Last scheduled flight from YXD

Courtesy Manasc Isaac

It’s been decades in the making, but next week will finally mark the end of scheduled passenger service at Edmonton City Centre (formerly the Muni) Airport.

A Northern Air flight will depart Edmonton June 29 at 4:30 in the afternoon bound for Peace River, and a chapter will close for the airfield just 3 km from downtown.

Northern Air will then consolidate its service to northern Alberta at Edmonton International Airport, some 30 km to the south.

It’s another milestone in a long, slow decline for what was once one of Canada’s busiest airports.

Opened in 1929, Blatchford Field, as it was originally called, was the first licensed airport in the country.

The stories of Wop May and his medical rescue flight to Fort Vermillion – not to mention postal flights into the northern bush – became the stuff of legend, and solidified the airport’s – and the city’s – reputation as the “Gateway to the North.”

During the Second World War, the airport was home a British Commonwealth Air Training facility, and a major staging ground for the construction of the Alaska Highway.

In the 1950s, the airport grew as a passenger and general aviation facility, but by the 1960s, even though it would take a half-century, the airport’s days were numbered.

In 1963, Edmonton International Airport opened its doors and the controversy over what to do with the downtown airport was on.

I can still remember as a child watching Pacific Western Boeing 737s taking off every half hour in the morning, bound for Calgary. The concept of hub-and-spoke flying was only just arriving in Canada, and the Muni, as it was then called, became one of Canada’s first spokes to Calgary’s hub.

The long, slow decline of Edmonton’s air travel market had begun, igniting a debate about whether to keep the airport open.

(Incidentally, having two airports in one city could be monumentally confusing – ours probably wasn’t the only family to show up at the wrong airport to meet someone arriving in Edmonton for the first time who obviously didn’t know there were two airports in the city.)

In 1992, a small majority of residents voted to keep the airport open, but then in 1995, more than three-quarters voted in a hotly-contested plebiscite to consolidate passenger service at YEG. Only flights offering less than 10 seats would be allowed to continue downtown – in 2009, the city council – which owns the airport – decided all passenger flights would end by Canada Day 2012.

The closure of the airport is in the offing, and the land will be redeveloped into environmentally-friendly homes as early as 2014.

And a major page in Edmonton’s flying history will be turned.

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