March 24, 2012

Thoughts of 2012 camping in Casey, Quebec

(UPDATE: This Trip to Parent and Casey happened)

Do you ever get that crazy "smoking man" conspiracy feeling?  Well, I don't often... but once and a while it's kinda fun to think that you might become the man who knew too much.  As I mentioned in a previous blog post, there is an airstrip, a 2.5Km / 8250ft concrete airstrip, in the middle of rural back country Quebec, near a rail line, by a mostly-if-not-completely-abandoned town.  

I now believe this was not officially an RCAF "Station", but an emergency airstrip, forward operating base in-waiting, or some other stand-by air strip facility.  From the information I have been able to gather from historical narrative reports, I do not think it was manned at all most of the time, but there were significant numbers of buildings that could "spring" into action if war was declared or an emergency presented itself.  I have only found two government mentions of Casey; one called it "the Casey airstrip" and the other "Station Casey".  I do also know it went by the name McCarthy before 1951, when the RCAF changed the name.

From what I have been able to figure out from the few scraps of information others have published online, I now believe it was the Canadian military who built the strip, but I'm not sure of that.  At the time the strip would have been built, the American military would have been building radar installations in Canada, so it's not far fetched that they would have built an emergency landing strip for their bombers in the area over Quebec where they would have been re-fueling, or over-flying.  From further reading about how long the USAF made runways during that time period, when this airstrip was built or upgraded in the early 1950s, the Americans were just starting to extend their 4000ft-6500ft runways to 10,000-15,000ft to accommodate fully laden B-47 and B-52 bombers.  Researching further, I found a B-52, only "half full", could take off from a shorter runway - maybe a 8000ft one.  The key is to take off with enough fuel to get aloft and get to a KC-135 in-air refueling plane.  If a B-52 had to make an emergency landing at a 8000ft airstrip, it could deploy a drag chute, and come to a stop within 8000ft.  It could also unload any ordinance, if it was too heavy to take off again, partially refuel, and still take off from a "shorter" 8000ft runway.  I had previously thought this could have been routinely used to refuel, but from what I'm reading about USAF practice, I no longer think that is the case due to the relatively short runway.

RCAF Station Casey (aka McCarthy) ICAO Code: CA-0084 near Casey, Quebec

From my limited research, it seems there were several USAF projects during the 1950's which overflew Canadian airspace and kept nuclear armed bombers in the air over Canada and Greenland "just in case" they had to divert and bomb the living daylights out of the Soviet Union.  

Project Headstart was one such project, and it kicked off in the late 1950s.
We're lucky enough to have a previously classified 15 minute video (10 minute part 1, 5 minute part 2) for you to watch. 
It includes "that guy" who does all the 1950's and 1960's voice overs.  (Who IS that guy??)

Air Force Film Report 33, "Operation Headstart - Airborne Alert" (1959)
Source: National Archives Motion Pictures Unit, Record Group 342

It's important to note that the Canadian government was fully on board with this, as long as the US Military and Canadian Military talked daily and confirmed they were still cool with it.
"The Canadian government gave permission for four overflights daily, including refueling, as long as there was daily service-to-service clearance by the RCAF.  See memo from Philip Farley, Special Assistant for Atomic Energy, to Acting Secretary of State, "Strategic Air Command Exercise 'Headstart,'"13 September 1958, DNSA." source:
Could American bombers have fully re-armed at Casey?
Maybe, but doubtful.  A fully fueled and armed B-52 requires ~12,000-14,00ft of runway to take off safely.  Could they have cut the fuel as previously mentioned?  Maybe, but it carries a lot of ordinance, I think it's unlikely, but open for speculation.  There was and still is an active rail line that fuel and ordinance could have been delivered with, so transportation would not have been a significant problem.

What about fighter jets?
Canadian CF-101 Voodoo
from 416 (Lynx) Squadron, CFB Cold Lake
(Source: Royal Canadian Air Force)
I don't see why not.  Canadian fighter jets of the time (the CF-100 Canuck and CF-101 Voodoo) would have been able to land and take off from that strip, given it's length.
I have found no mention of it yet...

Unlike RCAF Station Parent, which is less than 30Km to the West, I have no descriptions of the buildings, commanding officer's logs, or any details about the base other than what I can gleam from passing mentions, vague stories, or Google satellite imagery.  I really need to hit the books National Archives and see what they will let me see.  Interestingly, some of the documents which I want access to are still marked "restricted by law" even 50 years since the base was decommissioned. ...restricted by law?  Which law, I wonder.

Am I the only person who knows about this place?
Sometimes, because of the lack of info about it, I think so - then I'm reminded by a letter like this that I'm not, and there are others who are just as crazy as I am.
The runway is still in good condition and the foundations of the various buildings are visible, here and there.
For my own pleasure and for cyriosity purposes, I am planning on enjoying a new hobby…. «self-taught» archaeology.  I have located  the foundations of what appears to be  the main gate guard house and I plan to work my way from that point all the way along the runway where numerous other buildings were located.

Credit: Johanne Hurtubise, 2007
Here are some guys who took the initiative and went off-roading and camping up there - hat's off to you boys, nice job - wish the pictures were bigger tho!

Thanks to the limited pictures I've found from people who have visited the site, and the vagueness of all the information, the airstrip at Casey will be my next camping trip, with a stop at Parent to see what I missed last year.

As I find out more information, I'll be sure to share it - and if you have more info or sources I'm missing, please comment and point me in the right direction!


  1. I snowmobiled by the air strip on the 16th of February 2012 prior to entering the very small "town" of Casey where I met two guys that own the "Petit Gare" which translates as the small train station. I started speaking to the older of the two gentlemen who asked me if I noticed the strip. Having visited the old sites at Pagwa, Lowther and Ramore in North East Ontario I asked the gentleman if it was an old radar base. He seemed pretty informed and stated that it was a manned emergency strip during the cold war but never saw much traffic. He did also mention a story concerning drug smugglers that tried to use the strip to bring in a large quantity of cocaine but stated they were all arrested upon landing by police who had been tipped off. The strip definitely made me curious though due to the fact the other bases such as Pagwa no longer have their strips.

  2. Fantastic!
    I have not yet been to Pagwa, Lowther or Ramore - but they are very much on my to-do list.

    From the best of my understanding the Pagwa air strip(s) were USAF made, and gravel - never paved, so they have probably returned to nature easily. There have been rumours that the Pagwa base itself was being dug up by the local Ministry of Transportation for gravel to use on the local roads. From the satellite photos I wonder if they have been digging up the landing strips themselves. Pitty. The airstrips are sort of visible on the satellite view... ( Google Maps: 50.021858,-85.26726 )

    Lowther I had heard was being totally dug up as well, but I have no idea if it had a strip close by, or if it relied on one that was a little farther away that has since been converted to a civilian airport... I believe the COMM site is still there.

    Ramore's airstrips, I believe, were built to the same standard by the USAF as Pagwa, also in the three strip pattern, presumably gravel. (Google Maps 48.416897,-80.294573 ) Most of Ramore is still there from what I've heard and the pictures I've seen from other explorers. CFB Petawawa has winter exercises there during the winter of 2011.

    Feel free to email me any links or further details to my personal e-mail, I'd love to hear more of your adventures.
    (my email is