By Mark Brooks
On November 14, three strange sights baffled the locals at Buttonville airport, located just north of Toronto.
The first was the Buttonville Flying Club ( COPA Flight 44) holding its first fly-in in living memory. With the help of local sponsors like Aviation Unlimited, Leggat Aviation, Air Partners, Seneca College and Toronto Airways, this event was held to celebrate three key aviation anniversaries: - The Canadian Centennial Of Flight, the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Buttonville Flying Club itself, and the 10th year of the HopeAir volunteer pilots program (VPP).
HopeAir pilot of the year Paul Clark kicked things off by highlighting the accomplishments of Hope Air volunteers in utilizing general aviation to help Canadians get to specialized medical treatment. A huge cake was then rolled out feeding all of the 140 guests including more than a dozen HopeAir pilots who gathered for the event.
The next strange sight occurred when keynote speaker Stéphane Guevremont, somehow managed to get 140 people to leap to their feet and give a standing ovation for Canadian aviation history. Stéphane, a nationally-recognized aviation historian from the University of Calgary, and who had given a first-class presentation at this year’s COPA AGM in Calgary, won the crowd over with a spirited and entertaining review of our storied aviation history.
His presentation of photos, video clips and narration spanned the highlights of the last 100 years of powered flight in Canada.
It was a chance to reflect back to the first moments of flight in Canada. On Feb. 23, 1909, the men of the Aerial Experiment Association gathered on a frozen lake near the picturesque village of Baddeck, Cape Breton to create history. Its members, just like the more than 225 members of the Buttonville Flying Club (BFC), were a powerhouse of brains, vision and ability.
The BFC was founded 50 years ago, when Buttonville airport was a grass strip surrounded by farms. Like all flying clubs in Canada, the BFC is a direct descendant of the spirit of the Aerial Experiment Association that ushered in the dawn of powered flight 100 years ago. With Buttonville airport expected to close within the next several years, this was a sobering moment of celebration for members of the local flying club.
After consuming a delicious (and free) lunch it was time for the afternoon speakers, aviation humorist and author, Garth Wallace, followed by local legend and flight instructor Joe Thompson.
Garth kept everyone laughing, and Joe’s presentation on the challenges of winter flying operations was both timely and informative.
The event wrapped on a sobering note, creating the third strange sight of the day. A group of Torontonians awakened to the reality of one less airport to serve the city. When the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) funding for public access to Buttonville was pulled in April, it initiated a domino effect that has made the closure of Buttonville a near certainty. Surrounded by businesses and members of the community that owe at least some of their successes to the existence of the airport, the meaning of this loss became painfully apparent.
As a club, BFC members regularly fly to the Florida, Bahamas, west to the Rockies, and this year, the Queen Charlotte Islands, as well as north to the Arctic circle. Today we know freedoms of travel and movement unimaginable 100 years ago. But thanks to the loss of GTAA funding, Buttonville will soon close and this freedom is in jeopardy.
With Buttonville closed, Toronto will have one less airport to serve its growing aviation needs. This will make Toronto one of the most aviation-poor cities in North America. Great news for the business owners that currently have Pearson locked down and are able to charge monopolistic fees.
Lousy news for everyone else, and no place at all for the wide range of businesses and individuals dependent on timely access to general aviation. Just want to enjoy the freedom of flight? Expect to drive for an hour first and pay more for the privilege.
Once, not so long ago, Toronto was a world leader in aviation technology, with easy, cost effective access for all aircraft types and missions. But over time the dual pressures of urbanization and a single big airport focus has changed the face of Toronto.
In the last quarter century the greater Toronto area has almost doubled in population while losing four key airports. Maple Airport in Vaughan and King City Airport both closed in the 1980’s. Downsview closed to public use in 1994 and now probably Buttonville.
Equality of access to aviation is not just about money and travel time, it is also about the shape and nature our society. It is time to remember and to re-energizing our hard won freedom of flight before it is too late.