Building a naval air station in North Sydney was an easy decision for Americans
or the year ending March 31, 1919, the expenditures for construction of facilities at Halifax were $335,798 while those in North Sydney were $238,643, a whopping 40 per cent difference, spent at the incorrect location.”
As retired naval aviator Peter Lawson mentions in his fascinating book Naval Air Station North Sydney — 1918, a large portion of American funds that were destined for North Sydney were diverted to HalifaxDartmouth. In addition, two seaplanes that were supposed to be flown to the Northside town never left Halifax harbour.
At a meeting in Halifax on Aug. 26, 1918, between representatives of the Canadian and American military, it was agreed that the base on Sydney harbour would be considered the top priority for anti-submarine patrols, because of its close proximity to the North Atlantic shipping lanes. At that period in the First World War, Sydney Harbour was considered the most important port in eastern Canada, and for that reason the larger of the two American naval air stations to be built in Nova Scotia was to be constructed in North Sydney.
Because the war ended less than three months after that meeting, we will never know whether the Northside naval air station would eventually have been larger than the one on the Dartmouth side of Halifax Harbour. However, it seems that the HalifaxDartmouth naval air station had some powerful friends on its side. Were these military friends, or political friends? Probably a combination of both.
By June 1918, in anticipation of the war lasting another two or three years, Canada and the United States had agreed to set up two naval air stations in Nova Scotia. Canada would provide the locations and on-site buildings. The United States would provide all aircraft, military personnel and would pay all operat- ing expenses.
Over the next five months the United States government put a lot of effort, and money, into the construction of a naval air station in North Sydney. While permanent facilities were under construction at Kelly’s Beach (now Munro Park), a temporary camp was set up at Indian Beach (also known as North Bar).
Over the summer a wooden ramp was built on the Marine Atlantic side of the beach, across from the ball field, so that the seaplanes could be towed up on shore, after they landed in the water. Tents supplied by the Canadian Army were set up on the present day sports field, to house the more than 200 American servicemen who came to North Sydney by train. However, while the ordinary enlisted men slept under canvas, their officers were billeted at private homes in town.
By the middle of September, a primitive mess hall capable of seating more than 100 men had been built, using wooden crates and whatever other scrap lumber was available. It certainly was not fancy, but from all accounts, the food was very good. Supplies of food and other provisions were purchased in the town.
(Correction: Last week I wrote that Peter Lawson was a retired pilot. He was actually a navigator and electronic anti-submarine specialist, with the Royal Canadian Naval Air Service.)