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Royal Canadian Air Force celebrates 100 years

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You could say 22 Wing/Canadian Forces Base Commander Col. Richard Jolette was born to be in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF.)

An undated photo of 22 Wing/Canadian Forces Base Commander Col. Richard Jolette and his father a former air force member. (Supplied/Richard Jolette)

Jolette chose to follow his inspiring father’s footsteps into a life of military service.

“It’s a big deal for me and my family. Just for myself being in the military since 2001. My dad was in the air force for 36 years,” said the base commander.

“At the heart of the RCAF lies its people.”

The City of North Bay is flying the RCAF flag with this weekend pride, officials said, to commemorate its centennial milestone by recognizing the military branch’s evolution while looking back at its past and paying tribute to the men and women who have sacrificed so much over the years for their country knowing that Canada is engaged internationally in overseas operations, peacekeeping and combat operations.

Officials say the City of North Bay is flying the Royal Canadian Air Force flag with pride over the Easter weekend. March 28, 2024. (Eric Taschner/CTV News Northern Ontario)

“I was very fortunate and honoured to be an honourary colonel at 22 Wing,” said North Bay Mayor Peter Chirico.

“They protect not only just the air space but every plane that takes off and lands and enters our space and they protect space.”

The Royal Canadian Air Force was born out of the RAF (Royal Air Force) in WWI when Canadian aviators flew alongside the British against the Germans.

On April 1, 1924, the RCAF was officially formed. It was comprised of a full-time permanent force (regular force), a part-time non-permanent force (air reserve) and a reserve of non-active personnel – at the time no non-permanent units were created as the funding was not available.

An undated black and white photo for Royal Canadian Air Force members during WWII. (Supplied/Royal Canadian Air Force)

The RCAF was put to the test for the first time 16 years later in a battle against a Nazi air unit, the Luftwaffe, during WWII.

“I’ve said this many times, but because of them we get to sleep at night,” said Chirico.

22 Wing has been located in North Bay for more than 70 years. The ‘RCAF Station North Bay’ opened on September 1, 1951 as part of Canada’s new national air defence network, built in response to the Cold War threat from the former Soviet Union.

In 1963, after four years of construction, Canada’s North American Air Defence Command (NORAD) underground complex opened. In the underground bunker, Canadian and American NORAD personnel guarded North America’s Cold War frontline. The station was renamed CFB North Bay in 1963 and was previously home to aircraft, including No. 3 All-Weather (Fighter) Operational Training Unit and was at one time the world’s most advanced air defence flying training school.

Over the years the base was home to several squadrons within the RCAF before leaving the base in 1992. A year later, it was renamed ‘22 Wing/Canadian Forces Base North Bay’ and it’s equipped with state-of-the-art air defence computers and electronics.

The air force has really evolved from times of war. Today it provides air defence, maritime patrol, search and rescue, aerospace monitoring and air mobility across Canada. As of 2020, the Royal Canadian Air Force consists of 12,000 Regular Force and nearly 2,000 Primary Reserve personnel, supported by 1,500 civilians and operates over 250 aircraft and nine unmanned aerial vehicles.

The uniforms of a Royal Canadian Air Force members in North Bay on March 28, 2024. (Eric Taschner/CTV News Northern Ontario)

“I’m so happy being able to be here in North Bay,” said Jolette.

“It’s my hometown and to celebrate the 100th anniversary in my hometown at the base I’ve spent the most time in my career is special.”

22 Wing/CFB has about 400 men and women military members on base.

“They’re part of our community and part of our fabric,” said Chirico.

North Bay Mayor Peter Chirico shaking hands with military service members on March 28, 2024. (Eric Taschner/CTV News Northern Ontario)

North Bay is also taking part in the Royal Canadian Air Force’s initiative to illuminate landmarks in blue on April 1 with city hall scheduled to be lit up Monday.

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