Remembering an early Toronto airfield

News Article / August 29, 2017

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For 100 years, Toronto and the Royal Canadian Air Force have had a close history. That relationship continues on September 1, 2017, when the Governor General will present new Colours to the RCAF at Nathan Phillips Square. Earlier this summer, aviation enthusiasts in Toronto recognized a key location in the history of aviation and the RCAF in Toronto with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque.

By Gord McNulty

Aviation enthusiasts and dignitaries celebrated the much-anticipated unveiling of a commemorative plaque recognizing the Trethewey Airfield, the historic location of Toronto’s first airfield, on July 15, 2017.

The importance of the Trethewey Airfield is well described in the words of the plaque:

"In 1910, from July 8 to 16, the Ontario Motor League sponsored the first aviation show in the Toronto area, held in a grass field here on mining entrepreneur W.G. Trethewey’s model farm. On July 13, thousands watched French pilot Jacques de Lesseps in his Bleriot XI Le Scarabee become the first to fly an airplane over the city of Toronto. Afterward, this site remained popular with aviators and became a licensed airfield, often called the de Lesseps Aerodrome. Landing lights were installed for night flying, and mail service to Montreal and Detroit was established.

In 1928 the de Havilland Aircraft Company of England opened its first Canadian assembly plant here. In the 1930s, the airfield was the base for the Royal Canadian Air Force No. 10 Squadron, later the No. 110 (City of Toronto) Squadron, now the 400 Squadron. The airfield was closed in the mid-1940s and homes were built for Second World War veterans and their families."

The Heritage Toronto dedication ceremony took place at Harding Park in Toronto’s northwest end; the park was once part of Trethewey Airfield. The dedication ceremony was the culmination of several years of work. Dr. Robert Galway, author of The Early Airfields of Toronto and a member of the Toronto chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, spearheaded a successful fundraising initiative and was instrumental in organizing the event.

Personnel from 400 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, located at Borden, Ontario, participated in the ceremony, along with members of their Pipe Band. Brigadier-General (retired) Paul Hayes, treasurer of the Toronto chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, and a former Honorary Colonel of 400 Squadron, was master of ceremonies.

During the ceremony, Madeleine McDowell, a historian and founding member of the Heritage Toronto Board, read a letter from Sherry Trethewey Stewart of Maple Ridge, British Columbia. Ms Stewart said she would have liked to attend but was in Peru. In the letter, she expressed best wishes and thanks from the Trethewey family for the ceremony and plaque, and their appreciation of Robert Galway’s recent visit to Maple Ridge. Dr. Galway introduced Mr. and Mrs. David Trethewey of Muskoka who were in attendance.

The next speaker was Wing Commander (retired) Russ Bannock, DSO, DFC, a legendary Royal Canadian Air Force pilot and “ace” during the Second World War. He worked for 25 years at de Havilland and eventually became president of de Havilland Canada. He mentioned that the ceremony was the first time he had seen the original location of the company before it moved to Downsview in Toronto.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jillian Bishop, commanding officer of 400 Squadron, was the final speaker. She noted that Flight Lieutenant Frank Trethewey, one of the squadron’s first officers, negotiated a lease of the property that became the original airfield of this distinguished squadron. Celebrating its 85th anniversary this year, 400 Squadron is the oldest and longest-serving squadron in the RCAF.

The ceremony continued with the squadron’s chaplain, Captain Paul Acton, reading High Flight and the Prayer for the Fallen. The Pipes and Drums played the Piper’s Lament (Flowers of the Forest), and the plaque was then officially unveiled.

Following the ceremony, an informal reception took place in the atrium of nearby 12 Division Police Station, concluding a remarkable day.

“Thank you to Sheldon Benner, Toronto Chapter President, Gord McNulty and John Bertram,” said CAHS national president Gary Williams. “The success for the event is due to the dedication and commitment of the Toronto Chapter members of the CAHS along with the support of the National CAHS.

Gord McNulty is a member of the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society and a reporter for the chapter’s newsletter, Flypast. This article is translated and reproduced with permission.


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