October 28, 2012

Investigating CFS Val D'Or

On the (extended) weekend of October 19th to 22nd 2012, CE and I went for a trip in my new 1999 GMC Suburban 2500 6.5L Diesel to do some Cold War sight-seeing.  Here is how things went.

Setting the stage; CFS Val D'Or was operational from 1954 to 1976, and essentially a forward operations base for ten years where AIR-2 nuclear air-to-air missiles were kept and at the ready for Canadian CF-101 fighter interceptors to use against Soviet bombers coming over the pole. 

It was October 19th, and by the time we had everything together we on the highway at ~0945-1000hrs, and had missed most of rush hour.  We took turns driving and made it to Val D'Or in ~5hrs.  We still had lots of light, so we set out to find where I thought the USAF stored the AIR-2 1.8KT nuclear air-to-air rocket between 1964-1974 for use by the RCAF in a time of immanent war to shoot down Soviet nuclear armed bombers.

We parked in the parking lot of what looked to be a shipping/receiving company at the NE end of the runway, near the Northern alert apron and went to the eastern end of a fence that at one time may have surrounded some warehouse-looking buildings in that corner of the property.  The fence now stops, and allows easy access to the outside of the airport perimeter fence.  If that sounded odd, you read it right - there were two fences, the "inner" barbed wire fence surrounding the current municipal airport of Val D'Or is still very much intact, but the outside fence reaches East and "ends".  Going east from where we parked, we found a manhole and stack coming out of the ground, in the direction the fence was pointing.  It looked like it might be for water, drainage or septic.  There was no smell, so if it was an underground septic, it wasn't active.  By referring to the satellite pictures and topo maps we could see a cut in the trees heading South which looked like a road.  Perhaps at one time there was a road beside and along the hydro poles which stretched South, but the terrain is now moist, full of weeds and weed-trees, and very difficult to pass through.  We discovered that following the barbed wire Airport perimeter fence, on the grass, was much easier, and reached the East-West road that went to where I believed the bunker was, since it was in a remote location on the base far from prying eyes, as I'd read that was how the USAF positioned such installations.  Much to my surprise we didn't discover a nuclear bunker, and as it turns out, the building I saw on the satellite pictures may be a partially above ground/partially below ground septic flush tank made by the Pacific Flush Tank Company.  The jury is still out on what it was and what it was used for, but if I recall correctly, they are used to flush sewer lines or perhaps it was a septic digester.  I'm really not sure.  I hope someone can identify what the unit was from the pictures.  Nearby (to the North) there was what looked like a cement septic tank with a manhole cover on the top, partially filled with what I assume was rain water.  Nearby to the North and East of that there is a derelict fence that has at least partially fallen over.  For future explorers it is absolutely best to park at the NE end of the air strip where we parked, and walk southward along the barbed wire fence along the Eastern side of the airport to reach the "flush tank" or whatever it is.

After finishing off exploring on the East side of the runway around the flush tank, we walked back to the GMC Suburban (which we have nick-named Angry) and headed around the North end of the runway by road, and went South on the West side of the runway.  We passed several buildings on the West and East side of the road which were clearly 1950s vintage; hangers, a garage, some residential buildings, etc.  At the SW end of the runway there is another Alert apron, which is now filled with parked float planes (and some regular planes).  There is a large steel hanger located at the end of the alert apron, exactly where I would have expected a military hanger would be to house fueled and armed CF-101 Voodoos.  25B and 25C were the two hangers' designations, I'm unsure if they were always called by those designations.  We discovered that we could go no further south than those two hangers due to a perimeter fence.  On our way back, we took the road heading west towards the current gun range, and found quite a bit of asphalt dug up and dumped in the woods, a wooden guard post discarded in the woods, and some unexplained clearings.  Could the current gun range have been where the nuclear weapons were stored?  The road is relatively direct, to go from there to the hangers to the gun ramge, so it could make sense.  I'd rather something more than a wild guess, as my track record for those isn't very good!

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  1. This is your lucky day. I am sorry I didn't discover this before so I could provide some information. I was stationed there with the Det 6, 425 Munitions Maint. Squadron, USAF. Indeed there were 4 Voodoos assigned to Val'dor, part of a three or four base circuit. The theory is we launch our birds, they conduct their mission and recover, rearm, and refuel at one to the four bases on the circuit, while the aircraft from the other base(s) do the same at Val'dor.
    The far end of the runway, opposite the civilian airport, was where the Voodoos were housed and kept in a near alert status. About halfway between the airport end and the Voodoo end, were 28 cement, alarmed bunkers. The bunkers were not underground. They were surrounded by a high chain link fence with razor wire and guarded 24/7 by Canadian troops. USAF folks maintained custody of the USA weapons through the alarm system and were onsite at the control building in the bunker area. At alert, weapons were transported from the bunker area to the Voodoo hangers and loaded if necessary. Voodoos were to be blocked from accessing the runway by us security personnel unless release had been granted from NORAD.
    There you have it in a nutshell, hopefully you still check this blog.
    D. DiPardo, ex USAF Air Policeman.

  2. Yes sir! Check it? Oh yes - thank you very much for serving the USAF in Quebec at Val D'Or and thank you for commenting on my blog Mr DiPardo! As I only have old air photos to reference, and no original "map" of the base, can you tell me where the control building was in the "bunker" area? I see where the old 28 concrete SAS buildings were, though they have all gone now... Which years were you stationed at Val D'Or? I might have pictures that show you, or people you knew that I can share. Thanks!

  3. Hello Mr. Watkins,
    I will describe as best I can and hopefully you can figure it out (the control building). The access road ran past the bunker area. One would turn left to enter. Across the road on the other side (a right turn) was the parking lot for all non-military vehicles. Only military vehicles could approach the bunker area entry port. The entry port consisted of a double gate system (we called a sally-port). The vehicle pulls through the first open gate. The gate closes, the vehicle is inspected, and if okayed, the second gate opens for it to enter. Immediately on the right was the bunker control building. Consisted of an office for the supverisor on the watch, a personnel room for the troops, a small kitchen, bathroom, an open area with badges and control for the entry gate, and an inner alarm room with the alarm equipment. Opposite corners of the bunker area wear manned, in personnel booths, by Canadian troops. No one entered a bunker without a two man rule, one Canadian and one USAF. Could be more, but minimum was one of each.
    I served from March 1967 through August 1970. Got to tour a lot of Quebec and Ontario while playing shortstop for the CFS Val'sor Barons fastpitch
    softball team. Great fun and great guys (Canadians) that I will always have fond memories of. Voodoo alerts were awesome when they flew practice curcuits with the other facilities. We'd get beer, sit on the hillside outside our barracks and marvel and the afterburners when the lit off. Loved it and loved it there. In fact, met my first wife there. We'll leave that alone for now.
    Hope this helps.
    Dave D.

    1. Dave D. is D. DiPardo, sorry for not being consistent.

    2. Mr DiPardo, or Dave :)

      This was hugely helpful and I wanted to get back in touch with you - can you drop me an email to steffan.watkins@gmail.com please ?

      I also found some pictures of the construction of the SAS at Val D'Or - I'm surprised the demolished them when they moved out - it seems like a lot of effort to demolish all the concrete and move the gravel!