Our People, Our Places – Series One, Episode One
How many Canadian Air Force bases can you name that do not have a runway? In fact, the only airplanes the base has seen is an occasional fly-by during special parade days. An air force base so secret and sensitive that all its personnel were signed-on to a fifty-year secrecy pact, that has only recently come to fruition.
Where is this secret base? Well… It’s fairly easy to find. The secret base is now the village of Vanastra located in the municipality of Huron East, Ontario… on the former property of the Royal Canadian Air Force station used to train and supply over 7,000 radar technicians and support staff for American, British and Canadian special forces during World War II.
Established by the Royal Air Force in 1941, as home to the No. 31 Radio Direction Finding School, a part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. As RADAR was a strictly guarded secret at that time.
The flat farmland along Highway 4 or London Road was chosen because of the high bluffs overlooking Lake Huron, approximately 20 kilometers away. This secret base was thought to be the perfect place to simulate the coastal conditions in Britain.
The objective of radar was to intercept German enemy aircraft before they reached the coast of England… to scramble interceptors to engage over the channel.
British radar training facilities were always under threat of German bombing, so an alternative training site was necessary… thus our very own secret base.
The base had absolutely everything… There were 217 housing units, a school, a fire station, a theater, two churches, and facilities for ice skating, curling, swimming, bowling and even a hospital.
Following the closure of the base in 1971 the 250-acre property was purchased by a developer and was sold piece by piece to private homeowners and businesses over the next several years.
The name Vanastra is actually derived from a combination of the name of developer John Van Gastel and of the RCAF motto, Per Ardua Ad Astra (through adversity to the stars).
Since 1971, the base sadly has gone through some rough times, many of the buildings became derelict and have been left abandoned. However, like the phoenix rising from the proverbial ashes the Village of Vanastra is slowly struggling back with the help of many visionaries who have kept a belief in the little community.
Today many of the buildings have been remodeled to take on a new life… namely Vanastra Packaging, which was once the Junior ranks mess hall, and the old Radar dome that was once the pinnacle of technology when it was first built, now stands as a tribute to the liberation of Holland by the Canadian forces. And even one of the old barracks that has been transformed into the Vanastra Lions Apartment building.
Many thriving businesses now call Vanastra home, as do many proud residents.
Following the completion of the fifty-year secrecy pact, the history of this long forgotten RCAF base at Vanastra opened to the public for the 2019 Jane’s Walk coordinated by the Huron East Economic Development Department and the Maitland Trail Association.
The history of the former base has been incorporated into an interactive heritage trail, that is a must visit for the architourist and war buff alike.
The interactive plaques of the Vanastra Heritage Trail
The village of Vanastra can only get stronger with the aid of the Municipality and its visionaries who want to locate their businesses in the community. We see such potential in the community and admire those who have helped in “Putting Vanastra on the Map”, and indeed the RCAF motto rings true “through adversity to the stars”…