What is CFB Gagetown?
When it was officially opened in 1958, CFB (Canadian Forces Base) Gagetown, at 1100 square kilometers, was the largest military base in Canada. To give a sense of scope, it takes about an hour to drive across the Base on a major highway.
The Base was named after the Village of Gagetown, where the headquarters were to be located until politics reared its ugly head. A dispute between Liberals and Conservatives resulted in the selection of Oromocto as the Base headquarters 25km away, which has become no small source of confusion. Despite sharing the name, the Village of Gagetown has no direct access to the base and its massive training area. Many wayward travelers arrive in the village, looking for the military base, only to discover they have an hour’s drive ahead of them to reach the front gate.
The combined Town of Oromocto/CFB Gagetown population is approximately ten thousand, of which 70 percent are military personnel and their dependants. The base itself employs approximately 4000 military members and 700 civilians.
Being the largest Public Sector employer in the entire province, CFB Gagetown is a very significant contributor to the economy of surrounding communities and of the province, generating an estimated $500 million per year. This leads to an interesting conflict; how do you speak out against a military base upon which your livelihood depends? Over 3 million gallons of Agent Orange, Agent Purple, and Agent White were sprayed on the Base, contaminating an estimated 25% of the total area. These chemicals were found in dangerous quantities on the Base during testing in 2006. The Base continues to be sprayed today with glyphosate herbicides, the second most toxic chemicals known to science.
The Base is still contaminated today. Why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?
CFB Gagetown's training area includes a NBCW area (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Warfare area) small arms, grenade, mortar, rocket launcher, anti-tank, field firing, artillery and air defense ranges as well as a tracked and wheeled vehicle driving area and helicopter training area. Field Engineers also conduct bridging and demolitions training in the training area. Almost every kind of warfare is practiced there.
The terrain of the training area is well suited to all types of training. There are open stretches with scattered woods, ideal for armored and infantry tactics; there are very thick woods and swamps, some of which adequately simulate jungle conditions; and there are mountains, although not very high, for mountain warfare training. The climate, although quite humid, changes seasonally with ample snowfall in winter and high temperatures in the summer enabling personnel to conduct training throughout the year.
In l950 Canada's peacetime army was to be increased to more than divisional size. No Base in Eastern Canada had sufficient room for such a force to exercise and maneuver. The prospect of this larger army, combined with Canada's commitments in the United Nations, and the growing Communist threat, prompted the need for large training areas with certain characteristics:
- Proximity to an eastern Canadian all-weather port
- the area had to be large enough for exercises on a divisional scale (up to 17,000 soldiers)
- the ground had to be suitable for all types of training
- the area was to be in a temperate climate similar to Eastern Europe, the most likely Cold War battleground at the time
- the new training area was to be established with as little disturbance as possible to the civilian population.
Disturbance of the civilian population was a factor of considerable importance. About 3,000 people lived in the area that would become CFB Gagetown. These people were forced out of their homes, "expropriated," by the Government of Canada. If they refused to leave, tanks descended on their property and forced them out.
Member of Parliament A.J. Brooks stated in the House of Commons on Dec 3, 1952, "It had come as a great shock to the people residing in western Queens County to read in the newspapers that their homes were to be taken from them to be used as a military camp. Not only do they have to leave their homes, but also their farms, their communities, their churches, schools, friends, societies and the cemeteries. They are splendid people whose ancestors have lived in that section for four or five generations.... There are no finer people in New Brunswick than those in The CFB Gagetown area."
Most of the residents in the area could trace their history back to the mid 1800’s, when the Canadian Government granted land to Irish, Scottish, and British citizens to encourage them to move to Canada, which was still a British Colony. The farmlands these people sowed for generations will now lie fallow for centuries, poisoned by the most toxic chemicals known to man. Their history has been preserved groups like the Base Gagetown Community History Organization.(1)