Shearwater History

Beginnings of the Base (1918-1923)

United States Naval Air Station Halifax (1918-1919)

Shearwater 1920s

The primary reason the Americans were called into the Halifax area, was to counter U-boats such as the U-Kreuzer 'Deutschland' that attacked convoys travelling out of Halifax Harbour and from US East Coast ports.

By 1917 during the First World War the success of convoys sailing from Halifax as the western terminus for the supply line to Britain compelled the German navy to change the focus of their operations. About the same time the Germans developed large sea-going submarines, mounting six-inch guns, and capable of operating off the coast of Nova Scotia for periods of three months or more. The British Admiralty urged Canada to establish air patrols to protect the convoys sailing south of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. But Canada had no suitable aircraft and Britain had no surplus aircraft to lend. Therefore, Canada started formation of the Royal Canadian Naval Air Service to conduct air the patrols to protect the convoys. In the interim the United States agreed to extend its air patrols northward, however, two additional air stations would be required at Halifax and Sydney NS. The United States Navy would provide pilots, seaplanes and kite-balloons until the Royal Canadian Naval Air Service could take over. Canada was responsible for furnishing the site, buildings and all ground equipment.

On 15 August 1918, Lieutenant R.E. Byrd, United States Navy, (later an Admiral renowned for his polar exploits) established United States Naval Air Station Halifax at Baker's Point on the Dartmouth side of Halifax harbour. Lieutenant Byrd assumed direct command of the station at Halifax and acted as liaison officer between the American and Canadian governments in naval aviation matters. Crates containing the first two HS-2L seaplanes arrived in Halifax by train 17 August and were barged across the harbour to the Dartmouth air station. The first aircraft was assembled and successfully test flown two days later and the first operational patrol was flown 25 August 1918; maritime patrol aviation in Canada was born.

The prefabricated hanger built close to the water to accommodate the HS-2L flying boats is still used by the base and has been declared a historic site.

Only a few months after World War One ended on 11 November 1918, the United States Navy personnel returned to the United States, donating their aircraft and equipment to the Canadian government. Royal Canadian Naval Air Service personnel who were training in England and the United States were immediately recalled and the Naval Air Service was disbanded on 5 December 1918.

The museum exhibits a hand-carved wooden model of the Curtiss HS-2L flying boat piloted by then Lt R.E. Byrd.

Canadian Air Board Station Dartmouth (1920-1923)

 

The museum has a rare example of an authentic uniform from the Canadian Air Force era.

With the end of the First World War and the departure of the U.S. Navy from Baker's Point, the Royal Canadian Navy provided caretaker service for the buildings and equipment left behind by the Americans during 1919.

On 18 February 1920 the Canadian government authorized the formation of the Canadian Air Force, which operated under the auspices of the Canadian Air Board, a government agency responsible for all aviation in Canada. While two of the three components of the Air Board had civil aviation responsibilities, the Canadian Air Force, as the third component, was charged with maintaining flying proficiency for Canadians who learned to fly during the war and training new pilots. The former U.S. Naval Air Station Halifax was reactivated as Canadian Air Board Station Dartmouth as one of six stations from which the newly formed Canadian Air Force operated.

The seaplane base at Dartmouth became the first Canadian Air Force station on the East Coast and served the Maritime Provinces as the centre of flying operations. Using HS-2L and Felixstowe F-3 flying boats, the Canadian Air Force conducted photographic flights, fisheries and forest fire patrols for government departments. Of particular note the Canadian Air Force and Air Board crews conducted the first Trans-Canada flight. Starting at Dartmouth on 7 October 1920 and using relays of aircraft and crews the flight ended in Vancouver ten days later. The flying time over the 3341mile (5568 km) route was 49 hours and seven minutes, for an average speed of 68 miles per hour (113 km per hour).