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Shearwater celebrates 90 years of Maritime aviation

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It’s a wonder Shearwater doesn’t have an identity crisis. For almost a century the air station has been known by more than a handful of names. But despite the evolution, one idea has remained: Shearwater is prime real estate for an air base.

“The American Navy opened the station,” says Christine Hines, the Shearwater Aviation Museum curator, “but the Canadians have had it under its care ever since.”

On August 15, 1918, the United States Naval Air Station in Shearwater opened. It was wartime and the British wanted a station from where the Allies could initiate North Atlantic air patrols to look for German U-boats known to sit off the coast of Nova Scotia.

Because the Canadians didn’t have the resources to set up shop, it fell to our friends stateside to lend a hand. The U.S. Naval Air Station had its first operational patrol within days of being up and running. Though it was toward the end of the First World War, it quickly established its important role in protecting naval convoys.

Ninety years later Shearwater is celebrating that milestone anniversary, looking back at the birth and development of Maritime Aviation. Friday, October 24th was dedicated to commemorate the occasion. Events included a history briefing, a fun trivia contest, a barbecue and an evening dinner.

With the help of the museum’s historian Col(Ret) Ernie Cable, attendees—12 Wing staff as well as military and civilian dignitaries—learned how the site changed names to the Canadian Air Board Station Dartmouth following WWI. Then from 1924 to 1948 it was the Royal Canadian Air Force Station Dartmouth.

Following the timeline, from 1948 to 1968 it had two names: HMCS Shearwater and Royal Canadian Naval Air Station Shearwater. During this time, in 1963, the first of 41 Sea King helicopters arrived.

In 1968, when the army, navy and air force elements combined to become the Canadian Forces (CF), the site was renamed Canadian Forces Base Shearwater . That name stuck until 1993, a period of downsizing and post-cold war changes, when it received its present day moniker: 12 Wing Shearwater.

“There have been a lot of different uniforms and different technology over the years,” says Hines. “But despite all that the job has changed very little.”

Hines says Shearwater’s history is important because it makes the link to both current CF members and the general public about what Shearwater is all about, past and present.

“We’re very proud of what our people do,” she says. “We want to share with the public what really goes on here.”

That being said, she’s looking to the future even in the midst of the 90th anniversary celebration. “I’m looking forward to when we’re running two helicopter programs at the same time,” says Hines, referring to the CH-148 Cyclone slated to arrive in the near future. “They’re going to be bringing in new technology, but the Sea Kings will still have a job to do.

“Granted the Sea King will eventually be phased out and I’ll then have one sitting right here,” she says with a big smile as she points to a bare spot in the museum. Hines believes the museum’s capability to tell stories will improve when she finally has a real Sea King parked in her hangar. Of the 15 aircraft at the museum, she says they’re very cold war-heavy. The future arrival of a Sea King at the museum will open up dialogue about contemporary work at Shearwater, something current CF members can relate too. Right now, she says, “We have a whole generation that’s not represented.”

When asked if she thinks the Maritime Helicopter Project will change the face of Shearwater again, she says she can’t predict that. What she does know is she’s excited to see how it will lend to the next evolution, building on the strong identity as a Maritime Aviation pioneer.

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