Day 11 – June 17 – Slave Lake, AB to Cold Lake, AB

We woke to rain and it contined to rain heavily almost all day. Every once in awhile we would drive into a section where it wasn’t raining, but it didn’t take long to get under the clouds again. Consequently we did not get out of the truck very often.

Just before we reached Lac la Biche we turned off Highway 2 and drove 4 km to the Lac La Biche Mission Heritage Site. Even though the signs said they were open and that we should ring the bell to have someone come downstairs no one arrived. We took a couple of photos and as we were heading to the truck to continue our journey we saw a large group of children going from one building to another. All the staff must have been escorting the class on a tour.

The Notre Dame des Victoires Mission began in 1853 in a log cabin beside the Hudson Bay Company post, 6 miles east of the current location. In 1855 they moved to this site to set the property up as a depot for supplying their missions in the Peace, Athabasca & Mackenzie Districts. Within a few years the complex grew to include a convent, church, flourmill and granaries, a sawmill and various storehouses & sheds.

We stopped during a rain lull to find a geocache hidden at the All Saints Ukranian Orthodox Church of Sandy Rapids.

We arrived at our destination for the next two nights about 2:30 and drove out to the Canadian Forces Base.

Construction of what would become known as RCAF Station Cold Lake began in 1952 at the height of the Cold War after a nearby site in Alberta’s “Lakeland District” was chosen by the RCAF for the country’s premier air weapons training base. The chosen location for the base was west of the former Town of Grand Center (now part of the City of Cold Lake), and was based on factors such as low population density, accessibility, weather, suitable terrain, and nearby available land for air weapons training. The facility is operated as an air force base by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and is approximately 35 km (22 mi) south of the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR), which is used as practicing grounds by CFB Cold Lake’s fighter pilots. The weapons range spans land in both Alberta and Saskatchewan and covers 11,700 square kilometers.

Candaian Forces Cold Lake Base is an independent town with all of the usual amenities – grocery stores, gas station, sports center, splash park, swimming pool, baseball field, golf course, school, several churches, a family resource center and a large health care facility with ambulance service. We even saw a Tim Horton’s. There are several differnt residential sections plus barracks for the annual cadet camps held from June through August.

Timber wolves, indigenous to the Canadian north where this unit is situated, are well known as skilled hunters and fearless fighters. The three heads illustrate all round watchfulness and readiness, symbolic of the unit’s role. The Motto translates as “Northern Sentinel”.

CFB Cold Lake’s primary lodger unit is called 4 Wing and we saw many places and things like benches with the 4 Wing moniker.

Our drive around the base consisted of stops at a lot of different displayed aircraft. I know as much about airplanes as I do dinosaurs, but at an air force base I guess it would be considered a requisite to photograph a bunch of them.

C-18 Hornet. The air frame for this aircraft was also used by the Royal Australian Air Force, and the Swiss, Malaysian, Finnish and Spanish air forces.

CT-133 Silver Dart, often called the T-Bird, it is easily identifiable by its wingtip fuel tanks.

The CFSA Freedom Fighter was also used by the Royal Netherlands Air Force and the Venezuelan Air Force.

Since this is an Air Force base and not an army base there was not very many military ordinance around. This QF 3.7 inch MK-3 Anti-aircraft gun was the only one we saw. It was built by the General Electric Company starting in 1941. Production capacity eventually reached 300 guns per month. This gun was also built for the UK, Australian, New Zealnd and India Air Forces. In it’s history it has been used by 14 nations and remains in service today by the Nepalese Air Force.

Another Silver Star. These planes were first flown in 1952.

This was my favourite. It just looks so sleek. It is a CF-104 Starfighter. It was used by the Canadian Air Force from 1963-1984. Canadair produced 200 of these planes for use by the RCAF and 140 for Lockheed. The Lockheed version was also purchased and used by Japan, Germany, Turkey and the United States Air Forces.

The CC-129 Dakota was built by Douglas Aircraft Corp in the USA as the C-47. Over 10,000 C-47 Dakotas were built, starting in 1933. During its peak this aircraft was used by over 40 militaries worldwide. Today it is still in use by some, but mostly as a cargo aircraft with small private carriers.

In Canada its primary roll was a transport aircraft, but post WW 2 it was used in a variety of other roles including Search & Rescue, target towing, and as a navigation trainer for CF-104 Starfighter pilots.

This particular airplane entered service in 1944 and after modification in 1962 served in France. In 1967 the plane became part of Base Flight at CFB Cold Lake where it was used as a CF-108 Starfighter navigational trainer, which is why it has a large conical nose which earned it the nickname Pinocchio.

Throughout its service life this aircraft accumulated an astonishing 1,246,666 flight hours. It spent its last 3 years in Winnipeg before being retired in 1989 and moved back to Cold Lake for preservation. The plaque below may be a little hard to read, but I thought it was quite a fondly worded history of this plane.

Before we left the base a couple of hours later we stopped at the viewing area near the airstrip and watched a few of the planes that we had seen take off as we toured around come in for landings. A couple of them did a ‘touch and go’ where they landed and then immediately went airborne again.

This one is rising off the tarmack after setting down briefly for its ‘touch and go’.

Earlier in the afternoon we had seen these two planes rise into the air together and as we were at the viewing area they came in to land together. They set down, one slightly behind the other, at the same time. Awesome flying to watch.

We left the base and headed to Cold Lake to find our hotel but made one more stop to see the two planes outside the Cold Lake Museum; which we plan to visit tomorrow. Both of these planes display a large red X on the tail which indicates that they were training aircraft.

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