Historic Sites of Manitoba: Caddy Lake Emergency Airfield (Whiteshell Provincial Park)
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Canadian federal government employed able-bodied, unemployed men to build public infrastructure. In return for their labour, each man was provided with food, shelter, and 20 cents per day. In Manitoba, three construction gangs worked in the Whiteshell Forest Reserve (today’s Whiteshell Provincial Park) to build roads to enable the development of tourism in this part of the province. Between Fall 1933 and Spring 1934, one hundred men from the Caddy Lake Relief Camp, under the supervision of Col. Logie Armstrong from the Department of National Defense, built an emergency airfield at this site about 1.5 miles west of the Ontario border. They cleared trees and leveled the terrain then built a triangle of three runways to enable aircraft to land in any wind conditions. The east-west runway was 0.6 miles in length while the southeast-northwest and southwest-northeast runways were each 0.5 mile. It was expected that air crews landing at the facility would walk out to the Canadian Pacific Railway main line that passes about a mile to the south and flag down a passing train.
The Whiteshell airfield was never used for an emergency landing by commercial aircraft but it was used by small, private aircraft of people who owned recreational cottages in the area. It stopped being cleared of trees in the early 1950s and was abandoned completely around 1968. An aerial photo from 1970 shows numerous trees starting to grow on its runways. During a site visit in July 2017, no visible evidence of the three runways could be seen, as a forest fire in May 2016 obliterated much of anything left. Nearby, a 900-square-foot concrete basement was probably part of a residence for the airfield’s caretaker who lived here during the Second World War. Four concrete anchors stand on a rise of land, probably for a steel transmission tower or a fire observation tower. A portion of the Mantario Trail runs through the former runway area and passes beside the former caretaker’s residence.
Photos & Maps
“Building a Manitoba playground,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 March 1933, page 31.
“Single men on relief to go to work camps,” Winnipeg Tribune, 8 August 1933, page 6.
“Three emergency airplane landing fields planned,” Winnipeg Free Press, 14 September 1933, page 11.
“Trans-Canada Airway system to be set up,” Winnipeg Tribune, 24 February 1934, page 1.
“Big improvement seen in forest fire situation,” Winnipeg Free Press, 30 May 1934, page 3.
A11914-85 (1949) and A21937-147 (1970), Manitoba Air Photo Library.
“Hike through history,” Winnipeg Free Press, 7 March 1980, page 77.
History and Folklore of the Whiteshell Park South by Olive Zimmerman, 1991, pages 86, 90, 118.
We thank Paige Kowal for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough and Kyle Daun.
Page revised: 18 August 2017