In the middle of the First World War, the British Royal Flying Corps was in need of additional pilots, mechanics, and maintenance crews so Canada stepped up. Construction of several training stations, including ones in Armour Heights, Long Branch, and here, in Leaside, were approved. Canadian Wire and Cable, the neighbourhood’s first industry, provided 220 acres of land, and plans for the building of the Leaside Aerodrome began.
A paved street named Government Road, now known as Merton (in Davisville Village) and McRae (in Leaside), was built as a supply route from Yonge St. Construction began on May 21, 1917.
The 220-acre site ran from Sutherland in the west, the Don Valley in the east, Wicksteed in the south, and Broadway in the north. After the land was drained, construction began on nine hangars, living quarters, mess halls, instructional and repair facilities, and a military hospital, which stood at approximately the intersection of what is now Sutherland and Eglinton. The airport had two grassy runways, one running east-west and one north-south. The British government paid for both the land and the Curtiss JN-4 (Jenny) airplanes used for training Canadian and American pilots, instructors, and mechanics.
As the number of men registering to train as pilots decreased in 1918, Captain Brian Peck convinced his superiors to allow him to fly to Montreal from Leaside to perform aerobatics over the city to attract potential trainees. While this was his stated intention, Peck, originally from Montreal, hadn’t seen his family in over a year and used the flight as both a military mission and family visit.
Bad weather forced the cancellation of the aerobatics, but Peck ended up making history for a very different reason. He and his passenger, Corporal E. W. Mathers, were asked to deliver a bag of 100 pieces of mail to Toronto. With the permission of the deputy postmaster in Ottawa, the flight took off on June 23rd with the country’s first delivery of airmail. The plane encountered terrible weather, which resulted in a slow flight. But the plane was also overloaded with a very heavy case of Old Mull Whiskey, which the officers were carrying to Prohibition-time Toronto to celebrate the marriage of a fellow officer. The great weight caused excessive fuel to burn and meant adding two stops in Kingston and Desoronto. On June 24th, the plane with the mail bag in tact arrived in Leaside. The historic flight is commemorated with a heritage plaque at the intersection of Brentcliffe and Broadway. Sadly, the plaque was installed just months after Peck’s death in 1958 so the famous mail carrier was never able to witness the commemoration of his flight.
With the end of the war, the aerodrome downsized to 160 acres and became a private airport as well as Toronto’s customs airport. Pleasure rides were available, while other pilots entertained patrons of the CNE with feats such as formation flying, and with the stunt pilot, Lillian Boyer, hanging upside down from a ladder under an airplane. By this time, most of the airport buildings had been removed and only four hangars remained. The Toronto Flying Club temporarily used the airport but folded in 1931.
The airport had a brief revival in the forties when the Royal Canadian Air Force operated a radio direction finding school known as RCAF Station Leaside.
As industrial buildings and homes were built, remnants of the airport disappeared. The final hangar was demolished in 1971, but memories of the aerodrome still remain in the neighbourhood with the first airmail commemorative plaque and the names of Brian Peck Crescent and Aerodrome Crescent in the area.
Happy 100th, Leaside Aerodrome! While road issues may be a tremendous problem today, perhaps we can be thankful for the lack of local airplane noise?