Historic Sites of Manitoba: No. 5 Air Observers School (Winnipeg)
The No. 5 Air Observers School (AOS) was a component of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan (CATP) during the Second World War. It was built in 1940 on this 60-acre site, located at the southwest corner of Ellice Avenue and Ferry Road, in the then-municipality of St. James (now a suburb of Winnipeg) by the Claydon Company Limited of St. Vital. The facility included double-sized hangars; storage buildings; repair depots; mess and quarters for officers, airmen, and non-commissioned officers; guard houses; workshops; telegraph buildings, and copious amounts of concrete to provide the necessary taxi-ways and runways at Stevenson Field.
Also part of the larger complex was a 15-acre aircraft wing factory situated along Berry, from Ellice Avenue to Sargent Avenue, and the 30-acre No. 8 Repair Depot on the north side of Ellice Avenue from Berry Street to Sackville Street. These facilities employed around 900 and 480 civilians, respectively.
From 28 October to 5 December 1940, the site was home to the No. 14 Elementary Flying Training School prior to its relocation to a facility in the Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie. During this time, a fleet of 25 Tiger Moth aircraft were supplied by the Winnipeg Flying Club to the Central Manitoba Flying School Limited.
On 5 December 1940, AOS staff moved in and took command of the site. To run the new school, the Winnipeg Air Observers School Limited (WAOSL) was formed by the commercial aviation firms of Wings Limited and Starratt Airways. Led by company President R. W. Starratt, other senior staff included Vice-President T. N. Clayton, General Manager M. E. Ashton, H. S. Scarth, Roy Brown, Secretary D. S. Ormond, Operations Manager William A. “Bill” Straith, and William Benedickson.
The AOS opened on 6 January 1941, using commercially-owned and maintained, civilian-flown Avro Ansons assembled at the nearby MacDonald Aircraft Plant. The aircraft were operated under the supervision and instruction of Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) personnel. At the time of opening, the RCAF instructors included Flight Lieutenant Henry Geoffrey Malcolmson, Flying Officer Robert Wilson, and Pilot Officers G. Winn and G. G. Milne. Other staff included some 130 civilians working as mechanics, ground crew, and other technicians, including around 20 pilots of which several were veteran Manitoba bush pilots.
CATP aircrews were educated in a variety of topics, including air navigation, aerial photography, reconnaissance, observation, mapping, and target description. By 24 October 1941, bombing practice was underway, with student crews dropping 11.5-pound smoke bombs from a height of 6,000 feet onto wooden pyramid targets in marshlands at Ridgely, north of Stonewall.
As the war progressed and scale of training increased, larger facilities were needed. In 1943, some 400 workers constructed a new home for the AOS on the southwest side of Stevenson Field. With its expanded capacity, consisting of some 33 structures, the student body grew three-fold. After the relocation in November 1943, the flying squadron from No. 3 Wireless School moved into the former AOS buildings, having previously been based out of No. 8 Repair Depot.
The WAOSL closed in the summer of 1945 and the site is now home to No. 17 Wing of Canadian Forces Base Winnipeg.
Chief Supervisory Officers
Photos & Coordinates
“Tenders called for Observers’ Buildings at Stevenson Field,” Winnipeg Free Press, 8 June 1940, page 7.
“Work to start at once on Air Observer School,” Winnipeg Tribune, 22 June 1940, page 21.
“Work for 1,500,” Winnipeg Free Press, 3 July 1940, page 3.
“No. 2 Command Air expenditures pass $16,000,000 mark,” Winnipeg Tribune, 27 August 1940, page 11.
“Aviation city rises near Stevenson Airport,” Winnipeg Free Press, 4 September 1940, page 3.
“Relief ruling is protested by St. James,” Winnipeg Free Press, 4 September 1940, page 3.
“Air School to operate in Winnipeg 1 month,” Winnipeg Tribune, 18 October 1940, page 25.
“Flying School opens Monday in Winnipeg,” Winnipeg Free Press, 25 October 1940, page 4.
“Anxious for wings,” Winnipeg Free Press, 28 October 1940, page 3.
“Air School staff training planned,” Winnipeg Free Press, 6 November 1940, page 5.
“Full operation of air plan likely by June,” Winnipeg Free Press, 29 November 1940, page 6.
“Air Observers School staff takes over,” Winnipeg Free Press, 5 December 1940, page 3.
“Observers’ School mechanics start work,” Winnipeg Free Press, 6 December 1940, page 3.
“British airmen open Winnipeg Flying School,” Winnipeg Free Press, 6 January 1941, page 9.
“$500,000 Air Observers’ School here enrols first class,” Winnipeg Tribune, 6 January 1941, page 11.
“Big unit of Empire Air Training Plan starts functioning,” Winnipeg Tribune, 6 January 1941, page 11.
“Three war contracts awarded in West; total value $61,000,” Winnipeg Free Press, 27 March 1941, page 7.
“Predicts big future for Air Engineers,” Winnipeg Free Press, 2 May 1941, page 9.
“Navigators learn precision,” Winnipeg Tribune, 17 May 1941, page 17.
“The Duke sees Winnipeg Air Stations in Action,” Winnipeg Free Press, 16 August 1941, page 17.
“Air Schools lengthen bomb aiming course,” Winnipeg Free Press, 28 August 1941, page 8.
“Observers start bombing practice,” Winnipeg Free Press, 24 October 1941, page 4.
“$5,000 Wireless Building planned,” Winnipeg Free Press, 12 December 1941, page 2.
“City briefs [Squadron Leader H. Geoffrey Malcolmson], Winnipeg Free Press, 18 November 1942, page 2.
“16 Manitoban fliers graduate on Friday,” Winnipeg Free Press, 22 January 1943, page 7.
“Car fares discussed again,” Winnipeg Free Press, 25 February 1943, page 6.
“Air School gets bigger,” Winnipeg Free Press, 12 June 1943, page 2.
“Air Observer School student total trebled,” Winnipeg Free Press, 4 August 1943, page 4.
“Flying squadron moves to Stevenson Field,” Winnipeg Free Press, 8 November 1943, page 6.
“Sgt. M. R. Pyne heads Air Navigators’ class,” Winnipeg Free Press, 8 February 1944, page 3.
“Malcolmson given Brandon Command,” Winnipeg Free Press, 31 July 1944, page 3.
“Class of Navigators graduates from No. 5,” Winnipeg Free Press, 30 November 1944, page 3.
“Alberta Airman wins top score at No. 5,” Winnipeg Free Press, 15 March 1945, page 18.
“In the matter of the closing of Winnipeg Air Observer School Limited [...],” Winnipeg Free Press, 26 June 1945, page 11.
This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.
Page revised: 11 October 2021