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CFB Gagetown

This article is about the military base, known as CFB Gagetown, headquartered in the town of Oromocto with an extensive training area in southwestern New Brunswick. Consult Gagetown, New Brunswick for the nearby village.

Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, referred to as CFB Gagetown is a large Canadian Forces Base located in southwestern New Brunswick. CFB Gagetown hosts ACSTC Argonaut, the only Royal Canadian Army Cadets summer training centre in the Atlantic Provinces.

Construction of the base

At the beginning of the Cold War, Canadian defence planners recognized the need for providing the Canadian Army with a suitable training facility where brigade and division-sized armoured, infantry, and artillery units could exercise in preparation for their role in defending western Europe under Canada's obligations to the North Atlantic Treaty. The facility would need to be located relatively close to an all-season Atlantic port and have suitable railway connections.

Existing training facilities dating from the First and Second World Wars in eastern Canada were relatively small (Camp Debert, Camp Aldershot, Camp Valcartier, Camp Petawawa, Camp Utopia), thus a new facility was considered. At the same time, regional economic development planners saw an opportunity for a military base to benefit the economy of southwestern New Brunswick.

The area under consideration was an expansive plateau west of the St. John River between the cities of Saint John and Fredericton, measuring approximately 60 km in length and 40 km in width; more accurately it runs between Oromocto in the north to Welsford in the south, and between the St. John River in the east and the South Branch of the Oromocto River in the west.

Over 900 families inhabited the area primarily engaged in agriculture and forestry industries. The terrain was variable, providing mixed Acadian forest, swamp and marshland, as well as open farming areas similar to the Northern European Plain. The influence of the St. Croix Highlands, part of the Appalachian Mountain range, creates hilly terrain and valleys in the southern and western part of the region close to the Nerepis and Oromocto Rivers.

The expropriation of lands began in the early 1950s, much to the surprise of local residents who had been kept in the dark about the expropriation until the last minute. The base was surveyed so as to not affect some of the historic communities along the western bank of the St. John River such as Gagetown, Hampstead, and Browns Flat; the expropriation began several kilometres west of the river and eliminated the communities of Petersville, Hibernia, New Jerusalem and others. This remains the largest single land expropriation in the history of New Brunswick.

The base headquarters were chosen for the northern part of the base adjacent to the small (then) village of Oromocto. In preparation for the influx of service personnel, Oromocto was redesigned as a "planned" town, with buried electrical utilities and residential and commercial clustering typical of larger planned towns such as Richmond Hill, Ontario.

Construction of the base facilities in Oromocto benefitted from convenient railway connections provided by Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways. A new alignment of the Trans-Canada Highway was built on the eastern bank of the St. John River, opposite from Oromocto in the early 1960s (see Route 2) and a new highway bridge across the St. John River connected the Trans-Canada Highway to the village of Burton, just south of Oromocto and near the east gate for the base.

The Gagetown Military Camp (or Camp Gagetown) opened in 1956 and was named after the village of Gagetown, although the base was located west of this historic village and was headquartered 25 miles to its north in Oromocto. The base's territory measured 1,129 km² and included numerous live-fire ranges for infantry, armoured, and artillery units, as well as aerial weapons ranges.

At the time of its opening in 1956, until the opening of CFB Suffield in 1971, Camp Gagetown was the largest military training facility in Canada and the Commonwealth of Nations. By comparison, Suffield has 2,690 km² with 2,270 km² usable by the military, and 420 km² designated as a National Wildlife Refuge.

The training area has been heavily "landscaped" over the years by military foresters and many woodlines have been sculpted to form shapes recognizable from the air, including:

  • Scotty Dog Woods
  • Square Woods
  • Flag Woods
  • The "CTC" cutting
  • The "Maple Leaf" cutting

Operations

Initially, Camp Gagetown was the home base for many army regiments, including the Black Watch and the Royal Canadian Regiment, however defence cutbacks in the 1960s saw a gradual reduction, and the demise of their parent formation, 3 Brigade Group. On February 1, 1968, the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Canadian Navy, were merged to form the unified Canadian Forces. Following this unification, Camp Gagetown was renamed Canadian Forces Base Gagetown (CFB Gagetown).

In the post-unification armed forces, CFB Gagetown functioned as the primary combat training centre for Force Mobile Command (renamed Land Force Command in the 1990s). In the early 1970s Combat Training Centre Gagetown (CTC Gagetown) was established as a unit at CFB Gagetown providing comprehensive artillery, armour, infantry and engineer training schools, a role that continues to the present day. The base is still widely referred to as Camp Gagetown.

Increased defence spending in the 1980s saw numerous new training facilities built and ranges modernized, and this continued into the 1990s as the Canadian Forces closed smaller bases in response to further defence budget cuts. A large training building housing much of CTC was opened in late 1992. CFB Gagetown continues to function as the army's primary training facility, although due to risk of forest fires in recent years, live-fire training has been pushed primarily to the fall-winter-spring seasons.

Defoliant testing

Portions of the training area were subject to testing of the defoliants Agent Orange and Agent Purple during the 1960s, which has led to an inquiry as to its long term effects upon the soldiers and civilian base personnel who were exposed to it. The areas affected were found by lab (soil) testing to still contain as much as 143 times the Canadian Counsel of Environmental Ministers guidelines for maximum levels for dioxin.

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