A magnificent achievement, full of promises for the future, swept away by the narrow mind of Maurice Le Noblet Duplessis: The École d’avionnerie de Cartierville

Share
Media
Some personalities present at the inauguration of the École d’avionnerie de Cartierville, Cartierville, Québec, 3 March 1941. Anon., “À l’inauguration de l’École d’avionnerie de Cartierville.” La Presse, 4 March 1941, 19.

The contribution of young Canadians to the Allied victory in the Second World War in the field of aircraft production was founded to a large extent on a network of technical schools spread across the country. This relatively unknown aspect of the Canadian war effort deserves to be highlighted.

Yours truly wishes to bust your chops on this day by addressing a relatively little known aspect of this relatively little known aspect, that is the École d’avionnerie de Cartierville in Cartierville, Québec, or, as it is sometimes called, the École fédérale-provinciale d’avionnerie de Cartierville. Before jumping with both feet in this fascinating subject, a few paragraphs of an introductory and contextual nature seem appropriate to me.

First point. The personalities mentioned in the above photograph, which appeared in the 4 March 1941 issue of the major daily La Presse in Montréal, Québec, were, from left to right,

- Oscar Drouin, Québec minister of Industry and Commerce, and of Municipal Affairs,

- Joseph-Adélard Godbout, Premier of Québec,

- Brigadier-General Édouard de Bellefeuille Panet, Commander of Military District No. 4 (Montréal),

- Gaston Victor Georges Lavoisier, Director of the École d’avionnerie de Cartierville,

- Henri-Pascal Panet, member of the Assemble législative de la province de Québec, and

- Gabriel Rousseau, Director General of the Écoles d’arts et métiers du Québec.

Second point and the point with which this text will continue until its inevitable conclusion. Technical schools offering aeronautical training saw the number of students increase during the 1930s as the international situation worsened. If the start of the Second World War in September 1939 led to an increase in the number of students, the fall of France in June 1940 upset all the deadlines. The Canadian aviation industry was in dire need of people, and it needed them yesterday.

In mid-1940, in Toronto, Ontario, the Central Technical School, or Central Tech, was training about 4 000 students in its day classes and about 600 in its evening classes. The training offered lasted 4 years. Given the circumstances, the importance of hands-on training increased over time, from 50 to 65 %

The Central Technical School offered its first summer aeronautics courses in 1940, in response to urgent calls from the federal and provincial governments. It thus intended to allow third-year students to complete their training in 1940 instead of 1941.

The Central Technical School also offered summer courses in specific areas such as precision instrument manufacturing and repair.

Even before the end of 1940, 7 Ontario technical schools (Belleville, Cornwall, Hamilton, Kingston, Ottawa, Peterborough and Toronto) participated in the War Emergency Training Plan launched that year and trained personnel who produced war material. The War Measures Act allowed the federal government to pay most of the costs of training offered across the country.

This being said (typed?), technical schools specialising in aeronautics grew in importance throughout the Second World War. One example was the Galt Aircraft School, located in a building previously occupied by Victoria Public School in Galt, Ontario. It was created in August 1939 thanks to the support of the federal and Ontario ministries of labour, as part of the Dominion-Provincial Youth Training Program launched in 1937 to fight the unemployment which still affected many Canadians who were between 16 and 30 years old.

The Galt Aircraft School had approximately 200 students in the fall of 1939. It provided aircraft maintenance training to more than 10 000 civilians and members of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) during the Second World War. In fact, the Department of National Defence (for Air?) took control of the institution in 1942. The Canadian aeronautical industry and the RCAF having more or less all the personnel they needed, the Galt Aircraft School closed in July 1944.

Founded on paper at the very end of 1939, the Dominion Technical Institute of Aviation in Montréal offered mechanical and engineering training in a new building from 1940 onward. Representatives of Montréal area aircraft manufacturers (Canadian Car & Foundry Company Limited, Canadian Vickers Limited, Canadian Wright Limited, Fairchild Aircraft Limited and Noorduyn Aviation Limited) sat on the board of directors, it was said.

Operations manager William James “Curly” Guy was a colorful British mercenary / pilot who claimed to have fought ...

- in Ethiopia, against the Italians;

- in Spain, against the rebels and their German and Italian allies which had defeated the legitimate government of the country; and

- in China, against the Japanese.

The Dominion Technical Institute of Aviation seemingly did not remain in operation for long. The last advertisement for this technical school seemed to appear in June 1943.

Our blog / bulletin / thingee dealing mainly with aeronautical subjects, you will not be surprised to learn that almost all the companies mentioned above were mentioned therein more than once:

- Canadian Car & Foundry, in May 2019, July 2020 and January 2021,

- Canadian Vickers, several / many times since May 2018,

- Fairchild Aircraft, several times since August 2018, and

- Noorduyn Aviation, several times since January 2019.

Proposed in early 1941 to meet the staffing needs of Fleet Aircraft Limited, a well-known aircraft manufacturer based in Fort Erie, Ontario, the London Aircraft School in London, Ontario, was one of the technical schools established under the War Emergency Training Plan. It offered, for example, basic courses in aircraft assembly and engine maintenance. The latter was reserved for men.

The school’s motherhouse, H.B. Beal Technical and Commercial High School in London, today’s H.B. Beal Secondary School, on the other hand, offered training in aviation carpentry.

Most of the people who completed their training (12 weeks for a man and 6 weeks for a woman) at the London Aircraft School went on to work for Central Aircraft Limited of London, Ontario. Founded in June 1942, this subsidiary of another well-known aircraft manufacturer, de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited (DHC) of Downsview, Ontario, occupied a plant used by Fleet Aircraft since its opening in October 1941. It modified, revised and rebuilt aircraft and engines.

And yes, DHC has been mentioned in several issues of our you know what, and has been since February 2018.

Do you have a question, my reading friend? When will the École d’avionnerie de Cartierville come to light, you ask? Your wish, although a bit annoying, is my command.

Another technical school born out of the War Emergency Training Plan was established in the suburbs of Montreal in October 1940. And yes, you are right, the technical school in question was the École d’avionnerie de Cartierville. Tadaa ...

This being said (typed?), the pre-history of this institution may have begun before the start of the Second World War. In fact, in 1938, Joseph Bilodeau, Québec Minister of Industry and Commerce, as well as of Municipal Affairs, thought about leasing, apparently from Montreal Aircraft Industries Limited, the land and buildings used between 1928 and 1932 by Reid Aircraft Company Limited / Curtiss-Reid Aircraft Company Limited of Cartierville, the latter being a subsidiary of the American aeronautical giant Curtiss Airplane & Motor Company / Curtiss-Wright Corporation. Yours truly unfortunately does not know if this project, in which the federal government would participate, resulted in a rental contract.

Before I forget it, Bilodeau was the minister who announced, in December 1937, the creation of the Office provincial des recherches scientifiques, an organisation mentioned in a July 2018 issue of our you know what which aimed to award grants and scholarships, thus compensating for the financial weaknesses of (francophone?) universities in Québec.

By the way, the general manager of Montreal Aircraft Industries, an aircraft manufacturing firm which produced only a few aircraft during the 1930s, may well have been John Alexander Douglas McCurdy, a Canadian aviation pioneer mentioned in our you know what several times, and this since September 2017. Small world, isn’t it?

Would you believe that Curtiss Airplane & Motor, on the other hand, was mentioned in March and December 2019 issues of our you still know what? And that Curtiss-Wright has been him on many occasions since November 2017? Your patience is admirable, my reading friend, but back to our subject.

What was the type of aircraft assembled by Montreal Aircraft Industries, you ask, my insatiably curious reading friend? A good question. They were Curtiss-Reid Rambler light / private aircraft – the first such aircraft designed and produced in Canada, but back to our subject. I insist.

The aforementioned Drouin actually announced the creation of a commercial aviation school in Cartierville in September 1940. Who was going to run said school? Drouin indicated that it would be the aforementioned Lavoisier.

Drouin also announced that the government of Québec had just leased, from Montreal Aircraft Industries it seems, the land and buildings used by Reid Aircraft / Curtiss-Reid Aircraft.

The equally aforementioned Godbout inaugurated the École d’avionnerie de Cartierville in the company of various personalities, including Lavoisier of course, in March 1941. Who was this Lavoisier, you ask, my reading friend? An admirable question.

Lavoisier was an aeronautical engineer and French air force, or Armée de l’air, pilot involved in the purchases of American combat aircraft for the French government before the start of the Second World War. This captain actually seemed to spend a good deal of his time in the United States in the workshops of Glenn L. Martin Company, an aircraft manufacturing firm mentioned several times in our blog / bulletin / machine since July 2018.

An interesting detail, if only for me, Lavoisier played a significant role in the initial evolution of the Scouts de l’Air, around 1937. He was in fact their technical delegate.

Founded in 1934, the first squadron of this branch of the Scouts de France, the Escadrille Bourjade, was made official in June or July 1936. Three other squadrons were operating in France even before the end of the year.

Jean-Pierre Léon Bourjade was not some unknown guy. This member of a missionary and teaching clerical congregation was mobilised in 1914. Transferred to the Aéronautique militaire in 1917, Bourjade became a fighter pilot. He actually became an ace, with 28 victories (27 observation balloons and 1 aeroplane). Ordained priest in July 1921, Bourjade was sent to the Territory of Papua. He died on a Pacific island in October 1924 at the age of 35, but I digress. Sorry.

The surrender of France in June 1940 put Lavoisier out of work. He decided not to return to France, even though his wife and his (4?) very young children might have been in that country.

Unable to find a francophone Canadian to run the new federal-provincial aviation school, the aforementioned Drouin contacted Lavoisier who quickly accepted the directorship of said school.

Lavoisier’s activities in Montréal were not limited to the École d’avionnerie de Cartierville. Nay. In early 1941, for example, he offered an aviation course at the École polytechnique de Montréal, a higher learning institution mentioned in December 2018, April 2019 and March 2021 yadda yadda.

Even before the end of 1941, about 650 young people were taking courses at the École d’avionnerie de Cartierville, the first francophone school of its kind on the North American continent. Indeed, 550 to 600 of them were francophones at the time.

The students, aged between 16 and 20 and between 25 and 60, first followed a 3-week training course which eliminated people who did not have the required skills.

Those who crossed this step then followed an abbreviated theoretical and practical training in 3 areas which would enable them to find employment in the field of production or maintenance of aircraft.

Two of these areas related to machine tool operation and welding. This training lasted 12 weeks.

The third area was an introduction to industrial work. Initial training lasted 6 weeks. Students who chose this field were then offered 2 options, a 6-week industrial course and a 9-week preparatory course leading to enrollment in the RCAF.

It should be noted that francophone students received training in English-language aeronautical terminology.

Arthur Fecteau was one of the students taking courses at the École d’avionnerie de Cartierville. A. Fecteau Transport Aérien Limitée was one of the leaders in bush flying in Québec during the post-war period.

Another student worked for a few aircraft manufacturers in the Montreal area during the Second World War. Once the conflict ended, Raoul Roy became a journalist and essayist well known for his pro-independence views. Some see him as a spiritual father of the Front de Libération du Québec.

The École d’avionnerie de Cartierville was one of the initiation centres of the Québec government’s Service de l’aide à la jeunesse, a remarkable organisation founded around 1931 to encourage the training of young adults. These centres were obviously operating at full capacity during the Second World War, as part of a federal-provincial war work initiation plan.

It should be noted that said plan covered food, accommodation and transport for the students. People from outside Montreal received a small pension. Heads of families also received a small allowance.

If I am not mistaken, students had to wear a uniform (light blue shirt, dark blue tie and blue forage cap) outside of class hours and when traveling to town.

It should be noted in passing that a troop of scouts existed within the École d’avionnerie de Cartierville no later than September 1941. Its members then participated in the manufacture of a glider, under the direction of Lavoisier. This aircraft may well not have been completed.

Indeed, Lavoisier submitted his resignation in December 1941 in order to enlist in the Forces françaises libres, more specifically the Forces aériennes françaises libres.

Arriving in Saint-Pierre et Miquelon in January 1942, Lavoisier seemed, I repeat seemed, to supervise the development of an airfield. He left this small French French archipelago about 20 kilometres (a dozen miles) off the coast of Newfoundland in 1944.

Said archipelago, controlled since June 1940 by the puppet / collaborationist government led by Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain, was “liberated” at the end of December 1941 by a small force of the Forces françaises libres. Informed of this fact by the furious American Secretary of State, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Leonard Spencer “Winnie” Churchill, respectively President of the United States and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, then discussing in Washington, District of Columbia, indicated that this did not matter much, laughing a little bit – which probably did not improve Cordell Hull’s mood.

Why such a liberation, you ask yourself, my reading friend? The leader of the France libre, Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle, had sent his men to Saint-Pierre et Miquelon as quickly as he could when he learned that Canadian troops would land there in early 1942, at the request of the American government.

I will not bust your chops by mentioning that Roosevelt, Churchill and de Gaulle were mentioned once (May 2019) or several times (since May 2019 and March 2018) in our yadda yadda.

You are welcome.

In any event, Lavoisier seemed to be replaced as Director of the École d’avionnerie de Cartierville by a certain F. Rousseau. The latter in turn gave way, in April 1942, to the former municipal superintendent of public works of Verdun, Québec, J. Charles Brosseau.

At the end of 1942, the owner of the land and buildings occupied by the École d’avionnerie de Cartierville informed the Québec government that he had just rented them to Canadian Car & Foundry, which then needed space. Taken a little by surprise, the government hatched the idea of ​​giving the school a brand new purpose-built building which would meet its needs during and after the conflict. In fact, it bought land belonging to the city of Montréal and signed a construction contract soon after.

It was in this context that I must mention that the École d’avionnerie de Cartierville may, I repeat may, have abandoned its Cartierville site in 1943, for the benefit of the Université de Montréal, in Montréal, an institution of high learning mentioned many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since May 2018.

Omer Côté, the secretary of the province of Québec in the government led since the general election of August 1944 by the very (too?) conservative Maurice Le Noblet Duplessis, a character but not necessarily a gentleman mentioned in a few issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee since January 2018, suspended construction work on the new building of the École d’avionnerie de Cartierville even before the end of August.

And yes, the construction work of said building was then quite advanced. It was due to open in September 1945.

For your information, the secretary of the province of Québec was to all intents and purposes a Minister of the Interior with fingers in many pies.

Also in August 1944, Côté announced that the teachers and students of the École d’avionnerie de Cartierville would soon be moving to the École technique de Montréal, which amounted to saying that the new building of the École d’avionnerie de Cartierville was not going to be used for the purposes for which it had been designed.

In November, Duplessis declared that this building was not necessary when it was decided to build it. Neither was it necessary, or useful, in 1944. According to the Premier, the existing institutions were more than sufficient to meet the demand for personnel from aircraft manufacturers in the Montréal region. Duplessis also added that, once the Second World War was over, most military pilots and, one can imagine, skilled workers would have to find new jobs.

In December, Québec’s Minister of Labour, Antonio Barrette, announced that the new École d’avionnerie de Cartierville building would house a learning centre and a rehabilitation centre for workers injured while at work – an admirable project of course.

The training offered by the École d’avionnerie de Cartierville ended around 1945-46. About 6 000 students passed through the doors of this pioneering institution during its too short history.

Yours truly must admit that I did not find much about Lavoisier’s life and career after the Second World War. This being said (typed?), he did come back to Montreal, but probably not in a large sea-blue Boeing - if I may paraphrase, out of context and in translation, some lyrics of the 1976 song Je reviendrai à Montréal by the great Québec author / singer / songwriter Robert Charlebois.

Between January and March 1946, Lavoisier gave a series of 10 conferences on industrial organization, and not necessarily about aeronautics, at the Institut scientifique franco-canadien, the first scientific cooperation body between Canada and France and a body mentioned in an April 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

Peace be with you, my reading friend, and keep your feet on the ground.

Profile picture for user rfortier
Rénald Fortier