. No. 1 GRS utilized Avro Anson aircraft for training. It opened with 1855 personnel in July 1945 and peaked at 2147 including 676 students in May 1944.
Pilots trained for nine weeks and navigators for four. Having qualified as Pilots and Navigators prior to coming to No. 1 GRS, these airmen spent a great deal of time as passengers in aircraft over the ocean, honing their dead-reckoning skills. Most of the 6000 pilots and navigators who trained at No. 1 GRS went on to serve in Coastal Command assigned to anti-submarine warfare. They protected Allied convoys with vital supplies and personnel coming and going to Britain and other Allied locations. Four issues of the station magazine ``RECCO’’ were published by No. 1 GRS.
After No. 1 GRS closed, the No. 1 Reconnaissance and Navigation School was opened on September 16 1945 combining existing resources from Summerside with those of the No. 2 Air Navigation School in Charlottetown Navigation School which had been closed. Total personnel at the new school amounted to 1855 in July 1945. This school operated for short time and then was closed in 1946 only to be reopened in 1947 as No. 1 Air Navigation School. The air station continued in one form or another until 1991 when it closed for good and its military units were transferred to CFB Greenwood.
After closure, the base was transferred in total to the Slemon Park Corporation which renamed it Slemon Park. A number of private and public sector organizations took up residence and started business operations. The airfield was separated from Slemon Park and now operates as Summerside Airport which is open to general aviation. When the City of Summerside was created in 1995, a portion of the station, the residential area of Slemon Park, became a part of the city.
In the attached WWII air photo – five hangars and about 30 other building are visible. A 2017 Google Maps air photo shows three of the hangars and a dozen or so buildings from WWII still in existence and providing a useful purpose to local business. Another photo shows the cover of the No. 1 GRS station magazine ``RECCO.’’ The fourth photo shows a hangar, fuel tender and Harvard at Summerside during WWII.
Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum
Canada 150 Vignette
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Stations - 004 of 150
No. 9 Service Flying Training School, No. 1 General Reconnaisance School
Summerside, Prince Edward Island