By Aviation

Travel by Air

Aviation has a long history in Canada…

Photo: Gordon Hood, 1922. Gift of Dorothy Reesor M.2014.2.0.11
Photo: Gordon Hood, 1922. Gift of Dorothy Reesor M.2014.2.0.11

Flying in Canada

F.W. Baldwin was the first Canadian to fly a plane, called the “Red Wing,”in 1908. One of the most successful Canadian plane designs was the “Silver Dart.” Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, was on the team that created it. It was one of the most advanced piloted flying machines of the day, but its longest flight was only 32km.

Silver Dart
Photo: Silver Dart

Advancements in aviation came very quickly in the 20th century, largely due to military pressures of the first and second world wars. In the span of just over 50 years planes went from the Silver Dart, to jets that could fly from Toronto to Europe in just 6 hours! This dramatic increase in the ability to travel long distances shaped our communities in many ways. It opened Markham’s doors to the world, aiding in the enormous increase in newcomers and overall population after 1950.

Air Cadets

Air Cadets provides training and activities for youth aged 12-18. In addition to leadership and citizenship, cadets are trained in many areas related to aviation, such as navigation, flying, air traffic control, gliding, aerospace studies and survival training.

There are two Air Cadet Squadrons in Markham - The 351 Silver Star Royal Canadian Air Cadet Unionville Squadron was formed in 1987. It has over 200 members, one of the largest in Canada! In 2011 the 883 Air Commodore Leonard Birchall Squadron was formed to offer more spaces to potential Markham cadets.

Did you know there are airports in Markham?

Markham Airport is located at Hwy 48 and Elgin Mills Road. It’s a private airport that was founded in 1965. It services about 40 residential aircraft, Air Cadet Gliders, and hosts both a flight school, and a high school co-op program.

Buttonville Airport began in 1953 as a grass airstrip and became an official airport in 1962. It currently services corporate and other small passenger flights, and is home to over 300 flying clubs. However, its days are numbered. It is owned by developer Armadale Properties Ltd. who plan to close the airport and turn the site into a mixed-use residential and business hub.

Air Traffic Control at Buttonville Airport, 1970
Photo: Air Traffic Control at Buttonville Airport, 1970. Gift of Toronto Airways M.2006.13.84.d

Pickering Airport was first proposed in the late 1960s as Toronto’s second international airport. However, due to widespread grassroots opposition from the local community it still has not been built. In 1972, 19,000 acres of land in Pickering, Markham and Uxbridge were expropriated by the federal government. This land included 126 farms, many of which were leased back to the original owners on a temporary basis.

In 2013, 10,000 acres of the airport land was given over to Parks Canada for the Rouge National Urban Park. There are currently still plans to build the airport, however not in the foreseeable future. Opposition groups still maintain that the best use of the land is for agriculture, given the excellent soil quality and rising concerns about wildlife preservation and global food security.

Marion Reesor was a trained pilot. The image below is from a series of photos taken for a 1947 article in an aviation magazine, however the woman in the picture is actually Marion’s sister Dorothy. On this day Marion was not available and so Dorothy was asked to step in and pose as her.

Photo: Gift of Dorothy Reesor M.2014.2.0.12
Marion was one of several pilots in the Hood family. Gordon Hood, Dorothy and Marion’s uncle, is considered an aviation pioneer, having built and flown his own airplane in 1913. Coincidentally, the sisters’ family farmland was eventually where Buttonville Airport was built in 1953.
Photo: Gift of Dorothy Reesor M.2014.2.0.12

William George (Billy) Barker, VC, is best known as a Canadian fighter pilot during WWI. Today he remains the most highly decorated military serviceman in Canadian history. After the war he and his friend, fellow Canadian air ace Billy Bishop, VC, created Bishop-Barker Aeroplanes Limited, an airplane charter, maintenance and sales company. As a part of this venture, the two pilots captured some of the first aerial photos of Toronto and York region, including several of Markham.
Photo: Gift of Mrs. Doris H. Cook M.1974.7.30
Photo: Gift of Mrs. Doris H. Cook M.1974.7.30

Exciting new advancements in aviation include unpiloted aerial vehicles, otherwise known as DRONES.

Versions of radio or remote controlled aerial vehicles have been in use since WWI, however drones for civilian use are a recent development. When we hear the word ‘drone’ the vehicle that most people think of is a type of quadcopter (four propellers) called a rotorcraft - a craft lifted by spinning rotor blades. These are controlled by adjusting the speeds of each rotor making them more stable and suited for tasks like filming or package delivery than a fixed-wing aircraft.

In the future, military drones are expected to become smaller and lighter with longer battery lives and flight times. In civilian use, drones are already being used for deliveries, assisting emergency services, and to collect agriculture and forestry data.

Propeller Fragment

Made by Leonard and Douglas Short of S&S Aircraft Limited, Winnipeg. This propeller has been trimmed, its original full length would have been about three metres.


This propeller likely did not fly for long, if at all. A defect on one end would have thrown off its balance. Even a slight imbalance can result in a propeller tearing off an airplane in flight. Made in 1939, this propeller was designed for a small aircraft.

Photo: (L) On loan from Ferguson Mobbs, (R) Gift of Marge Pringle M.1981.52.1

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