October 07, 2013

RCAF Station Val D'Or / CFS Val D'Or

Credit: CanadianWings.com
In October of 2012 I visted the former site of CFS Val D'Or, which is now a completely civilian airport, to try and figure out where some of the original buildings had been located.  In hindsight, more time at the Air Photo Library would have been beneficial before the trip. CFS Val D'Or was operational in a military capacity from 1949 to 1976.  In the beginning RCAF Station Val D'Or / CFS Val D'Or operated as a detachment of CFS Senneterre, but in the 1960s became a Station under it's own command.

During the Cold War, CF-101 Voodoos from 425 Squadron Bagotville were stationed on alert 24/7 in Quick Reaction Alert hangers built specifically for the Voodoos at the south end of the runway.  They would sleep, eat, and try and entertain themselves while waiting in a constant state of readiness.  Crews would be on rotation from Bagotville, since CFS Val D'Or did not have it's own fighter squadron.  Val D'Or was a forward staging location, intended to facilitate the interception of Soviet bombers making a run over the North pole, at the American North-East, Montreal or Toronto.

Canada never *owned* any nuclear weapons, of course... we just invited the USAF to bring their boys to maintain and guard them on Canadian soil.  If we needed them, we'd borrow them and load them on our planes.  Very convenient both politically and cost wise, I expect.

Two unidentified airmen from Senneterre watching DEW Line aircraft FBJ and IQQ at Val d'Or airport - 30 June 1956.
Courtesy Russ McCrory.
The CF-101 Voodoos primary interception weapon to tackle the Soviet bomber threat was the AIR-2 Genie, a 1.8KT nuclear air-to-air rocket intended to incinerate Soviet bombers and their nuclear payload without detonating the Soviet nuclear bombs.

From what I gather, the preferred way to ship nuclear warheads between countries is by air.  When the Americans shipped Canada their BOMARC missiles to La Macaza (or at least the warheads) it was by heavy air transport, so an airstrip at such a base would need to accommodate large transport planes, not just fighter jets which need shorter runways; Val D'Or has that, a 10,000ft paved runway.

Before the Americans would ship the "Special Weapons", safe storage was needed on site.  These storage locations were built at every air base where CF-101 Voodoos were stationed; Val D'Or was no different.  Before visiting Val D'Or I had scrutinized the recent satellite photos and convinced myself that the best location for such an ammo storage facility would be in the woods, east of the runway.  I was incorrect; what was in the woods was the remains of a sewage processing facility of some sort dating from ~1940-1950s.

After visiting Val D'Or I discovered, thanks to John Clearwater's book Canadian Nuclear Weapons: The Untold Story of Canada's Cold War Arsenal, on page 206, he has diagrams from the National Archives (I think) showing where the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) hangers were as well as the Special Ammunition Storage (SAS).  I did notice the hanger, which I now know to have been the QRA, because it looked to be the right vintage, and had some rusty barbed wire along the top.  

Below are pictures of the QRA hangers.  Only one double hanger (as shown below) is still standing, the other has been demolished along with the living and kitchen facilities which were attached.

I didn't see or find anything that looked like a SAS partially because I didn't know what it would look like, and now I know it was demolished, I don't feel so bad about not finding it either.

In the picture below you can faintly make out the area of the shelters and the entrance from the road.
When visiting Val D'Or we drove right by it, and didn't know what we were looking at.

Location of the Val D'Or SAS:

Location of the Val D'Or SAS:

Previous Location of the Val D'Or SAS:

Unfortunately, as the more recent Bing imagery above shows, the SAS area is *inside* the wire at the Airport, and a hanger has been installed over top of where some of the buildings were.  I presume there is nothing left of anything SAS related in that area.

After looking at vintage aerial photos from the National Air Photo Library I discovered that the bulk of hanger operations (that were not QRA related) happened at the North-West end of the runway, by the small square apron back in the day.  From driving around I can tell you many of the vintage buildings have since been demolished, but a few do remain.  There are several open lots and streets that criss-cross that don't seem to go to anywhere; clearly buildings used to be on those lots.

Green - Sewage Facility | Pink - Original hangers | Red - SAS | Blue - QRA

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