SMALL CANADA A quar­ter cen­tury af­ter Cana­dian Cold War-era bases closed in Ger­many, strong pock­ets of our home and na­tive land still stand

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - By Joseph Frey with pho­tog­ra­phy by Adrian Peter Maci­ji­wsky

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


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.

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