The town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay says goodbye Thursday to the British Royal Air Force, bringing an end to a British presence that dates back to the Second World War.

Defence planners in the United Kingdom say they cannot afford to maintain barracks and hangars in a foreign country.

The RAF announced its plans to withdrawal from the Labrador base last summer.

The RAF has trained from 5 Wing Goose Bay for three months each year. The British government says maintaining families and infrastructure in Canada year-round is too expensive.

In a ceremony Thursday, British officers will hand over keys to its barracks and hangar to Canada.

  • FROM AUG. 6, 2004: U.K. to pull out of Goose Bay
  • Squadron leader Paddy Currie said RAF staff will miss their central Labrador home.

    "This place is seen as remote and difficult to get to and hard to live in by an awful lot of Canadians," he said.

    "Brits don't see it that way. This is a great place for us to come to."

    Most of the pullout has already happened. The three barracks that once housed up to 500 service people are now empty, and the hangar that formerly covered Tornado jet fighters and Hercules Transports is closed.

    The Bulldog – for many years Labrador's most legendary bar, with its $1 British draft and giant snooker table – closed its doors last year.

    The British helped build CFB Goose Bay in 1942, as part of the fight against fascism. The base was used as a launching point for Allied troops and equipment.

    CFB Goose Bay was a bomber base in the early years of the Cold War, and evolved again as a primary training place for low-level fighter jets.

    With the collapse of the East Bloc, however, the demand for low-level training declined.

    The Dutch air force pulled out two years ago, and only a small number of German and Italian units remain.

    At a recent farewell party for the RAF, Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Leo Abbass nodded to the end of a large multinational presence in his town – and hoped for their return.

    "I don't even want to say goodbye," Abbass said.

    "I will say it's been a wonderful, wonderful time, and I expect there'll be better times ahead, and that comes from the community."

    The Department of National Defence will maintain the empty barracks and hangars, hoping to rent the facilities next year.

    The RAF may make a temporary return to Labrador in 2006 for a winter training exercise.