EDMONTON – It’s the end of an era; the City Centre Airport has officially closed.
Blatchford Field was born in 1929, after City Council authorized spending $35,000 on the airfield. It was named after Keith Alexander Blatchford, who was Edmonton’s mayor from 1924 to 1926, and became Canada’s first licensed airfield.
“You have to remember, an airfield in 1920s parlance was a nice flat place that you could takeoff in any direction. There were no runways,” explained the Executive Director of the Alberta Aviation Museum, Tom Hinderks.
In the decades to follow, the airport became a critical centre of commercial and military aviation. It quickly became the busiest airfield in North America.
“During the Great Depression when every other place in Canada was falling apart, Edmonton actually boomed. And it was because of the aviation industry,” Hinderks said. “If you think about it, the next time you’re flying on an airliner, you’re flying at half the speed of a bullet, at 10 to 15 kilometres above the ground safely. And that’s because of a lot of things that happened here in Edmonton.”
Randy Stiles has spent the last nine years as a volunteer tour guide at the Alberta Aviation Museum. A retired pilot himself, he could go on for days telling stories about the years he spent flying in and out of the site.
“We used to get into all sorts of trouble,” Stiles said with a laugh. “In 1966 things were not quite as regulated as they are today… so sure, you’re going to chase cattle and low-fly and buzz your girlfriend’s house.
“I decided to keep my hand in and to keep that love of flying. Once you have it, you always want to be around these machines,” he explained. “I flew a lot of these antiques that you see here, which tells you how old I am.”
The closure of the nearly 90-year-old airfield was marked by several events Saturday afternoon, starting at city hall where a plaque and living time capsule were unveiled.
Two Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18s were scheduled to a fly-past at City Centre Airport Saturday afternoon. However, due to the weather conditions in Edmonton, the flights were grounded.
Many in the aviation community have been dreading this day for years, every since the City voted to close the airport in 2009. The Nov. 30 closure date was finalized by City Council in September.
For those who have spent years of their lives invested in Blatchford Field, the day was bittersweet; Stiles said it’s hard to say goodbye, but at the same time, he’s looking ahead to something new.
“This airport at one time had a big sign saying ‘Gateway to the North.’ Edmonton, we at Blatchford Field, were the gateway to the north. Well, guess what? Today, we’re gateway to nowhere. So it’s a sad day,” said Stiles. “It’s been a long run, times have to change and, like I said, maybe this is progress. The world is changing, airplanes are changing.”
“We had a choice — we could have been miserable about it, but I don’t believe in that,” Hinderks said. “It’s time to move forward, it’s time to celebrate everything that aviation has brought to Edmonton here at Blatchford Field and move ahead. We can’t change what’s happening, celebrate it.”
Airport crews began work to close the airport at 5:00 p.m. Saturday.
WATCH: Crews begin the closure of the City Centre Airport
Once closed, the site will be developed into what the City of Edmonton calls a “new urban experience” in the Blatchford Redevelopment.
With files from Cheryl Oates, Global News.
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