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'Proud history': RCAF centennial ready for takeoff in Barrie, Borden

'Borden is actually the birthplace of the RCAF, so it’s extremely significant considering the close ties between Barrie and Borden,' says city resident and local veteran Bill Sergeant
A Second World War-era airplane comes in low to wow the crowd at the Canadian Armed Forces Day & Air Show held at CFB Borden in 2018. | Kevin Lamb/BarrieToday files

April 1, 2024 marks 100 years for the Royal Canadian Air Force, a time to both look back and ahead.

The City of Barrie and Canadian Forces Base Borden will be celebrating the RCAF’s anniversary.

“We’ve got a proud history,” said Barrie resident Bill Sergeant, who served almost 40 year with the air force.

Sergeant, who is with the RCAF Association’s 411 (Huronia) Wing executive, noted the city is marking the century at Military Heritage Park, which is near Southshore Centre, on Barrie’s waterfront.

One way is a tulip garden in the shape of the RCAF roundel — an outer blue circle, white interior with a red maple leaf — as well as in-laid brick, also in the shape of the air force roundel, along one of the park’s pathways. The latter could be named the Maj.-Gen. Richard Rohmer Roundel.

The city's plans to mark the RCAF's 100th anniversary at Military Heritage Park along the Barrie lakeshore. | Image supplied

Rohmer, a longtime Collingwood resident, served with the RCAF as a fighter-reconnaissance pilot from 1942 to 1945, a veteran of battles in Normandy, Belgium and Holland.

The Ad Astra Monument is scheduled to be unveiled April 2, near the entrance of CFB Borden in Angus, to mark the RCAF's centennial. 

Ad Astra is Latin for ‘to the stars’ and is aligned with the RCAF’s Air Command motto, ‘Sic Itur Ad Astra’ or ‘Such is the pathway to the stars.’ The sculptor is Marlene Hilton Moore and it features a column with LED illumination on a pedestal.

Canada’s air force, formed in 1920, was granted the royal title by King George V and became the RCAF on April 1, 1924.

“Borden is actually the birthplace of the RCAF, so it’s extremely significant considering the close ties between Barrie and Borden,” Sergeant said. “That’s sort of the genesis of the RCAF.”

CFB Borden was also part of the British Commonwealth air training plan, which had hundreds of schools across Canada during the Second World War,

“We (Canadian schools) ended up training about 133,000 air crew during World War II,” Sergeant said.

The RCAF also played an important role in the Battle of Britain, when a relatively small number of pilots and their fighters held off the German air force in the early days of the Second World War. 

“We lost 23 pilots in that particular conflict from July to October, 1940, and we had what, 129 pilots altogether and it was a significant contribution,” Sergeant said. “That helped win the battle … it’s one of those things where we played a significant role, yes. Are we best known for that? Hmmm … I would have to debate that.”

Sergeant said the RCAF is better known for the defence of North America, its contributions throughout the Cold War and in Europe.

“We were always ready,” he said. 

The city has a budget of as much as $61,000, from the city’s strategic priority reserve, for what it calls the floral and paverstone roundel projects to mark the RCAF centennial — plus $8,250 in next year’s budget for installation and maintenance of the plants.

Trees For Life proposes to provide in-kind donations of the materials and labour toward the paverstone roundel.

Opened in 2017, Military Heritage Park conveys history through landforms distinctive to each era of overseas and national military endeavours.

This includes Second World War beach landings during the European campaigns represented by sandy pits, red tulips representing the liberation the Netherlands, a wildflower meadow pitted with craters against a line of retaining walls represents the trenches of the western front in the First World War and a double linear row of trees, parallel to Lakeshore Drive, represents marching soldiers.

Barrie is to hold its RCAF 100th anniversary commemorative event in June 2024.

City council gave final approval to the RCAF 100th anniversary recognition at its Feb. 7 meeting.