The late Doug Wagner, a well known Kingstonian, operated Wagner Air a shuttle service between Kingston and Syracuse airports. During WWII he trained Canadian air-force pilots at what is now the Norman Rogers Airport. He wrote a personal history about his long-term career as a pilot, instructor and business person. Doug graduated from the Flying Instructor School at Trenton, Ontario, and joined the staff at Norman Rogers in 1944. In “A Tale of Two Airports” he relates a story about bombing practices with Colonel By Lake, just north of Kingston Mills as a target range.
From “A Tale of Two Airports” by Doug Wagner, 1988
Norman Rogers airport was constructed as a Service Flying Training School (STSF), part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and designated as “No. 31 Service SFTS”. The whole complex included Gananoque Airport known as No. 1 relief landing ground, a grass field at Sandhurst, two practice bombing range, one at Kingston Mills and the other at Milhaven, a live firing range along the south shore of Amherst Island, two cine camera ranges along the canal crossing Wolfe Island and the other along Loughborough Lake, and to complete the complex, a marine section located at the SW corner of Collins Bay. There were 160 “Fleet Air Arm” students and over a thousand R.A.F. and Canadian staff. Eventually there were 110 Harvard airplanes.
Doug Wagner told the following story…
The bombing practice range was in the bay at the north-west end of Colonel By Lake. The wide bay is locally known as Draper Bay; it formed when about 25 acres of low lying grassland of the Draper farm was flooded in 1832 becoming part of the Rideau Canal system. Observers would be located on both sides of the bay one on the Aragon Road and the other at the south-eastern part of the bay; a spit of land that is now part of the Edenwood estate.
“One day, after we were done with the practice, usually around five in the afternoon, we played a nasty trick on the people who would come from all over to wait for us to quit. As soon as we did they would run from outside the range onto the ice to where the bombs had fallen and try to retrieve the bombshells that had not exploded because they were only charged with a small amount of explosives, just to look realistic for the trainees. The shell castings, when they could get hold of them were readily sold as scrap, and for that reason lots of people were eagerly waiting to retrieved them from the shallow lake.”
“As always we had finished our last training run at the lake and normally we would fly back to Norman Rogers, but I suggested we might scare the folks who already had gathered on the ice.
“Lets turn around and do as if we have one more run at it…”
“So we did. We came in very low and you should have seen them run, slip and fall all over the range, it was hilarious.”
“Well what would you have done in the same situation?
“Yeah, thinking about it now, it was a bit of a bad joke. But at the time we laughed our heads off, it was funny to see them run, slide and fall over themselves…”
A Harvard airplane used for the training of pilots at Norman Rogers Airport in 1944