RCAF Colours presentation: “This is where military aviation began”

News Article / September 5, 2017

From Lieutenant-General Michael J. Hood

On September 1, 2017, the Governor General presented new Colours – special consecrated military flags – to the Royal Canadian Air Force. Here’s what the commander of the RCAF said during the ceremony.

Your Excellency, thank you for sharing this important day with us.

And while I appreciate that Mrs. Johnston is an Honorary Captain in the Navy, we may be a little more partial to Air Force blue, Your Excellency.

Minister Sajjan, thank you as well for joining us here today, and for your continued support to the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Your Honour, Lieutenant Governor Dowdeswell, we appreciate the support you have provided to our event, and we are grateful that you are honouring us with your presence.

Mayor Tory, thank you so much for proclaiming this day in honour of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and for allowing us to celebrate this great occasion in such a magnificent setting.

Former commanders of the RCAF, airmen and airwomen, friends of the Air Force.

Ladies and gentlemen.

The RCAF has received Colours only twice before in our 93-year history: in 1950 from Governor General Alexander of Tunis and in 1982 from Governor General Ed Schreyer.  

To the men and women of the Royal Canadian Air Force: Our Colours – these physical objects on parade today – embody the ideals of bravery, honour, duty, and esprit de corps. They symbolize our history, our pride, and our service to Crown and Country.

To the people of this great city of Toronto: you may be wondering why we are holding this most solemn and special of ceremonies here in Toronto.

It’s very simple.

This is where Canadian military aviation began.

One hundred years ago – in January of 1917 – members of the Royal Flying Corps came to Canada to recruit and train Canadian aircrew for service during the First World War. They set up their headquarters at 56 Church Street, only about a kilometre where we are standing right now, near King Street.

And although Camp Borden was the main pilot training location, the first flights in the air took place here, at Long Branch, Canada’s first military aerodrome, located just south of Lakeshore Boulevard and east of Dixie Road.

Now, I don’t think I have to explain who hockey icon Conn Smythe was to this audience, but you may not know that he served in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. And that one of his instructors was William Barker, who was, and remains, Canada’s most highly decorated war hero. We celebrate his memory every 11th of November at a ceremony in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. When he died in 1930, 50,000 Torontonians came out to witness the funeral cortege.

So when Toronto-born Conn Smythe formed the Maple Leafs, he chose William Barker, his friend and instructor, to be its first president. Wing Commander Barker was also a business partner with another cherished Air Force hero, who is enshrined in the name of Toronto’s downtown airport: the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

During the Second World War, Toronto was again home to many training facilities and the first Canadian women were recruited here for the RCAF’s war effort, with training taking place at Havergal College.

Toronto also has a long history of air force innovation. At Malton, near the present-day Pearson Airport, Victory Aircraft Limited built more than 400 of the mighty Lancaster Mark Ten heavy bombers during the Second World War. They made a significant contribution to the Air Force’s winning of [the bombing] campaign.

Victory Aircraft became Avro Canada, which created the famous Avro Arrow, among other aircraft.

That spirit of partnership and innovation lives on today in our partnership with Toronto's Seneca College for pilot training, and with the Royal Canadian Air Force Flight Deck in Communitech – the innovation super-hub in nearby Waterloo.

In closing, to the men and women of the Royal Canadian Air Force: here on parade, flying in the skies, and maintaining and controlling our aircraft across Canada and around the world. I am so proud of the tireless work you carry out every day for this great country Canada and Canadians.

People of Toronto, thank you for welcoming us back to your city and for your enthusiasm and support for the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Remember that – every day – we live the words of our motto, which are inscribed on our new Colour.

Sic Itur Ad Astra. Such is the pathway to the stars.

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