Army Camps on Sea Island

The "Army Camp" photo in 1937 taken by Wilbert Stewart must have been near where the original Okanagan Helicopters building was according to that 1931 dome-roofed airport hangar in the background.

The Sea Island Heritage Society (SIHS) would like to learn and document more about the Army 'camps' and soldiers that were stationed there.  Some may have been part of #111 (Coast Artillery Cooperation) Squadron who were at
Sea Island 31 May 35 - 14 May 40.  This Cooperative Squadron was actually run by the RCAF and originally was known as No.11 (Army Co-operation) Squadron.  They had a hangar located at the south side of the Vancouver Airport by 1940 before being reformed as #111 Fighter Squadron and relocated to Patricia Bay near Victoria, B.C.
Aircraft: DH60 Moth, Avro Tutor, DH82A Tiger Moth, Armstrong Whitworth Atlas, Westland Lysander, Blackburn Shark*, Fairey Battle, Fairchild 71.

Based on the above and from the following, we know that at least one Pre-war Army camp was on Sea Island by 1935:
ADAMS, Robert Cecil, Bty. Sgt.-Maj., W.O. II, 1918-
My Army recollections - UBC Archives sound tape recording  - Born on May 22, 1918 in Vancouver and educated at private schools in Victoria, B.C. and Port Hope, Ont. While employed by the British Columbia Electric Railway Company
in Vancouver in 1936 he joined No. 111 (Coast Artillery Co-operation) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force (reserve) at Sea Island.  see URL: and URL:

Others may have been with No. 163 Army Co-operation Sqn. at Sea Island flying Bolingbrokes, Cranes, Harvards, and later Kittyhawks, from March 1943 to June 1944. 

Hawker Hurricane MkIIB aircraft were part of the Army Co-operation 133 (f) Squadron on Sea Island during WWII.  The aircraft of 1942 was produced in Canada by the Canadian Car and Foundry Company Ltd. The aircraft served with
the 163 (Fighter) Squadron [previously 163 (Army Co-operation) Squadron] at RCAF Station Sea Island, British Columbia.
#133 (F) Squadron was at Sea Island 10 Mar 44 - 20 Aug 44
Aircraft: Hawker Hurricane Xll, Curtiss Kittyhawk l & lll
The Richmond Archives has several photos of RCAF Hawker Hurricane Mk 1 #311 at Vancouver airport 1939.
A tragic fire in 1993 at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Mount Hope, Ontario resulted in the loss of a former Sea Island-based Hawker Hurricane MkIIB, RCAF #5844.

Commencing in June 1942, as part of the West Coast Air Defense Command, Aerodrome Defense Platoons were established on Canada's West Coast.  By the end of 1942 most coastal RCAF Stations were protected.  By early 1943, Sea Island and Smithers RCAF Stations also had similar protection.

The Permanent Married Quarters for families of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps [RCASC] was located on Sea Island's East and West Boulevards. These were roads off Doherty Road and Airport Road.

A few hutments for army service personnel were also located off McDonald Road near Grauer Road.  They were generally 60'x24' wood tar-paper sheathed huts.  Some had cedar shingle siding.

One army base was the #111 Army (Artillery) Co-operation Squadron** as part of the RCAF base during the war at Sea Island: 31 May 35 - 14 May 40 and again March 1, 1943 to January 6, 1944.
Aircraft: DH60 Moth, Avro Tutor, DH82A Tiger Moth, Armstrong Whitworth Atlas, Westland Lysander, Blackburn Shark, Fairey Battle, Fairchild 71.

Much on the unofficial history of the Canadian Army (Infantry) units on Coastal B.C. during WWII can be located in the following document AHQ Report
#3, "The Employment of Infantry in the Pacific Coast Defences (Aug 1939 to Dec 1943)":
Re: Airfield Defence Battalions

SIHS is trying to determine the time period, the locations, the numbers, and the types of buildings that the Army base or bases were on Sea Island.  Can anyone tell SIHS if the Army Camp on East and West Boulevards off Doherty Road or the camp off McDonald Road had tents before they built the duplex buildings? 

GT said that the army camp off Doherty Road was still there well into the 50s because [former Sea Island resident] Jim Neilson lived there until they were able to move into the new RCAF PMQs which were built about the start of the Korean War. Most of the Army hutments were in pretty bad shape and I doubt that they moved them anywhere. I believe they were knocked down. 

SIHS has documented names and address of numerous Sea Island Elementary School students that resided at both Army Camp #1 and Camp #2.  Camp #1 is definitely the one formerly located on East and West Boulevards off Doherty
Road on Sea Island.

After the war ended the hutments on East and West Blvds were used for a short period of time to house families, and caused great difficulty for the Richmond Mayor, RM Grauer who wanted to be compensated by the Federal Gov't
for subjecting his Municipality and its taxpayers the extra burden and cost involved with this. (i.e. school, bussing and lack of a tax base for the services provided)
The Sea Island Army camp #2 "hutments" became the centre of controversy after the war.  It was reported in the local newspaper September 4, 1946 under the heading, "Nobody's Babies At Sea Island Hutments".  Approximately 30 school children living in temporary Sea Island hutments occupied by evicted Vancouver families, are still "nobody's babies" as far as the Richmond and Vancouver School Boards are concerned.  Each board accused the other of having the responsibility to education the children.  Richmond's school are already overcrowded and are refusing to pay for bussing the children to nearby Vancouver School.  The children have to walk three miles or take the Interurban tram to Vancouver Schools. The problem started when the Wartime Emergency Shelter Board begged Richmond to allow families who had been evicted from their Vancouver homes* to move into the hutments, which had recently been vacated by soldiers.  Reeve R.M. Grauer agreed, but only after getting written agreement that Richmond would not be responsible for the education of the students due to school already being overcrowded, nor for becoming responsible for hospitalization of
relief charges. Finally the provincial government stepped in and agreed to pay half the costs of bussing the children to Vancouver Schools if Richmond paid the other half.
*as reported Sept 18, 1946, Reeve Grauer said he acted in an humanitarian
way by admitting these families, they being evictees who had been forced out
of lodgings in Vancouver through some legal decision.

George McGregor was in the Army.  He said that housing was very scarce and George's wife, Bubbles heard that the department had set up in the Vancouver Hotel, so she applied and was given accommodation in the Army barracks on
Sea Island.  They had been made into duplexes for temporary housing and with her three children, lived at #24 W. Boulevard.  There were other wives there, also with children. There were approx. 14 army huts on E. and W.
Boulevard, on the south side of Sea Island, converted into duplexes (24 families approx.)  complete with 'battleship linoleum'.  It was about 1/4" thick, green or brown were the only colours, and promised to never wear out!
No one had cars in those days, so in order to get groceries, Grauer's Store had put out a box where everyone put in their orders and the next day it was delivered.   There were also Army barracks on McDonald Road. 

GT also said that his uncle Joe Lindal of Burkeville was the first Past President of the Unit 285 ANAF club. This club got its start in the Army Camp that was located just south of Burkeville. It generated enough money to purchase the preacher's manse on Miller Road where the B-line bus stop is now located. It had great success at this location and was very involved with the community. It later located at various locations on Lulu Island eventually going out of business.  The Canadian Government placed a group of Sopron University Faculty of Forest Engineering students in the abandoned
Army hutments on Sea Island in the mid 50's.  They emigrated from Hungary during the Revolution of 1957.  For a short time they were housed on Sea Island, mostly in the abandoned Army huts there.  Some of these duplex Army buildings were moved over to UBC about 1957 or so, but some of the ones off McDonald Road camp apparently ended up in Cora Brown (or parts of them).  We believe that the Army Hutments from the GL Battery at Little Mountain Camp were also relocated to UBC about the same time.

Another tent camp existed on Sea Island during the war.  It was for the 14(F) RCAF Squadron.  We know that the two Air Force chaps Wilbert and Alex (surnames not identified) who interviewed in 1991 for the Rogers Cable TV video production on Sea Island said that the lived in tents on wooden platforms to keep them out of the mud.  This tent camp for some 150 men and officers was located across the field from the RCAF base and used to take off on the grass strip near the runway three at a time in P-40 Kittyhawks; from Jan 1942 to February 1943 while awaiting their deployment to the
American Aleutian Campaign.  Did this RCAF group take over the existing tent camps from the army at the time the Army were moved into their hutment accommodations?

Note the location of the telephone pole erected during WWII as a phony Army artillery gun on Sea Island identified on the map by Gerry Bicknell on our "History" page on the website.  The pole was stuck out at an angle to resemble a large cannon-like artillery gun as a ruse to fool would-be enemy attackers.  Gerry said that there was a radar station built in the middle of the island at this time, WWII, and several dummy anti-aircraft installations were built around the airport, manned by army personnel.  The barrels of these large guns were small wooden telephone poles . as real guns were not
yet available.

Don Gordon recalled in November 2001 that Navy guns were located west of Vancouver cannery and fuel dock (run by Percy Bicknell).  The Navy had a crew of about 5 or 6 who bunked in one of the old Japanese houses.  The army also had barracks (tents) on Ross road and operated ack ack guns and they used to march down to the s.w.c. of the island to fire off at drones.

Pat Martin said in a June 6, 2004 letter, "I didn't have much time in Sea Island, being posted there in June '52.  Then posted to France in May '54. As an armourer I worked on guns, rockets and bombs used on the base.  We even had a bomb dump in the area now occupied by the Coast Guard Hovercraft. Apart from being permanent backing for the 442 and 443 Reserve Sqn's we also worked on target towing* for the Army and Navy.  From time to time acting as 'watchers' on Search and Rescue aircraft looking for lost ships or downed aircraft."

* A drogue was a normally a windsock that was towed behind a plane (the tug) on a long cable. Army or Navy ground gunners would practice firing at the drogue as an aerial target. Pat said that the 2000' cable between the tow
plane and the target drogue was armoured-plated to prevent it being severed by the anti-aircraft bullets. (.50 cal?) - sometimes coloured wax bullets were used to be able to tell which gunner had hit the target).  Pat said that one day they accidentally let the cable go while flying somewhere near Victoria.  They had some explaining to do that night upon their return. 

Defences along the coast, including Esquimalt and Sea Island camouflaged their gun emplacement. Field guns were installed for counter-bombardment, close defence, and support to the naval base or in the case of Sea Island to the airfield and its personnel and assets.  Sometimes, army officers were taken up in the tow planes so they could observe the effectiveness of the camouflage. Also, the aircraft usually had a dawn flight, the purpose of which was to have an aircraft out over the bay looking for enemy ships or submarines. [Many lower mainland residents will recall postwar drogues in the air after lift-off at Sea Island being a bright orange colour.]

An email from David A Ryan, December 28, 1999, regarding #111 Army Co-op Squadron said, "I have searched my material and have only found one entry about the squadron. It lists the station and equipment of the squadron on 1
September 1939. According to its 1939 title, it appears the role was one of artillery spotting for coastal guns. This is similar to later AOP Squadrons that served in war zones. Here is the entry below:

No 111 (Coast Artillery Co-operation) Sqn Auxiliary Active Air Force Station: Sea Island, BC
Equipment : Avro 626, Moth, Tiger Moth & Tutor

163 (Army Co-operation) Squadron.  Hurricane 5584 was one of 401 Mark XIIs on strength within the RCAF between June, 1942 and June, 1947. It currently resides at the National Aviation Museum in Ottawa, Ontario after having
flown 196:55 hours with 163 (Army Co-operation) Squadron, later 163 (Fighter) Squadron at RCAF Station Sea Island, British Columbia.

Later in the war AOP (Air Observation Post) Squadrons had mixed artillery and air force personnel. I assume the artillery personnel did the spotting while the air force personnel were responsible for the aircraft.  A typical AOP squadron has 19 officers and 70 ORs from the army with 3 air force officers and 90 air force ORs for a total of 182 all ranks. It was usually
commanded by a Major of artillery. I am not sure if these squadrons were directly related to the early Army Cooperation Squadrons.

**The history of 440 Squadron can be traced back to October 1932 when it began as Number 11 Army Co-operation Squadron flying the DeHavilland DH-60 Moth aircraft out of Vancouver BC.  It was later redesignated 111 Coastal
Artillery Co-operation Squadron in 1937 and in 1939, was ordered to establish a Detachment at Patricia Bay, Vancouver Island, to provide an Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) presence on the island and to co-operate with the Defences of Victoria and the Esquimalt Naval Base.
The Squadron was disbanded in February of 1941, but reformed again nine months later, this time equipped with Curtiss Kittyhawk P40E aircraft.  The Squadron was initially based out of Rockcliffe, Ontario, but with the Japanese attack on 7 December 1941, the Squadron found itself with orders to move back to Patricia Bay, British Columbia, where it was trained as a fighter-interceptor squadron.  The Squadron was declared operationally ready in March 1942, and by June
1942, 111(F) Fighter Squadron found itself enroute to Anchorage, Alaska in support of the Aleutian Campaign against the Japanese in the North Pacific. During the Squadrons two year stay in the Aleutians it was involved in the only mission where a RCAF Kittyhawk flew against the Japanese, over Kiska, where Squadron Leader Boomer recorded the only RCAF kill of a Japanese aircraft when he shot down a Zero on floats.
See URL:

Please contact the Sea Heritage Society for additional information or send your recollections about the Army Camps or Army life with any photographical material to the Sea Island Heritage Society.  Thx  

Doug J. Eastman
6223 Rose Place
Nanaimo B.C.
V9V 1N3
Tel: 250-756-1762

Sea Island army barracks- August 30, 1944          ( in red boxes )
Canadian Army soldier Ed Squarebriggs holding daughter Sandra 1945-1946  Sea Island army hutments
Personnel awaiting kit inspection at summer camp of No.111(CAC) Squadron, R.C.A.F
  - 1 photograph ; 7 x 5 in.
Conditions of Access
  Graphic (photo)
(Copy negative) PA-133585
90: Open

Terms of use
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-

Restrictions on use: Nil

Copyright: Expired

Additional name(s)

Reference Numbers
Copy negative: PA-133585

Item no. (creator): AG-134

Other accession no.: 1967-052 NPC

Other system control no.: DAPDCAP196