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A plan for the future : the legacies of the British Commonwelath Air Training Plan in Canada's prairie provinces Newell, Allan

Abstract

The establishment of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) saw the creation of more than one hundred air training schools across the country. In the West, the wide-open spaces facilitated many of these sites, and a sophisticated network of airfields sprang up across the prairies almost overnight. The substantial and enduring impact of the BCATP's airfields and schools in the Canadian West is curiously overlooked by historians, who (for the most part) often focus on the Plan's overall operation at the expense of its lasting influence. The construction of the BCATP sites prompted extensive modernisation of the existing infrastructure in many of the small communities selected for schools. Moreover, the vast sums of money poured into the region and the tens of thousands of Commonwealth airmen who came to train at the airfields had a significant and long-term cultural and economic impact on the region. Along with improved infrastructure, the BCATP brought a new cosmopolitanism and a strong regional affinity for the Air Force. More importantly, the Plan influenced the perceptions and perceived roles of women in the prairies and has had an enduring effect on the Canadian women's movement. In the postwar years, the demographics of the prairies shifted as thousands of BCATP alumni returned to take-up residence in the region they had trained in, while at the same time Canadian war brides departed to be with their new husbands abroad. Industry was transformed as well, as civil aviation took up the legacy of the BCATP and opened up the North while at the same time establishing air transport connections among the prairie provinces, the rest of the nation and the world--connections which contributed to the rapid urbanization, economic growth and cultural evolution of the region.

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