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Pilots flock to Buttonville to say goodbye to the airport where they learned to fly

Click to play video: 'Buttonville airport officially closes after more than 60 years'
Buttonville airport officially closes after more than 60 years
After decades of operations, Buttonville airport in Markham has ceased operations. Global Toronto's Caryn Lieberman has the story – Nov 30, 2023

When the sun sets on the two runways in Markham, Ont., on Thursday, it will mark the last day for Buttonville airport.

The small municipal airfield north of Toronto has churned out thousands of pilots over several decades and is the place where so many of the country’s pilots started their careers.

Stefan Chan began at the airport’s flight school in 2019. Since then, he’s gained both his private and commercial pilot licenses at Buttonville. He was back at the airfield Thursday to say goodbye.

“We’re all just sad to see it go, it’s a big part of our lives,” he told Global News. “This airport has been home to us really, it has been the jumping-off point for so many of our years.”

From Dec. 1, work will begin at Buttonville to begin turning the former airstrip into a chunk of industrial land. The new project is set to bring well-connected industrial jobs to the area.

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The developer Cadillac Fairview — which also runs sites such as Fairview Mall, the Eaton Centre and Toronto’s Yonge Corporate Centre — has plans to develop the site into future employment lands.

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Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti said he had “encouraged” the developer to build something more on the site of the airport than a standard industrial park.

“While I appreciate that industrial space is at a premium and in high demand, the uniqueness of this site justifies a more comprehensive approach,” he said in a statement.

Phil Lightstone, who has been flying out of the airport for 30 years, said he understood the demand for land but felt the airport would be very hard to replace.

‘The entire challenge has been the escalating land values that make airport land more profitable to be developed as opposed to being maintained as critical infrastructure,” he said. “It is inevitable based upon changes in the Greater Toronto Area.”

Lightstone said he had wanted to see the federal government come in to save the land but no offer was forthcoming.

For the pilots who train at the airport, a drive of more than an hour awaits to a new location in Lindsay, Ont.

Mark William Brooks, an instructor with Canadian Flyers, said a pilot shortage was building in Canada and losing spaces like Buttonville airport will only make it worse.

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“It’s going to have a huge impact on all of us, it’s like losing a member of the family,” he said. “There’s nothing to replace this, unfortunately. And that’s going to be a big problem going forward, especially for the younger guys.”

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