U.S. infrastructure in North Sydney not completed in time for First World War
here are at present eight Canadian naval ratings (sailors) at naval air station North Sydney. They are engaged in sentry duty, and keeping up the fires in the men’s two barrack buildings and storeroom. There are no United States ratings aboard.”
When this report was filed, dated Feb. 20, 1919, the First World War had been over for a little more than three months. After Armistice Day, Nov. 11, procedures were immediately put in place to wind up operations in North Sydney, and most of the approximately 200 American servicemen were sent back to the United States. By midDecember only a few were left to officially supervise turning over the facilities to the Canadian government.
Officials in Ottawa had agreed to purchase all air-related ground equipment at the two naval air stations in Dartmouth and Sydney. In return, the American government gave Canada, at no charge, 12 Curtiss flying boats, and 26 aircraft engines. Eight of these seaplanes were left in North Sydney.
By this time the two barrack buildings at Kelly’s Beach (Munro Park) had finally been completed, but they were too late to be used. They had been built to accommodate about 400 men, with recreation and dining facilities, and now they were simply boarded up. They were impressive structures, two stories on a concrete foundation, and were still standing in the 1950s when I was in school. They were, however, put to good use during the Second World War.
Also left in place, at Kelly’s Beach, were a single storey building that was designed as a storeroom, and a partially completed aircraft hangar that measured 110 by 140 feet. Both of these were on the water side of Queen Street, not too far from the new wing under construction at our senior citizens’ home. Both barrack buildings were on the high side of Queen Street, and their location is now occupied by private homes.
Had the First World War continued into 1919, or even 1920, all the temporary facilities at Indian Beach would have been moved to Kelly’s Beach, which would have become the official site of naval air station North Sydney.
When Halifax author Peter Lawson was researching his book on naval air station North Sydney, he came upon an item that added a sad postscript to the story of the Kelly’s Beach site. It seems that when this aircraft hangar was being dismantled in 1920, three men working there were involved in a serious accident. George Galpin and George Cousins were severely injured and Thomas Shaw was killed when the hangar suddenly collapsed on them.
At the end of the war some consideration was given to the possible future use of the air stations in Dartmouth and North Sydney. It was suggested that the anti-submarine seaplanes could be used for fisheries patrol, or for coastal defence. They might also be used for carrying the royal mail between Halifax, Sydney, and St. John’s, N.L. Nothing, however, would come of these recommendations.
The official American military presence in North Sydney, which has been so well documented by author Peter Lawson, only lasted for a little more than four months. According to United States military records, naval air station North Sydney opened on Aug. 31, 1918, and closed on Jan 7, 1919.