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PART 1 - Background        PART 2 - RCN         PART 3 - Army         PART 4 - Air Force      PART 5 - The PER Branch




The history of the RCAF, from its formation in 1924 to its integration with the other two services in 1965 and its eventual CF unification in 1968, can be traced through four distinctive periods:

  • Formative Years                                        1924 to 1939;
  • Second World War                                   1939 to 1945
  • Post Second World War  (Era One)          1946 to 1951; and
  • Post Second World War  (Era Two)          1952 To 1965.

Click Royal Canadian Air Force for the official history of the RCAF

Click History of the school for the official history of the RAF School of PT

No official documentation is available on  any physical education and recreation in the RCAF during the first period (1924-39).  Prior to the Second World War, officers generally organized sports and NCOs were appointed to the task, mostly on their merits as athletes. Interested individuals on their own volition usually initiated recreation activities.

In 1938 the need for trained physical education and recreation specialists was recognized when Harry Hinton and Les Hook were sent to the RAF School of PT at Uxbridge, England for an 11-week course. During the war, emphasis was placed on traditional military fitness and sports. Recreation programs were nonexistent. In order to cope with the social and welfare needs of the rapidly expanding Air Force, private agencies such as the Auxiliary Services were called upon to assist with the leadership and financing required to provide suitable recreational and entertainment programs. During this period, the emphasis was on participation in sports and games, with station teams competing mostly, and often quite successfully, in civilian leagues.  For example, during the Second World War, the RCAF  “Flyers” Football Team won the Grey Cup and the RCAF “Flyers” Hockey Team made history by winning the Gold Medal in the 1948 Olympic Games.

NATO commitments and UN Operations in Korea again resulted in a great expansion of the RCAF during the Post Second World War era. Scores of small stations were built in isolated locations. Most of these included significant numbers of Permanent Married Quarters (PMQs), which in turn emphasized the need to provide recreational opportunities for dependents and civilians living in these military communities. This resulted in a new dimension to the RCAF physical education and recreation programs. In fact during the 1950s the RCAF was playing a leading role in the development of community recreation programs in Canada.


During the 1940s, selected RCAF personnel were trained as Physical Training and Drill Instructors (PT&DIs). The original PT&DI Cadre consisted primarily of high school physical education teachers and outstanding athletes such as Milt Schmidt and Woody Dumart. The PERISCOPE article, “They Continue to Serve” published in Vol 3 No 2(7) lists the following RCAF PT&DIs who later became well known sports personalities:

Sid Abel – Detroit Red Wings;

Dr Max Arven Chief medical Officer, COA;

Tom Berto – Treasurer, Pan Am Games Committee;

L Carrie – Administrator, Canadian Olympic House;

Woody Dumart – Boston Bruins;

Jake Gaudaur – Commissioner CFL;

Lou Hayman - Toronto Argonauts;

Joey Richman - Sports Equipment Dealer, Montreal;

Milt Schmidt – GM, Boston Bruins;

Bill Tindale – Executive Vice-President, Canadian Olympic Association; and

James Worall, QC – International Olympic Committee member for Canada.


In 1946, the PT&DIs were re-designated as PTIs, but were still required to teach drill.  In 1948, a sports coaches course was held in Trenton spearheaded by Olympic wrestler W/C Terry Evans.  In 1948, Sgt Jack Curtis and Cpl Bill Gadsby attended a PTI qualifying course at the PT School in Cosford, England.  A badge worn by the RCAF PTIs during this period is shown at Figure 2-3.

An entry in RCAF HQ RO No 626 dated 19 September 1952 authorized the establishment of the Physical and Recreation Career Field. At this time the PRTI trade was divided into two separate trades, Disciplinarian (Discip) and Recreation and Athletic Specialist (RA Spec). The RA Spec trade was established at Gp 1 to Gp 4 levels. Although the trade was open to remuster, members were primarily recruited as direct entries; upon completion of recruit training, they were posted on “contact” training to a unit, prior to course leading on the first available Group 1 RA Spec course. Trades pay was not tied to rank, and Cpls, or LACs could draw Group 3 trades pay upon successful qualification at that level, but they could not be promoted to Sgt unless an appropriate vacancy existed at that rank level.


Prior to 1952 the RCAF had a Physical Training and Drill Branch. This branch consisted of former sports and drill officers, disciplinarians, and physical trainers (recreation and athletic specialists).  Organized physical fitness training classes were conducted only for personnel undergoing formal new entry/trades/aircrew training.  Trained personnel were encouraged to participate in after-duty sports or recreational activities. With the expansion of PMQs at RCAF stations, the focus of life in the peacetime RCAF changed from single service personnel living in barracks to include married members residing with their families in military communities, which were often located in isolated areas.  The requirement to satisfy the social and recreational needs of military and civilian personnel living in these military communities became more apparent. In 1951 Mr. John Tett, Director of Recreation, Adult Education and Citizenship with the Ontario Department of Education was hired on special assignment to evaluate the ever-growing recreational needs of the RCAF.  In February 1952 he was appointed to the position of Branch Adviser on recreation services in the RCAF with the rank of Wing Commander.  Later that year, the formation of the RCAF Recreation Specialist Branch was authorized.  Pre-integration statistics in 1963 reflected the following RCAF Rec Spec Branch structure:


Wing Commander                          1

Squadron leaders                            5

Flight Lieutenants                          39

Flying Officers                              10          

                Total Officers               55


Warrant Officer Class 1                  1

Warrant Officer Class 2                  2

Flight Sergeants                             17

Sergeants                                      32

Corporals                                      45

Aircraftsman                                 80

                     Total  NCOs           177         


Total All Ranks       232

Three CFR officers (F/Ls Lacombe, Palmer and Steadman) were the only PT and Drill Branch officers who reclassified to the new Rec Spec Branch; the remaining officer positions were filled by personnel who had a university degree in PhysEd, recreation or related field. A number of high school PhysEd teachers were recruited to fill the new officer positions. Members of the RA Spec trade were assigned to the Rec Spec Branch to fill the other ranks positions. Later, outstanding RA Specs were CFRd to serve as Station RecOs. Altogether 20 RA Specs were granted CFR commissions. Five reached senior officer rank prior to retirement and two were also invested in the Order of Military Merit.


Physical fitness has always been a requirement of RCAF personnel. In the 1978 “Historical Review on Physical Fitness in the RCAF” Maj Hank Tatarchuk and Dr G Moore stated:

“ In its (RCAF) early history physical fitness was a by-product of day-to-day work. Flying in the hinterland often by the seat of the pants required hard, sturdy and fit aviators. The evolution of the flying machine to the highly sophisticated aircraft of post World War ll era saw less physical requirement in the daily duties, but now the stresses of gravity, high speed and tension led the RCAF to new concern for the levels of air and ground crew physical fitness.”

The establishment of the Rec Spec Branch resulted in a marked change in the RCAF physical education programs. New entries and trainees participated in a compulsory exercise program supplemented by sports skills instruction. The exercise program included calisthenics, circuit training, weight training and running. Aircrew training followed a special physical training syllabus that was developed by Dr Frank Hayden an RCAF Reserve Officer. It was first published as TC 36 in 1958. Ground crew training followed a syllabus developed by the Rec Specs of Training Command and published in 1960as TC 98. No formal fitness training was conducted for trained personnel. In their case, active participation in recreational sports and involvement in leisure activities such as ceramics, art and crafts etc was encouraged. In 1958 Dr W Orban developed for the RCAF an exercise program called the 5BX Plan for Men. The plan involved 12 minutes of daily exercising, which consisted of five basic exercises followed by running. In 1959 Dr Norm Aston developed the XBX Plan for Women, which consisted of 10 basic exercises followed by running.  The two booklets originally published as RCAF Pamphlets 30/1 and 30/2 and later reprinted as CFP 218 became best sellers in the early 1960s.


This trophy was awarded annually to the Station that, through its Community Council, made the most effective use of available resources in developing a recreational program suited to the needs of their community’s dependents. The trophy was first established in 1958 to honour the heroism of Victoria Cross winner F/O AC Mynarski.  In 1966 all CF Bases and Stations became eligible to compete for it. In 1974 the trophy was reassigned as an annual for Search and Rescue Operations.


Records concerning the years preceding the establishment of the RCAF Rec Spec Branch are sketchy. According to S/L (Ret’d) Bill Palmer –

“…the emergence of fitness in the RCAF in WW ll commenced in 1941 at Trenton, ON. Sixty tradesmen were given a short course (two weeks) in physical training and from this group the first skeleton staff for a PT School was selected. This staff selection course was given by W/O Young from the RAF PT School at Uxbridge, UK…”

The first PT School was very appropriately opened in Trenton on 1 April 1941 and was commanded by F/L Paddy O’Neil. The first instructional cadre consisted of W/O Ginger Young, WO2 Bill Palmer and Sgts Wilf Inman, Dick Wilson and Paul Belanger. In late 1941 or early 1942 the PT School and the Drill Instructor School were combined to form the PT&DI School. It then conducted courses to qualify selected NCOs in their dual role as PT Instructors and Drill Instructors.

The first CO of this new school was F/L Harry Hinton from the Drill Instructor Cadre. In 1943 following his commissioning from WO2, F/L Bill Palmer succeeded F/L Hinton as the School CO. The school closed in 1945. In order to meet the requirements of a rapidly expanding Air Force, three 10-week courses were conducted in early 1952 to train more PRTIs. WO1 Hank Watson was in charge of this training and Sgt Al Steinhauer and Cpl Bill Buck were the two course instructors. 

The Rec Spec Branch was established in 1952. In April 1953 the Recreation and Athletic Specialist (RA Spec) School at Station Aylmer ON was established. F/O HF Kerrison was the first Officer in Charge of the new school. The first course conducted at the new RA Spec School was a 10-week coeducational course for selected RCAF personnel. In 1954 the trade and school title was renamed Recreation Specialist (RecSpec).  The school was temporarily closed from September 1958 to January 1960 while F/L Kerrison took part in project “Fit-Chin”, a combined Regular and Reserve officers team of physical fitness specialists who toured Air Defense Command (ADC) units, lecturing on and appraising physical fitness of aircrew members. S/L A Smith and F/Os Hope and Shaw were the Reserve officers on the team.  In January 1960 the school moved from Aylmer to Camp Borden, where it remained until it co-located with the APTC in 1966.


During its existence the School conducted career courses for SRecOs and group 1,2,3 and 4 Rec Spec personnel. A number of specialty courses in arts and crafts and other recreational activities were also conducted; these were open to all RCAF personnel involved in community recreation, as well as to members of the RCN and CA(R).

In the early 1960s the Gp 2 and 3 Rec Spec courses were conducted in two phases. Phase one was by correspondence course and phase two was a 4-week course at the R&PE School.


                                                                   RCAF TRADE ADJUSTMENT COURSE 1961 at Camp Borden

Back L to R -  Wes Byrnell; Jim St. Germaine; Earl Galbraithe; Bruce Porter; Joe Winchester; Terry Burns; Andy Anderson; Cal Hatt; Nick Nickerson; Paul Viger; John Dutton.

Center L to R - Suzie Buchanan; Ron Stephens; Gerry Clarke; Darryl Lovely; Cliff Ruttan; Wally Ketch; George Kelly; Ray Ball; Jim Carlson.

Front L to R -  Kip Doucherty; Bev Veale; Jack Curtis; Harry Kerrison; Stan Laing; Neil Hubbard.

Click for more Qualifying Course Photos



The R&PE School and its predecessors were commanded by the following officers:

PT School at Trenton, On                   F/L Paddy O’Neil - 1941;

PT&DI School Trenton, ON               F/L Harry Hinton - 1942

                                                         F/L Bill Palmer – 1943-45.

                                 The School closed in 1945

RA Spec School, Aylmer, ON            F/O Harry Kerrison - 1953-54;

Rec Spec School, Aylmer, ON            F/L Harry Kerrison – 1954-57;

                                                         F/L John Stangroom – 1957 - 1959.


                                 The School closed from Sep 1958 until Jan 1960


R&PE School, Aylmer, ON                 S/L Harry Kerrison - !960-61;

R&PE School, Camp Borden, ON        S/L Harry Kerrison - 1960-63

                                                          S/L Coonie Lefebvre - 1963-65

                                                          F/L Gord MacKey - 1965 –66.

   The School co-located with APTC in 1966.


Officers of the Rec Spec Branch wore normal RCAF uniforms without any distinctive accoutrements. Prior to 1950 a replica of the RAF PTI Badge (shown at the banner of this page) was worn by the RCAF PT&DIs and PRTIs (up to and including the rank of F/S) on the tunic above the rank insignia. The environmental dress of the RA Specs/Rec Specs consisted of dark blue tapered trousers with a narrow light blue trim along the legs, leather belt, white T-shirt and black athletic or leather shoes. No distinctive trades badge was worn on the T-shirt or uniform jacket.


In the 16 years of its existence the Rec Spec Branch made a significant contribution to the development of community recreation programs. Its recreation philosophy, with slight modifications, formed the basis for the development of recreation policies applicable to the unified CF. The development of the 5BX and XBX plans was a significant achievement in the area of physical fitness. The Branch also published a number of popular pamphlets dealing with coaching and officiating a variety of sports such as basketball, flag football, hockey, soccer, track and field and volleyball.

The Rec Spec Branch had a number of individual achievers whose accomplishments greatly enhanced the image of the Canadian Armed Forces. In addition to the famous old-timers acknowledged earlier in paragraph 71, S/Ls Harry Hilton and Bill Palmer also merit special mention. In 1938 Harry Hinton was the first RCAF member who qualified to wear the PTI badge at the RCAF School PT in Uxbridge, UK. Bill Palmer was the Senior Instructor in charge of the first RCAF Precision Drill Team, which gave numerous performances at the CNE in Toronto. Two Rec Spec Branch members were inducted into the CF Sports Hall of Fame for their achievements as Olympic athletes. F/O Haddad in boxing and F/S Varaleau in weight lifting. LAC Vic Cassis represented Canada in the triple jump and High Jump events at the 1954 British Empire games and LAC Rick Kinsman was the North American Champion in the 1960s. F/L Bill Buck earned recognition as the officer who trained and directed the Tri-Service High Horse Display Team. It gave over 100 performances during their cross-country tour as part of Canada’s 1967 Centennial celebrations. F/L Hank Tatarchuk who later retired as a Major from the PE&R Branch in 1978 was an outstanding sports official and an organizer of international renown. He was the Director of Basketball at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal and again at the 1978 British Commonwealth Games in Edmonton. He was also the principle organizer of the 1973 Universiade hosted by Edmonton, AB and later was seconded as Vice President Sports to the 1984 Olympic Organizing Committee in Los Angeles. The first three CFSPER Commandants (Majors Kerrison, Vadeboncoeur and Nelson) as well as four of the first six DPERAs (LCol Parr, Miller, Vadeboncoeur and Swan) were all officers in the Rec Spec Branch.

PART 1 - Background        PART 2 - RCN         PART 3 - Army         PART 4 - Air Force      PART 5 - The PER Branch   Top