Remembering the gritty history of a WWII-era air force base at Tofino, B.C.
For anyone who’s ever visited the spectacular setting of Long Beach, near Tofino, B.C., it’s hard for them to imagine at one point the area was used for a very different purpose other than relaxation.
"The beach was used for target practice," said author and local historian, Adrienne Mason.
"They were strafing the dunes and they had survival training in the dune area and elsewhere in the Long Beach area, so there was all of this military action going on," she said.
Mason is the author of Long Beach Wild, which documents the area's early history including the period of 1941 to 1958 when a major air force installation was located there.
The site is where the Long Beach Airport has since been created, on traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.
"It ended up being three runways, a couple of huge hangars, (a) 128-bed hospital, a dental clinic, a mess hall, it was a big deal," said Mason.
She says at the base’s height, there were around 1,100 personnel there.
The station was one of several across the West Coast of Canada, according to Carol Popkin, program manager of the Comox Air force Museum, and was part of the country’s defence against possible Japanese invasions.
"At the time it seemed very important for defence and reconnaissance," Popkin said. "Of course the Battle of the Atlantic started and that’s when people started to look (for) submarines and checking out what was going on along the coast."
She says the installation in Tofino was ideally situated and was the take-off location for Kittyhawks, Bolingbrokes and Harvards that were stationed there.
"It was a way to get aircraft up quickly, within minutes as opposed to hours coming from Vancouver, so at the time it was very important,” Popkin said.
Seeing the area today, one would think those stationed at RCAF Tofino would have loved the setting, but apparently that wasn’t the case.
"It was actually quite a tough place to be, in terms of the weather, the mud, there wasn’t a lot there when they got there obviously – certainly in the first year," said Popkin.
"There was many personnel but there wasn’t the supplies, there wasn’t the infrastructure in place."
The air force base in Tofino was built in 1941: (National Archives of Canada)
Because of the remote location and the lack of roads into the area, creating the base was no easy task according to Mason. It began with a logging company that was brought in to clear the area, with the first squadron being brought in even before the clearing was finished.
"They finished a runway and this squadron came in," said Mason. "There was no mess hall, there was nowhere for them to live, they kind of hung out with the construction crew or lived in tents and they were enlisted to help try to finish this airport."
"There was nothing. They had to build the concrete plant to the make the concrete, there was no electricity, they had to put all the infrastructure in,” she said.
Part of that work included the installation of pilings that were pounded along the shoreline and strung with barbed wire so that landing craft couldn’t come in along the beach. Mason says some of those pilings can still be seen at times, but little else remains.
She adds that there are a few original buildings still in use at the airport while a few others had been relocated into Tofino itself.
The base closed in September 1944, and had a brief second life from 1955 to 1958 before being closed permanently.
An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified a Second World War battle as the Battle of Britain, rather than the Battle of the Atlantic. The same version also also misspelled the name of the Bolingbroke aircraft.
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
The organization representing Canada's tourism industry is applauding the U.S. government's decision to allow Canadian travellers with mixed vaccine doses once the border opens in November.
W5 INVESTIGATES | Can you be addicted to food? Theory on what's fuelling North America's obesity problem gains ground
Saturday at 7 p.m. on CTV: W5 investigates a theory that's not widely accepted in scientific circles, but is gaining ground: that North America's obesity problem is being fuelled by a physical addiction to highly processed foods.
Mounties in Nunavut have charged a man with first-degree murder in the May death of actress Emerald MacDonald.
New York real estate heir Robert Durst, who days ago was sentenced in a two-decade-old murder case, has been hospitalized after contracting COVID-19, his lawyer said Saturday.
A series of studies led by Dutch researchers have found that avoiding the news during the pandemic was correlated with better mental well-being.
The New Brunswick RCMP says it remains committed to 'strengthening relationships' between Mounties and Indigenous communities, as the province finds itself in the midst of litigation involving several Indigenous groups.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the government will continue to require travellers to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test upon entry into the country so long as the Public Health Agency of Canada advocates for it.
Meteorite that crashed into B.C. woman's house could shed light on solar system's origin, physicist says
A small, angular rock that one Canadian physicist says looks like a chunk of black cheese has the potential to help scientists understand how the early solar system formed.
A NASA spacecraft named Lucy rocketed into the sky with diamonds Saturday on a 12-year quest to explore eight asteroids.
A B.C.-based cannabis brand is recalling one lot of one of its products due to contamination with powdery mildew.
Imagine crossing a bridge in traffic and noticing that the driver next to you appears to be asleep. That's what happened to a Metro Vancouver resident as he was crossing the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge to North Vancouver Thursday afternoon.
Mounties in Chilliwack are appealing for witnesses to a hit-and-run crash that left a woman unconscious and bleeding in a ditch earlier this week to come forward.
Ditching the practice of switching the time twice a year may seem like a no-brainer to some, but Alberta psychologists warn that the result of a provincial referendum could have unexpected consequences.
According to the Realtors Association of Edmonton, new residential listings last month were down from August, as well as single-family home unit and duplex/rowhouse sales.
Mayoral candidate Kim Krushell released her campaign donors, revealing more than $185,000 raised at minimum.
Police say charges have been laid against a 25-year-old in connection with a series of attacks in the downtown core early Friday.
If you’re northbound on Macleod Trail into Calgary’s downtown you’ll notice a slight delay in traffic this weekend but also the notable absence of the Plus-15 bridge and elevated portion of the Victoria Park/Stampede LRT station.
Relatives and friends of an Indigenous woman, who was stabbed to death while walking along 17th Avenue in 2007, will be attending an annual event in downtown Calgary Saturday.
Toronto police have identified the 27-year-old man killed in a shooting in North York early Saturday morning.
Ontario is reporting 486 new COVID-19 cases, marking the sixth day in a row in which the daily case count was below 500.
The Ontario government has launched its COVID-19 vaccine verification app and QR code system.
A 53-year-old Montreal woman alleges she was thrown to the ground by police after lowering her mask while leaving a metro station.
Police are investigating after a Lamborghini wound up smashed and abandoned in the middle of a Montreal boulevard.
Quebec singer Ginette Reno revealed Saturday in a social media post from her hospital room that she has been diagnosed with a rare heart condition.
Three more New Brunswickers have died as a result of COVID-19, public health confirmed on Saturday.
'Glace Bay has been challenged': Funeral held for teen girl who died in Cape Breton, N.S. house fire
Community members and loved ones gathered at a funeral home in Glace Bay, N.S. on Saturday to fondly remember a teenaged girl taken too soon.
A shortage of qualified sports officials in Manitoba has the potential to affect an athlete’s ability to play the game they love because, without them, there are no games.
Family members who have loved ones living at two personal care homes in the Southern Health region tell CTV News they have been given the heads-up they may need to help with care starting next week.
PaRx is a nature prescribing program that has launched in Manitoba that prescribes outdoor time for patients.
The University of Saskatchewan Huskies stormed onto the field for their first home game in 714 days, playing against the University of Alberta Golden Bears.
A 32-year-old woman was found dead on Friday after RCMP investigated the whereabouts of the missing woman on Onion Lake Cree Nation.
Saskatchewan set a new daily record for COVID-19 ICU patients on Saturday, with 81 people currently receiving intensive care.
Despite plateauing COVID-19 case numbers, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer said the province is far from clearing the fourth wave.
On Saturday, The City of Regina put a fence around the tents set up at “Camp Marjorie” in order to keep the residents of the camp, volunteers and the surrounding community safe.
Former TSN broadcaster and mental health advocate Michael Landsberg was happy to be able to speak to a live audience for the first time since the pandemic began.
A crowd of supporters of controversial vaccine mandate and mask opponent Chris Saccoccia, also known as Chris Sky, turned out at Victoria Park on Saturday afternoon.
Southpoint Drift has created a lane for drivers to take the love of stunt driving to the track as a recognized sport.
After two years of preparation, the North Bay Mountain Bike Association has officially opened the brand new 5km trails and pump track called 'Three Towers Trail Network.'
The town of Blind River's annual tradition of "dancing witches" returns, with its biggest rendition yet.
New research from IDP Connect finds that more than one-third of students surveyed rate Canada as their first choice for post-secondary studies.
27-year-old Randy Nguyen from Cambridge has been identified as the shooting victim in a homicide investigation in Toronto.
Starting Saturday, Region of Waterloo Public Health will no longer be updating daily COVID-19 case counts and other pandemic related statistics on the weekend.
Region of Waterloo Pubic Health declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Queensmount Public School on Saturday.