Discover Ontario's Aviation History: Three Stories

July 25, 2018 | Andrew

Comments (1)

Silver dart plane mid-air


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

1914–1918 — During World War 1, famous Ontarian pilots score aerial victories: William Avery "Billy" Bishop scored 72 victories; Roy Brown scored 10 victories

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.

He died September 11, 1956. Learn more about Bishop on the site Ace Pilots.

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).

Learn more about Andrew Mynarski from the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada.

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:

1948 — The air show was formerly held at Malton Airport under the sponsorship of the Toronto Flying Club. Over 80,000 people attended

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


1986 — A banner year featuring three jet teams: the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, the United States Air Force Thunderbirds and the Italian Air Force Frecce Tricolori

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

1999 — HRH Prince Andrew, Duke of York named Honorary Patron. Also: on August 20, CIAS 50th Anniversary Plaque unveiled by The Ontario Heritage Foundation

2001 — CIAS featured a twilight show with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds

2002Royal 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

2010 — HMCS Fredericton and 2011 HMCS Shawinigan did a sail past and fired guns in salute to the Royal Canadian Navy

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: