Discover Ontario's Aviation History: Three Stories
Ontario has a distinguished history in aviation. From Ontario's first flight of the Silver Dart at Camp Petawawa in 1909 to the present jet age, the province can truly be proud of its rich history in the skies.
Using images from Toronto Public Library's Digital Archive and other institutions, this post examines three stories of Ontario's aviation history. But first, here's a timeline of some of the significant events throughout that history.
Highlights of Ontario Aviation
1909 — Flight of the Silver Dart at Camp Petawawa (crashes on its fourth flight of the day)
1914 — Canada is at war with Germany and provides pilots to the Royal Flying Corps; by 1918 approximately one third of 22,000 pilots of the Royal Flying Corps were Canadian
1916–1919 — Canadian Aeroplanes of Toronto manufactures aircraft, including 1,288 Curtiss JN-4 "Canuck" training planes
1920s and 1930s — Between the wars, many Ontario pilots returning from service help with bush flying in northern Ontario and Canadian commercial airlines
1937 — Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA), now known as Air Canada, is established
1939–1945 — Known as "The Aerodrome of Democracy", the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan is established to provide training to flight personnel from across the British Commonwealth; No.1 Training Command includes a number of bases in Ontario. Canada trains 131,553 aircrew from the Commonwealth during World War 2
Post-1945 — Canada in the jet age has many laurels of pride: the Avro Canada C-102 Jetliner, the first jet transport to be flown in North America exceeding 800 kilometres per hour; the Avro CF-100 Canuck interceptor; and the supersonic Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow (cancelled in 1959 to the disappointment of many)
Story #1: William Avery "Billy" Bishop
William Avery "Billy" Bishop (1894-1956) was born in Owen Sound, Ontario. When World War 1 broke out, he joined the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles. His first winter in the cavalry gave him more than enough rain, manure and mud. And so he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. He began as an observer with Number 21 Squadron, flying in R.E.8s and B.E.2Cs. Upon his release in mid-1916, he signed up for pilot training. The war was using up pilots at an astonishing rate and he was accepted. He trained in a Farman, an unforgiving and primitive plane. Prone to airsickness, Bishop survived his training and barely completed his solo requirement.
In March 1917, Bishop was assigned to Number 60 Squadron, a crack fighter outfit. He had the good fortune of meeting Corporal Walter Bourne who had been the mechanic of United Kingdom's flying ace Albert Ball. Bourne explained some of Ball's tactics to Bishop. As a result, Bishop adopted Ball's concern for ammunition by checking and loading every round that went into his drums and belts. Bishop loved flying his Nieuport Scout.
On his first mission over the trenches, Bishop flew at the tail end of a formation of six planes and alternately lagged and overran his mates. The next day he was introduced to anti-aircraft fire (nicknamed "Archie" in World War 1 jargon) which tossed his plan all over the skies.
After many hours of flying he became a skilled pilot and an excellent shot. On one memorable day he was flying over 10,000 feet above German lines and spotted five enemy planes, three above, two below. He dived on the lower pair, one of them got on his tail and put a bullet through his helmet and another bullet through his windscreen. Then the other three came after him. As he climbed to meet them, all three oddly backed off despite their altitude advantage. The lower two planes also fled. Somehow Bishop had engaged five German planes and chased them from the sky, suffering no damage other than his flying helmet and windscreen. (His Commanding Officer thought he deserved some rest after the encounter.)
Bishop was involved in one of the few recorded duels between the war's great aces. In mid-1917, Bishop's squadron had flown a morning patrol. After lunch, he decided to try another. With a little persuading, six of his squadron mates came along. Within a quarter of an hour their Nieuports had crossed the German trenches and spotted five Albatroses. As Bishop maneuvered behind them, four more Albatroses appeared — they were the Red Baron Manfred von Richtofen's planes.
Richtofen moved out of the melee and set up a duel with the Canadian ace. Bishop got the Red Baron in his sights, but his gun jammed. Von Richtofen turned to look around and Bishop had unjammed his machine gun and placed bullets in the fuselage of the red Albatros. The German ace flew masterfully, twisting and banking to deny Bishop a clear shot. When four Sopwith Camels from an English naval unit appeared, the Germans took off. So did the British. With several bullet holes in his aircraft Bishop remarked, "Close shave, but a wonderful, soul-stirring flight."
By autumn of 1917, Bishop was the most famous of all Allied aces. He had been credited with forty seven kills. King George V pinned on him the Military Cross, the Distinguished Service Order and the Victoria Cross for his solo raid on the German Aerodrome. American and Canadian magazines carried his story. He returned to Canada to marry his pre-war sweetheart Margaret Eaton Burden (1897-1981). For William Avery Bishop the war appeared to be over.
However, he was determined to continue. He returned to England as the Commanding Officer of a new S.E.5 squadron Number 85. He selected its fliers personally, including a number of American pilots. It was understood he would not fly in combat, it was too much of a risk. Bishop ignored this. He flew and fought. In twelve days, he shot down twenty five German airplanes which was an unprecedented feat. This time the Generals had enough and ordered Bishop back to London to help organize the Royal Canadian Air Force.
In World War 2, Bishop rose to the rank of Marshal in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
More photos from our Digital Archive:
Story #2: The Mynarski Memorial Lancaster
In 1941, Winnipeg’s Andrew Mynarski enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). He trained at the British Commonwealth Air Training bases in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, and MacDonald, Manitoba. In 1942, he graduated as a mid-upper air-gunner. He went overseas in December 1942, eventually being posted to 419 (Moose) Squadron to fly as a mid-upper gunner on Lancasters from Middleton St. George Bomber Command station.
Mynarski was part of a Lancaster crew that took off on the night of June 12, 1944 for the rail marshaling yard in Cambrai, France. They were nervous because of the omens surrounding the number 13 — this would be their 13th mission and they would be over the target on June 13th.
Their Lancaster was attacked and hit by an enemy Junkers JU-88 night fighter. The incoming bullets crippled the port engines and ignited a fuel and hydraulic oil fire. The captain ordered the crew to bail out. Mynarski saw tail gunner Pat Brophy still in the rear turret and used a fire axe and bare hands in a vain attempt to free the trapped tail gunner. With parachute and clothing on fire, Mynarski realized there was nothing he could do. Before jumping, Mynarski saluted Brophy in a final gesture. He made it to the ground alive, but was so badly injured he died within hours.
Pilot Officer Mynarski was the first member of the RCAF to be decorated with the Victoria Cross in World War 2. His Victoria Cross is on display at the Air Command Headquarters in Winnipeg with other memorabilia. Mynarski is also remembered with a statue in Middleton St. George, England, the home base of 419 Squadron. Andrew Mynarski VC Junior High School in north Winnipeg was named in his honour.
Here in Ontario, Hamilton's Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum dedicated its Lancaster VR-A, one of only two flying Lancasters remaining in the world, in his memory. The fully restored Mynarski Memorial Lancaster made its first flight September 24, 1988 (the cost of restoration was estimated at $250 000).
More photos from our Digital Archive, including the restored Lancaster VR-A:
Story #3: Canadian International Air Show
The Canadian International Air Show (CIAS) is Canada's longest running air show and the third largest in North America. It takes place each Labour Day weekend as part of the Canadian National Exhibition on the shores of Lake Ontario near Ontario Place.
Some historical highlights include:
1949 — The one-day air show moved to Exhibition Park and renamed the National Air Show
1950 — Four Harvard aircraft perfromed daily, firing three inch rockets
1952 — Visitors heard the first sonic boom of an F-86 Sabre jet breaking the sound barrier
1953 — The National Air Show for September 19 received international attention. It was the fifth largest air show in the world and included high profile dignitaries such as Lord Tedder, Marshal of the Royal Air Force, General Hoyt S. Vandenberg of the United States Air Force and Igor Sikorsky, the Russian American Aviation pioneer of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft
1954 — Avro Jetliner made its first public appearance
1955 — Show is renamed the Canadian International Air Show (CIAS) but is cancelled due to air shows not being allowed to be run on a Sunday according to the Lord's Day Act
1956 — CIAS was extended to two days when it became an official part of the Canadian National Exhibition
1958 — On September 6, Avro Arrow 25202 was standing by for its public debut but it was cancelled due to adverse weather
1959 — CIAS 10th anniversary, the Royal Canadian Air Force Golden Hawks appeared in F-86 Sabres celebrating the 50th anniversary of powered flight in Canada
1969 — CIAS 20th anniversary; it became a four day event
1972 — Canadian Forces Snowbirds aerobatic team first performed and have been a part of the CIAS ever since
1979 — CIAS 30th anniversary, the British Airways Concorde became a featured attraction from 1979 to 1988
1983 — The CF-18 Hornet made its first demonstration appearance and has performed ever since
1988 — Lincoln Alexander, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario named Honorary Patron to the show for 1988, 1989 and 1990
1989 — CIAS 40th anniversary; it became a three day event
1996 — The first female director Debbie Day named to the Board of Directors
1998 — Donna Cansfield was elected first female Chair of the Board of Directors and held the position to 2002
2001 — CIAS featured a twilight show with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds
2002 — Royal Air Force Red Arrows made an appearance
2007 — A United States Air Force F-22 Raptor landed in Toronto, marking its first time on foreign soil
2008 — First female CIAS President, Patricia (Roberts) Volker elected
2009 — CIAS 60th Anniversary marked the 100th anniversary of powered flight in Canada and 80th anniversary of the Port George IV (now Billy Bishop) Island Airport
2010 — Lieutenant Colonel Maryse Carmichael, the first female Snowbird pilot and first female Commanding Officer of the Snowbirds opened the air show to celebrate the Centennials of the Canadian Navy and Women in Aviation
2011 — First apperance of the United States Marine Corps V-22 Osprey aircraft
2013 — Astronaut Colonel Chris Hadfield, first Canadian to walk in space and command the International Space Station, opened the show. Also: the only privately owned AV-8B Harrier in the world performed
More photos from the Digital Archive of the Canadian International Air Show: