Remembering Edmonton’s Aviation History

The City Centre Airport closed on November 30, 2013.  As part of the City’s recognition of that site’s history, the City Archives was asked to build a “living” time capsule for display in City Hall.  With members of staff and our colleagues at the Alberta Aviation Museum I started work on gathering artifacts and images which could tell the story from Hagman’s farm in the early 1920s to City Centre Airport in 2013.

The artifacts were collected by City staff as various tenants of buildings on the new Blatchford development site have been clearing out their buildings, and from the Airport Authority as well.  Items collected included a wind sock, lights and light covers from beside the runways as well as signal switches which turned them on and off.  The Aviation Museum contributed a pilot’s manual from the 418th Squadron, which was stationed out at the field during the Second World War, and some very fragile pieces of painted canvas and wood which once formed part of a biplane belonging to aviator and later CP Airline executive Grant McConachie.

Grant McConachie, who in 1931 started a transport company into the north and throughout western Canada, standing before his Lockeed Lodestar. McConachie's company grew into Canadian Pacific Airlines.

Grant McConachie, who in 1931 started a transport company into the north and throughout western Canada, standing before his Lockeed Lodestar. McConachie’s company grew into Canadian Pacific Airlines.

Looking at the Archives collection of photographs related to aviation yielded some interesting information and a potential new virtual exhibit. We discovered in our collection a display which was developed for the 50th anniversary of aviation in the city, supposedly starting with a short flight in a home-made flying machine in 1909. As well as that exhibit which has hundreds of photographs in it, the Archives resident volunteer documentary photographer, Hubert Hollingworth, also has provided us with lots of images of the airport, aviators and bush pilots, and their machines. Other smaller collections document the special events at the airport (such as air shows and visits of dignitaries and international aviation celebrities) and airplanes of all kinds.

Since the display space available at City Hall is relatively small, and there were large artifacts available, the task of narrowing down the selection of images was hard. There are so many tales to tell, from the bush pilots and their daring adventures to the development of freighting and resource exploration in the north, from the home front efforts to train RCAF pilots and navigators to the refueling and repair work to keep planes in the air to assist the lend-lease program supplying Russia with planes during the Second World War, and the growth after the war in commercial trans-Canada flights. We have decided that since the display case will be out at City Hall for a number of years we should continue to change the images and artifacts over time to keep the information fresh and provide frequent visitors with new information.

Be sure to check out the little “living time capsule” at City Hall if you are downtown, and keep your eye on our virtual exhibits to see when we reproduce the 50th Anniversary of Aviation in Edmonton display on-line.

EA-427-4 Pilots Vic Horner and Wop May flew diphtheria serum to Fort Vermilion at the end of December, 1928 in an open cockpit biplane through severe weather.

EA-427-4 Pilots Vic Horner and Wop May flew diphtheria serum to Fort Vermilion at the end of December, 1928 in an open cockpit biplane through severe weather.

EA-10-3181-46-4 Women Refueling Airplane 1940. The enlistment of many men for war duty left a labour shortage in Edmonton and elsewhere. Women stepped into roles previously barred to them. The airport companies hired women to fix, fuel and ferry airplanes.

EA-10-3181-46-4 Women Refueling Airplane 1940. The enlistment of many men for war duty left a labour shortage in Edmonton and elsewhere. Women stepped into roles previously barred to them. The airport companies hired women to fix, fuel and ferry airplanes.

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About the Author
Kathryn Ivany
Kathryn Ivany has been an archivist for 20 years. Three years ago she came to the City Archives as part of the team of archivists preserving and providing access to Edmonton�s history.
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