Photos, clockwise from top left:
a 1930s mailplane; a 1930s Border City Aero Club pin awarded
to flyers who passed their flying test; BCAC president Norman
Reynolds and Evelyn Elmquist of Detroit at the annual “Pilots’
Prom,” February, 1939; Walker Airport hangar; local pilot
Ruth St. Louis (nee Gooby); centre photo taken during comedian/actor
Bob Hope’s visit to Windsor’s No. 7 Early Flying
Training School in 1943. Bob Hope (centre) stands with Flight
Sgt. Haddon (possibly on wing behind him) and three employees
of the airport, Earl, Gorno and Scotty.
Windsor Got Its Wings
by Elaine Weeks
Off the Ground
December 17, 1903, two young bicycle mechanics from South
Carolina built and successfully flew a plane at Kitty Hawk.
wasn’t much –12 seconds, 120 feet – but
it was the first controlled, sustained flight in a heavier-than-air
craft. Orville and Wilbur Wright had changed the world forever.
years later, the collective dream of several local WWI vets
for Windsor to have its own airport became a reality. In this
special edition of The TIMES magazine, we present to you a
fascinating look at the early days of local flight as well
as the birth and evolution of Windsor Airport. Many of our
readers contributed their own personal memories of the airport,
planes and flying as well as wonderful photographs.
to believe that just 41 years after our airport opened, three
men flew through space all the way to the moon.
Tiger Moth bi-planes were
lined up every day at Windsor Airport for WWII pilots-in-training.
Photo courtesy Hester Curtis
the Wright brothers finally proved that flight was possible,
people flew planes purely for sport. But soon after the outbreak
of World War I in 1914, military planners realized that airplanes
could be useful in warfare and even influence the outcome
of the war.
1915, soldiers witnessed the first effective use of new weapons
of war, including the airplane, the tank, and the submarine.
Soon the skies over battlefields were filled with blimps,
planes, and tethered balloons. The rapid evolution of aircraft
during World War I was profound and unmatched by any other
advancement at the time. From reconnaissance to bombing, the
use of airplanes in the war became a necessity and by the
end of the war airplanes and pilots had earned the respect
they deserved. By 1918 planes had become a symbol of fear
– and victory.
1920, two years after the end of the “war to end all
wars,” a local group of Royal Air Force veterans formed
the Border Cities Aero Club in remembrance of their wartime
service. This association was the first and oldest group in
Canada to be granted a charter as a member of the Royal Canadian
Flying Clubs Association.
drew the interest of many in the border cities; in 1919 a
crowd had gathered near a large field at the corner of Howard
Avenue and Tecumseh Road to go on flying trips in Universal
Company planes, piloted by Lieut. Charles Stocking, a famous
U.S. military aviator.
Aviation Committee of the Border Cities (Windsor, Sandwich,
Walkerville, Ford City and East Windsor) Chamber of Commerce
was organized in 1924 to explore the construction of a landing
field and the development of an aircraft industry. Far-sighted
committee members believed that when commercial flying became
in Canada, an established local business organization should
be in existence to promote aviation in this community.
successful New York to Paris flight of Colonel Charles A.
Lindbergh (May 20 - 21,1927) electrified the entire world.
His solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic took him 33 hours
and 19 minutes. No other event in aero history had captured
the imagination and admiration of so many. It served to inspire
eager flyers ready to follow him into the skies.
The Royal Windsor:
no ocean crossing.
Photo courtesy Walter Ritchie
Windsor, local aviation enthusiasts decided to promote their
own non-stop, trans-Atlantic flight – from Windsor,
Canada to Windsor, England. In September 1927, American Phil
Wood and Duke Schiller, a pilot in the Ontario Provincial
Air Service, began their flight from a field near Walker Road.
The pair flew the “Royal Windsor,” a Stinson-Detroiter
monoplane for about a week before bad weather and mechanical
breakdowns forced them to give up their attempt.
its failure to reach England, the Royal Windsor expedition
sparked considerable interest in local aviation. The unique
geographical position of the Border Cities stirred the belief
that this community could rapidly become the airplane manufacturing
and the aviation centre of Canada, especially since it was
already at the epicentre of the booming auto industry.
branch of the Aviation League of Canada soon formed and the
Chamber Aviation Committee was enlarged to include Aero Club
workers and officers with a mandate to establish an aerodrome
(airport) in the community.
efforts were greatly assisted by the generosity of Harrington
Walker and Hiram H. Walker (offspring of Hiram Walker who
had died in 1899) who managed the Walkerville Land and Building
Company (a wholly owned company of Hiram Walker’s &
company was petitioned by local aviation enthusiasts for permission
to rent a field in their Walker Farms holdings for flying
activities. The Walker’s responded by providing a tract
of land ideally located at the edge of town for a period of
five years, free of rent, in addition to a gift of $10,000
to be used in assisting with the building of the hangar. The
township of Sandwich East exempted the property from taxes
with the exception of local improvement and school taxes.
dream of a local airport became a reality when Walker Airport
officially opened on September 8, 1928. White-painted planks
two feet wide and 24 feet long marked the perimeter of the
field. A rotating beacon was installed and the roof of the
hangar was painted in large squares of alternating colour.
Barrels of oil were set up for lighting to illuminate the
runway during poor weather or for night landings. In the centre
of the field was a square enclosed in a circle painted white
which designated it as a port of entry for Canada Customs
during daylight hours.
Grand Opening: Walker
Photo courtesy David Newman
grand opening ceremonies featured parachute drops, exhibition
flying, and an Essex County air derby – Canada’s
first air competition. The Puritan, a Goodrich blimp, arrived
amid much excitement – the first such craft to land
at the airport.
following day marked the start of Canada’s first international
air race. Five planes flew out of Walker Airport bound for
Los Angeles, competing for more than $10,000. A pilot from
London, Ontario was declared the technical winner when his
plane was the only one to reach Omaha, Nebraska before the
early years of the Depression, and a disastrous fire in 1930
– which destroyed aircraft and equipment – created
much hardship for the Border Cities Aero Club. The legality
of its agreement with the Walker estate, to whom they paid
a dollar a year for the land, was challenged by Sandwich East
Township, since the club was exempt from paying taxes to the
township. When the flying club could not pay up the township
seized the property. In 1931, the Walker estate redeemed the
flying club managed to keep operating with the help of Roy
Patterson, who continued to lease the land. Things greatly
improved in 1933 when John Canfield rented the airport and
became its manager. Canfield and his wife, Mary, both flying
instructors, were a colourful pair and attracted many new
fliers to the airport. Known to many as “Windsor’s
Father of Aviation,” Canfield developed an ambitious
plan to expand the airport in 1936.
several years of success in flight training, the financial
impact of the Depression was staggering. Like so many other
businesses in the area, the club became insolvent and in late
1938, Leavens Bros. of Toronto leased the airport. The new
company moved in personnel, aircraft and established its own
flight training school. The Border Cities Aero Club continued
to exist only as a social organization.
II and Expansion
plans for the airport’s expansion were realized in 1940
when the City of Windsor bought the airport for $54,000 and
turned it over to the Department of Transport for $1. The
government in turn paid the city $176,000 to begin the airport’s
expansion. Surrounding lands were purchased, and construction
began on three permanent runways, administration buildings
and a control tower. Transport Minister C. D. Howe officially
opened the expanded Windsor airport in October 1940.
Paving the runway
during the windsor airport east expansion 1944.
Photo courtesy Harry Patterson
No. 7 Elementary Flying Training School was established at
the field and kept the airport busy during WWII. Part of the
Commonwealth Air Training program, the school taught more
than 1,600 Royal Canadian Air Force pilots to fly between
July, 1940 and November 15, 1944, when the school was disbanded.
1941, all civilian flying was banned. Only Trans Canada Airlines
and military aircraft were allowed into the airport. Civilian
aviation did return to Windsor early in 1945 and expanded
rapidly. The Chamber of Commerce’s aviation committee
and a group of Americans from Detroit entered into discussions
to build the world’s first international airport in
Windsor. The Canadian government offered farmland west of
Huron Church Road for the project, but the plan fizzled.
1948, the Department of Transport extended two runways. Four
years later, a new $1 million air terminal building was completed.
In 1950, the city of Windsor decided against an option to
resume operation of the airport and control remained with
the federal Department of Transportation.
the 1960s, Windsor Airport entered the Jet Age. Canadian Pacific
Airlines became the second major airline to operate at the
airport when two Douglas DC-8 Superjets took off in 1964.
Several hundred people watched as the jets departed for Rome
and Mexico City.
Canada soon added jets to their business. In 1969, DC-9 jet
service began after a runway was extended 300 metres and intercontinental
jet cargo routes started a year later.
Aerial View of
Windsor Airport, 1957
photo: The Windsor Star
1973, the federal department of transport announced its intention
to expand the airport and create a new runway but these plans
sparked debate over the location of the airport and alternative
sites in the county were discussed. The airport remained at
its site near Walker Road but concerns about its environmental
impact led to the formation of a Citizen’s Advisory
Committee in 1974, which began long-range planning for the
airport. With help from the federal government, runways, taxiways,
aprons and parking areas were resurfaced and other improvements
were made through to 1985.
Concorde made its first visit to Windsor in the summer of
1987. A crowd of about 10,000 people jammed the airport and
surrounding highways to see the British Airways plane land.
Wright Brothers History: The Tale of the Airplane, A Brief
Account of the Invention of the Airplane, researched, written,
and designed by Gary Bradshaw www.wam.umd.edu/~stwright/WrBr/Wrights.html
The Story of Aviation in Essex County, 1920 to 1992 by E.
M. Robinson, June, 1992
Souvenir Program, Official Opening, Walker Airport, 1928,
Border Cities Star
A Sod Patch That Grew, Sharon Hill, The Windsor Star, September
On Great White Wings – The Wright Brothers and the Race
for Flight, Fred E. C. Culick and Spencer Dunmore, Madison
Press Books, 2001
Special thanks to Charles E. Fox, Walter Ritchie, Ralph Howling
and Hester Curtis.
here to go the next story in Issue #37.
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