Bits and Pieces
Another Airport on the Chopping Board
One of Canada’s most historic airports is being closed to make way for urban development. Edmonton City Centre Airport in Alberta closed one of its two runways earlier this month as Edmonton moves to shut it down.
In a recent e-mail to Bits and Pieces, Rob Seale laments the poor advocacy shown by the airport community. The despair apparent in his brief note is familiar and mirrors the sentiment of previous closures. Perhaps the aviation community has given up on saving valued airports. Read more
Rob’s note reads:
We are facing a real sad future here in Edmonton with the planned closure of the City Centre Airport to start August 3, 2010.
Too bad nobody lobbied to save it other than the local businesses in the immediate area. How about a piece in your next newsletter on the colourful past of this airport?
It has some pretty incredible history and could have had an incredible future. Too bad the city council and Edmonton airport authorities couldn’t see it!
Edmonton’s Historic City Centre Airport
The Hagmann Farm, Jimmy Bell’s Air Harbour, Blatchford Field, #2 Air Observer School, RCAF Western Air Command, Industrial Airport, Municipal Airport – during the past 80 years, Edmonton City Centre Airport (ECCA) has had as many names as it has had roles.
Whatever it has been called, the airfield just north of downtown Edmonton has had a rich and proud history and still plays an important role in the Edmonton region. In its current incarnation, ECCA is the premier general and corporate aviation facility in the Edmonton Capital Region.
The City Centre Airport had modest beginnings. In 1926, the Edmonton and Northern Alberta Aero Club received a $400 grant to transform a patch of farmland into a runway by cutting down the willow bushes and packing down the soil. The site was officially designated an “Air Harbour” that year, and the first class of trained pilots graduated in 1927.
In 1929, Edmonton City Council authorized spending $35,000 on the airfield, and Blatchford Field was born. Named after Keith Alexander (“Kenny”) Blatchford, who was mayor of Edmonton from 1924 to 1926 and later a member of Parliament, it became Canada’s first licensed airfield.
Blatchford Field became the home of Edmonton’s early bush pilots such as Punch Dickens and Wop May, whose adventures and exploits helped open the Canadian North to flight and lay the foundation for the commercial aviation industry that we rely on today.
For the next 35 years, the airport was an important centre of commercial and military aviation, not just for the Edmonton region, but also for all of Canada and North America. In 1939, operations were handed over to the Canadian government as the airport filled a critical role as a Royal Canadian Air Force flight-training centre during the Second World War. In 1943, a North American record was set when 860 planes passed through what was at that time known as #2 Air Observer School.
In the 1950s, with no ability to expand and a new generation of larger aircraft creating a need for longer runways, the search was on for another airfield site for the Edmonton region. After Edmonton International Airport was completed south of the city in 1963, the Edmonton Municipal Airport, as it was then known, was to be closed. However, political opposition saved the historic airfield, and it has operated under several different names (Industrial, Municipal, and City Centre Airport) and several different mandates over the past 44 years.
In 1995, the citizens of Edmonton voted 77 percent in favour of consolidating scheduled air traffic at Edmonton International Airport and keeping the City Centre Airport open to general and corporate traffic. In 1996, the consolidation process was finalized, and ECCA settled into its current role. Today the airport is home to small charters, private and corporate aircraft, and training, military, industrial and medevac flights.
ECCA still displays its proud history with the Heritage Walkway and Alberta Aviation Museum. Both are located on the southern boundary of the airport along Kingsway Avenue and are guarded by a magnificent 1960s-vintage CF-101 Voodoo jet fighter.