Build­ing a naval air sta­tion in North Syd­ney was an easy de­ci­sion for Amer­i­cans

Cape Breton Post - - NORTHSIDE/ VICTORIA -

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.)

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