SMALL CANADA A quarter century after Canadian Cold War-era bases closed in Germany, strong pockets of our home and native land still stand
It means “small Canada” — a reference to the pockets of this country that still exist in Germany 25 years after Canadian Cold War-era bases there closed for good
THERE’S A MEMORIAL to Canadian military personnel in Lahr, Germany, beside the offices of the city’s lord mayor. It’s a simple yet elegant stone column adorned with bronze-coloured plaques — including a maple leaf and the heraldic crest of the city’s former Canadian military base — that was erected by the citizens of Lahr in recognition of the Canadians who were garrisoned there during the Cold War. One of its inscriptions reads: “Friends – Neighbours – Allies.” It’s not the only Canadian memorial in a European town, but it serves to mark the unique nature of this city of about 47,000 in the country’s southwestern corner. “Lahr is the most Canadian place in Germany,” says the city’s lord mayor, Wolfgang Müller. “We were the only city in Germany to discuss the Canada-european Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement in our local parliament and back it with a positive vote,” he continues, offering just one example of the city’s many Canadian connections.
“The Canadian Armed Forces helped provide Germany with security and safety during the Cold War, and the city of Lahr also appreciated Canada’s support for German reunification after the Berlin Wall came down,” says Müller. “Talks were held in Ottawa that made German reunification possible. We appreciate it.” August 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of Canada pulling its combat troops out of a reunified Germany. What eventually became known as Canadian Forces Base Lahr was transferred to Canada from the French Air Force in March 1967 and served in support of NATO during the Cold War. Meanwhile, what became Canadian Forces Base Baden-soellingen, located near the farming community of Söllingen 70 kilometres north of Lahr, had been performing a similar purpose since September 1953. I was among the thousands that called the installations home over the years, having served a couple of weeks in autumn 1989 at CFB Lahr during my career in the armed forces. I knew first-hand that strong pockets of Canadiana had emerged in both communities, and I was eager to return a quarter century after the bases had closed. There I discovered that the two areas still carry numerous hallmarks of Canadian culture, not only in memorials, but in infrastructure and most importantly, people — namely former Canadian soldiers and aircrew who started new lives in Germany.
DEUTSCH-KANADISCHES Luftwaffen museum (translation: German Canadian Air Force Museum) is the only museum in Europe dedicated to Canada’s contribution to the Cold War. It’s housed in a former Royal Canadian Air Force HAS (hardened aircraft shelter) on the site of CFB Baden-soellingen. The museum, which is filled with the different types of jet fighters Canadians flew in Germany between 1953 and 1993, is funded by donations and run by local German and Canadian volunteers. With its RCAF flags, squadron insignias, hand-painted scenes of military aircraft in flight, a mounted moose head and air force uniforms, the museum is reminiscent of an RCAF jet fighter base in either Germany or Canada during the latter half of the 20th century. Here I meet Canadians Gerald Lemay, a former aircraft technician originally from Quebec City who arrived in 1953, and Kevin Grainger, a former aeroengine technician who grew up in Dartmouth, N.S., and was posted to Baden-soellingen in 1986. Both served as members of the RCAF. Lemay is a bit of a legend with the museum’s volunteer staff, as he’s believed to be the first RCAF member of the Cold War deployment to have married a German. He met his future wife on his first day at the base’s mess hall where she was a waitress.
“I had to learn dancing so fast,” says Lemay with a laugh. Together they had nine children, six boys and three girls. Five of the boys still live in Germany, while one son moved to Lévis, Que. All three daughters married RCAF officers and moved to Canada when their husbands were redeployed from Germany. Grainger, for his part, made t he decision to remain in Germany with his German wife and daughter, finding employment as the platzarbeiter, or groundskeeper, at the Baden Hills Golf und Curling Club, which the RCAF built in 1962 alongside the base’s runway. (There’s a commemorative plaque at the second tee in tribute to the Canadian founders.)
Joseph Frey (@Joseph_g_frey) writes about field sciences, history and geography for publications such as the Globe and Mail, Time, Geographical and DIVER. Adrian Peter Macijiwsky (bonterradigital.com) is a Toronto-based photographer and videographer. Grainger tours me around the small communities surrounding the former base. The neighbourhood of what was once Canadian military housing is still known today as Kleinkanada (small Canada), and numerous streets in the region share the names of Canadian places — Ontariostraße, Albertastraße and Cabot Trail. “CFB Baden-soellingen had a big influence on the surrounding towns,” says Grainger. “The economy was booming; restaurants and local businesses were filled with Canadians.”
IT’S A 70-KILOMETRE TRIP from the former CFB BadenSoellingen south to Lahr through the narrow Rhine River Valley. It’s dotted with small communities surrounded by well-tended fields of golden-green grains, corn and potatoes. Strawberries, white asparagus and sunchoke, a potato-like root used in making schnapps, are also grown in the area. Just to the west is the Rhine River, which along this stretch forms the border between France’s Alsace region and Germany’s southwestern state of BadenWürttemberg. To the east, it’s not more than a stone’s throw to the foothills of the picturesque Schwarzwald, or Black Forest. I meet John Adey, son of an RCAF firefighter, for lunch at Gasthaus & Pension Bruckerhof a few kilometres north of Lahr
WITH ITS RCAF FLAGS, SQUADRON INSIGNIAS, A MOUNTED MOOSE HEAD AND AIR FORCE UNIFORMS, THE MUSEUM IS REMINISCENT OF A CANADIAN FIGHTER BASE.
The memorial to Canadian military personnel outside the lord mayor’s office in Lahr, Germany.
The Baden Hills Golf und Curling Club, which the RCAF built in 1962, flanks the former base.
Clockwise from top: the former CFB in Söllingen, now an active commercial airport; barracks at old Canadian Forces Base Lahr; a group of Canadians and Germans who worked at CFB Lahr gather for a weekly lunch.