Part of Our Past - The Royal Canadian Air Force at Long Beach

Authored by Sean McLorie

During the Second World War, a base was established at the current location of the Tofino-Long Beach Airport (YAZ). A large number of soldiers, aircrews, engineers and mechanics as well as a staff of non-commissioned officers flew in and out of RCAF Tofino. With an operational staffing of the garrison in 1941, 67 men worked at the base. This would swell to around 400, of mixed ranks, and a command retinue of 32 non-commissioned officers. By 1945 however that size peaked at an estimated 4000 soldiers aircrew and family members occupying the base larger than the current population of Tofino.

 

 

 

Tents at Air Base. 1941. Image courtesy of the District of Tofino. The tent in the foreground belonged to Fight Sargent and W.F. Balfour and his wife. The fly on top was for extra rain proofing. 

 

The temporary settlement was nicknamed "The Dog Patch." The muddle of tent like structures and shacks provided accommodations to the transient population of pilots, families, and soldiers. Textual records pertaining to the Dog Patch invariable mention the shortages of water, the comforts of pit toilets and bunker oil heating. All in all the community was enormous in size averaging 2000 people over the years (relative of Tofino’s size now 1,922) and quite clustered within roughly a four block area of the airport.

When the RCAF left the base in Tofino at the end of the war, infrastructure was abandoned, including two large diesel generators, which powered the community until power could be brought in via power lines and a substation. Several building were moved from RCAF Tofino; the original Wickaninnish Lodge (formerly a piece of the closed hospital building), the Schooner Restaurant (the other part of the hospital building), and the fire hall at the corner of Campbell and 3rd Streets were all transfers from RCAF Tofino.

Fire Crew - Originally at Air Base. Ca. 1940s. Image courtesy of the District of Tofino. 

Planes that flew in and out of the RCAF Tofino were PBV-1A Canso Flying Boat-11007s. The original PBY-5 (pure flying boat) was adapted from the PBY-4. When landing gear was added, it became the PBY-5A in Canada (a.k.a. the PBV-1A or alternately the PB2B-1A depending on manufacture). “Canso” was the exclusive designation for the Canadian-built amphibian version of the PBY-5.

Sometime in 1940, the Royal Canadian Air Force had actually selected the name Convoy. It did not take long for the “powers that be” to decide that this would lead to mass confusion during radio signals between ship convoys and the aircraft. After a selection process, Canso was chosen after the Straight of Canso or the small community of Canso in Nova Scotia (some debate over this). The R.C.A.F. also rejected the R.A.F. designation Catalina as there were a number of equipment differences.

 

Stranraer Airplane at Air Base. ca. early 1940s. Image courtesy of the District of Tofino. This "flying boat" model was used before the Catalina planes became more popular on Vancouver Island. Photo courtesy of the

 

The Catalina Preservation Society will be visiting the Tofino-Long Beach Airport from June 15th - 16th, 2018 with a 1943 restored Catalina Plane, Shady Lady, that previously flew through the area.