When thinking of Muskoka / Lake Of Bays very few people know that Muskoka has a very long history with Norway. Canadian and Norwegians fought side by side in war to defeat the Axis powers. The Muskoka Airport was used to train pilots at the time it was named “Little Norway”, read below about the history of this alliance.
During World War II, many young Norwegians trained to become pilots and air crews at “Little Norway” in Ontario, before returning to the battlefields of Europe to fight side by side with Canadian and other Allied troops.
After active resistance on Norwegian soil came to an end in June 1940, the Norwegian Government-in-exile already had plans for reorganization of the Royal Norwegian Air Force. Plans for a training center in France were abandoned with the fall of France. Instead, negotiations were begun with Canadian authorities resulting in the establishment of a main training centre in Toronto: “Little Norway”. By August 1940, the site was chosen, and by November the camp opened.
Throughout the war, thousands of Norwegians escaped to join the Norwegian Forces in Great Britain. Most escaped through Sweden, or by way of the North Sea, some around the world via Russia, India, Africa and South America. Hundreds of them continued to Camp Little Norway to train to become pilots and aircrews before returning to the battlefields of Europe.
The first Norwegian unit went overseas to Iceland in April 1941. The first all-Norwegian fighter squadron with complete air and ground crew arrived in England in June 1941. A steady stream of airmen received their training at Little Norway, and returned to Europe to fight with distinction alongside Allied forces throughout the war.
Training was initially conducted using combat planes, some 20 million dollars’ worth, purchased from the United States before the war. They did not reach Norway in time to be used in the first months of the war. Instead, they were delivered to Little Norway. They comprised Fairchild PT-19 elementary trainers, Curtiss fighters, Douglas attack bombers and Northrop patrol seaplanes. They were later joined by Harvard trainers purchased with some of the 400,000 dollars received under the “Wings for Norway” fundraising campaign which received contributions from various Nordic associations, including some 100,000 dollars from Swedish-Americans, Norwegian expatriates, Canadians and Americans.
In 1942 a second training centre was established at Muskoka Airport, 120 miles north of Toronto. Once the Royal Canadian Air Force purchased the Toronto training centre, “Little Norway” was transferred to Muskoka, although the original aerodrome was still at the disposal of the Royal Norwegian Air Force.
Some 3,300 officers and other personnel of the air force were trained at the bases in Toronto and Muskoka. The Norwegian Royal Family visited Camp Norway several times, and the headquarters, a building in typical Norwegian log style, was named “Little Skagum”, in reference to one of the Royal residences in Norway.
In 2007, a memorial building was opened at the site of Little Norway in Muskoka. At the opening, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said “The Little Norway Memorial Building is a war memorial erected to prevent history from forgetting. It is also a memorial that expresses the lasting gratitude of the people of Norway and the Norwegian government – to Canada for her assistance to our nation when we needed it the most”.