Sunday reader: Why are so few of Canada’s airports named for aviators?

Canadians in Flight (CNW Group/Canada Post)

Canada Post did a good thing this week when it released a series of five great Canadian innovators and inventions. There is no doubt that the two men, one woman and two aircraft deserve their place in history. But it also opened up a can of worms. Why are we so bad at honouring our Canadian aviation heroes? Where are their names when we speak of the great ports of entry airports have become?

Canada has a well-established tradition of naming airports after politicians.

Saskatoon’s airport is named after former Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, Toronto’s after Lester B. Pearson, Ottawa after Sir John A. Macdonald, and Montreal after former PM Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The East Coast gets into the act, with Moncton’s airport named after former Governor-General Romeo LeBlanc, and Halifax is named after the greatest Prime Minister Canada never had, Robert Stanfield. Even the North is afflicted by this disease. The airport in Whitehorse is named after Erik Neilsen, a longtime federal politician and Cabinet minister from Yukon.

But we’re not very good at naming our airports after the people who actually made aviation great in this country.

You can count on two hands the number of Canadian airports named after aviators, and have fingers left to spare. There are only seven, what’s worse, few are high profile. Two are named after Billy Bishop – the First World War ace – one on Toronto’s waterfront (that’s the relatively high profile airport), the other in Owen Sound, Ontario.

The airport in Dauphin, Manitoba is named after W.G. Barker, First World War ace (photo: Canada Post)

The airport in Dauphin, Manitoba is named for William George Barker (also on the recent stamp issue), First World War ace, winner of the Victoria Cross, and the most decorated serviceman in Canadian history. Inuvik, NWT’s airport is named after the founder of the Northern Air Transport Association, Mike Zubko. Sarnia, Ontario is named after astronaut Chris Hadfield. Brockville, Ontario is named after George Tackaberry, owner of the company that re-surfaced and extended the runway. Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan named its airfield after RCAF Air Vice-Marshall C.M. McEwan, while tiny Eatonia, Saskatchewan is named after Elvie Smith, the founder of engine-maker Pratt and Whitney Canada.

By our count, that’s seven. Seven airports out of more than 100 that have scheduled air service in this country.

UPDATE: A WAN reader has pointed us to another airport terminal named for a great Canadian aviator. The Raymond Collishaw terminal at Nanaimo Airport is named after the First World War flying ace who was born in the city.

A completely unscientific poll conducted by Western Aviation News after Canada Post released its new stamps has revealed any number of possibilities. We received dozens of responses, and it all led to a lively discussion on Facebook.

Wardair, founded by bush pilot Max Ward, brought luxurious wide-body flying to hundreds of thousands of Canadians before it was bought by Canadian Airlines (photo: Wikipedia).

The top pick (59%) was Max Ward, famous aviator who built a career bush flying in the North and parlayed that into a high quality airline, aptly named Wardair, that at one point threatened to usurp the Air Canada-Canadian Airlines duopoly. So how about it Yellowknife? Or Edmonton? He put your airports on the map. To this day, every time you see a Government of Canada A310, you’re witnessing Ward’s legacy in action, he introduced the type to the country.

Speaking of Edmonton, how about renaming YEG after Wilfrid Reid “Wop” May the choice of 29% of respondents: flying ace who took on the Red Baron, brought flying to Edmonton, opening Canada’s first “air harbour,” performed countless life-saving flights into the Northern Alberta bush? There’s already a Mayfield neighbourhood in the city, why not Wop May International?

Willy Laserich (photo: Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame).

Another popular choice in the WAN poll was Willy Laserich, member of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame, and a bush pilot from Cambridge Bay. He flew across Nunavut and NWT, racking up more than 3,000 medevac flights, and 100 search and rescue missions. Six babies were born aboard his planes, while they were in flight.

Grant McConachie certainly bears mentioning in Vancouver. McConachie built Canadian Pacific Airlines into a global competitor, and launched the era of Asia-Pacific travel from Western Canada. The road leading to the airport already bears his name, why not the whole facility? If that’s going too far, how about the McConachie International Terminal at YVR? Though CP Air is long gone, his legacy is still visible at Western Canada’s largest airport.

If there is a glaring flaw in this week’s Canada Post stamp issue, it is the lack of Quebeckers. The WAN poll has a solution for that. How about Julie Payette, Governor-General, astronaut, and all-around too talented person? While Montreal’s major International airport is already named after former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, what about the plethora of airfields around the city. Julie Payette International in Mirabel, anyone?

The Canadian-made de Havilland Beaver, voted a top-10 engineering achievements of the 20th century, still flies daily operations for Harbour Air in Vancouver (photo: Brett Ballah).

And the list goes on. Bombardier. Dick Hiscocks, who designed the legendary de Havilland Beaver, which, more than 70 years after the type’s first flight, still operates daily rotations for West Coast seaplane operators. Just look at the photo to see what a great-looking and versatile aircraft this is.

This is all to say Canada’s airports used to be run by Transport Canada, and bureaucrats are good at naming airports after their political masters.

But it’s a new age, with independent airport authorities running most of Canada’s primary airfields. Isn’t it time to honour our Canadian aviation heritage?

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