A noteworthy year for the Leaside Aerodrome

C.W. Jefferys lithograph of the Leaside Aerodrome Engine Test. Photo Wikidata.
C.W. Jefferys lithograph of the Leaside Aerodrome Engine Test. Photo Wikidata.

1918 was an eventful year for the Leaside Aerodrome (also known as Camp Leaside), the large military facility north of Wicksteed which trained cadets and airmen for combat during WW1. That was the year, of course, when the aerodrome received Canada’s first air mail delivery, on June 24. This historic event has been well documented in Leaside Life and elsewhere. 

The arrival of two visitors

But it wasn’t just airmail that made 1918 a significant year for the Aerodrome – or for Leaside. Two other incidents occurred there which have gone largely unnoticed, but deserve recognition. The first was a visit to the camp in July by one of Canada’s foremost historical artists and illustrators – Charles William Jefferys. The second was a visit a few months later by a young man who would later become one of the modern world’s greatest novelists – William Faulkner. What makes this story even more intriguing is that both men came to Leaside for the same reason – to see airplane engines. 

A key structure at the Leaside Aerodrome was the engine-testing shed, which housed several stationary airplane engines – mainly Curtiss OX5s – that were bolted onto wooden frames mounted on concrete blocks.1 As part of their pilot-training, cadets would go to Leaside to learn how to start these engines by cranking their propellers. This was the building which brought both Jefferys and Faulkner to the Aerodrome.

  1. W. Jefferys (1869-1951) came to paint a picture of the building and the cadets training there. Commissioned by the Canadian government to record military training in Ontario, Jefferys probably arrived in Leaside in the summer. By July, he had produced a coloured pencil sketch showing nine individuals – presumably cadets and ground-crew trainees – grouped around an airplane engine. Entitled Instruction in Propeller Swinging, the work is signed “C. W. Jefferys Leaside, July 18.” It was exhibited at the Art Gallery of Toronto in 1919 and is now deposited at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

William Faulkner (1897-1962) came to Leaside in September as a Royal Air Force (RAF) cadet. Four months earlier in June he had joined the RAF in New York City in hopes of becoming a pilot and was sent to Toronto for basic training at the Long Branch flying camp west of the city. From there he went to the University of Toronto for instruction in military aeronautics, which included a trip on September 24 to Leaside to study airplane engines.2 Faulkner wrote home about the experience, which he found somewhat disturbing: “We went out to flying camp [the Leaside Aerodrome], and I learned how to crank an aero motor by swinging the propeller. I was rather surprised when I did it. It’s rather scary though, the thing goes off with such a roar. Saw lots of flying, as yesterday was very clear, a great flying day.” 

Faulkner never became an RAF pilot. The war ended before he could finish his training. But his experience in Toronto and at Leaside must have made an impression. When he returned to the U.S., his very first published story – Landing in Luck (1919) – was about a young pilot who barely avoids a crash landing during his first solo flight at an RAF “aerodrome” in Ontario. Did Faulkner have Leaside in mind when he wrote the story? While there’s no direct evidence to that effect, it’s tempting to think so.

Postscript

An established and respected artist when he visited Leaside, C.W. Jefferys continued to draw and paint well into the 1940s. Many of his works are part of the public collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto City Hall, University of Toronto and the National Gallery of Canada. His three volume Picture Gallery of Canadian History is considered a masterpiece of historical illustrations depicting Canada’s past. C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute in North York is named in his honour.

William Faulkner returned to the U.S. in December 1918. For the next three decades he wrote and published some of the most innovative and brilliant novels in American literature – including The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light in August, and Go Down Moses. In 1949, he was awarded the Nobel prize in literature.

Sources: 1 Michael Zeitlin, Faulkner, Aviation and Modern War [New York: 2022], page 109. 2 Michael Millgate, “William Faulkner, Cadet,” University of Toronto Quarterly, 35 (1966), page 118.

About Ted DeWelles 40 Articles
Ted DeWelles is a retired public relations professional and community college professor. A Leaside resident for more than 20 years, Ted currently serves on the board of the Leaside Heritage Preservation Society. He loves reading, cycling and researching and writing about Leaside’s history.