Canada’s oldest operating public airport celebrated nine decades of aviation on Saturday.
The volunteer-run airport was founded in 1926 by some of the county’s first bush pilots.
“Early, early bush pilots started gathering on the shores of Cooking Lake Airport to base their operations as they were exploring Alberta’s vast northern regions, looking for natural resources,” volunteer Jim Johannsson explained.
The pilots flew open-cockpit planes to deliver mail, medicine and supplies to remote villages.
“They went up into the north with no maps,” pilot Terry Allen added. “They actually created the maps for up north.”
Max Ward, founder of Wardair, routinely flew out of Cooking Lake. He still has a bright yellow single otter plane stored in a hangar on site.
Another legendary bush pilot also called the airport his home base: Wop May.
“Famed for shooting down the Red Baron during World War One, going on to hunt down the Mad Trapper in the Yukon Territory and delivering valuable medicine to Fort Vermillion,” Johannsson recalled.
“Today the airport is very modern,” Johannsson said. “It’s got a 3,000-foot paved runway. There’s roughly 200 aircraft based here. We’re actually one of the biggest bases of aircraft in the whole province.”
Currently, one-third of the airport usage is training, one-third is business and the final third is for recreational pilots. In just one day, 150 planes can come through Cooking Lake.
More than 30 aircraft flew in for the festivities – including Canadian Forces’ CH 146 Griffon helicopter – despite the drizzly weather.
Classic aircraft dating back to the 1940s and 1950s were also on display for guests to check out.
Pilots young and old were on hand to share their love of aviation.
“It’s just… a sense of freedom because you’re up there and it’s just you,” air cadet Warrant Officer Zach Bouchard said. “You’re 100 per cent in charge of that plane. Wherever you want to go, you tell it to go and it brings you there.”
“Anyone interested in aviation, wants to get involved in aviation, get your pilot licence, come out and watch air planes… This is the place,” Allen said. “I love it.”
Volunteers are currently fundraising to replace the outdated public terminal – an old ATCO trailer – with a modern new building.
With files from Sarah