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Toronto’s near-forgotten first aerodrome – Trethewey/De Lesseps Field

April 2017

The Toronto area once had several airfields that no longer exist, but played an important role in early aviation in Canada and the Toronto area.

Trethewey/De Lesseps Field was once such field, located in York Township, west of Toronto, as it was the first airfield in Toronto.

This small airfield was located in the area bounded by Jane Street on the west, the CN/CP Railway tracks on the south, Lawrence Avenue on the north and Black Creek on the east, on a 600 acre model farm owned W. G. Trethewey, a mining magnate.

A private road called Holmstead Drive, which later became Trethewey Drive, ran down the middle of the original farm and the Trethewey home was built near Black Creek. close to where Trethewey Park is now located.

Opened in 1910, Trethewey Airfield became internationally known in July of that year when it was used to host the first flying exhibition of flying in Toronto, sponsored by the Ontario Motor League.  A grass runway was constructed in one of the fields, the centre of which is present day street The Wishbone, and a grandstand was built to accommodate the spectators.

The feature flyer on 13 July 1910 was French aviator Count Jacques de Lesseps, who flew his Bleriot aeroplane, “La Scarabee”, over Humber Bay, the CNE grounds, Toronto Islands and back to the Trethewey Field, a distance of 20 miles, in 28 minutes.  De Lesseps flew at a height between 1500 and 2000 feet, at a speed of 70mph.

The aerodrome would later be re-named de Lesseps Field in his honour.

The July 1910 Airshow/Exhibition also featured three pilots from the Wright Company, who flew the Wright biplane for the spectators.

In 1928, the UK-based de Havilland Aircraft Company bought part of the aerodrome property for their Canadian subsidiary from Fred Trethewey, son of W. G. Trethewey, for use as an assembly plant and training field for their Tiger Moth aircraft.  As a result, Fred Trethewey became one of the founding directors of de Havilland Canada.

The first few aircraft produced there were assembled in the Trethewey’s old vegetable storage warehouse.  Although it wasn’t an ideal building, it did have double doors large enough for the finished aircraft to be wheeled out of the building and was situated close to the CN/CP Railway tracks, making shipping and receiving very convenient.

Also in 1928, Skyways Limited bought another portion of the property primarily for pilot training.

In 1929, de Havilland Canada built a 50 foot by 50 foot wood hangar with a sloping roof, near the central east-side of the property.  However, it soon became clear that the Trethewey plant was too small for de Havilland’s growing business.

A new property was purchased in the Downsview area of North York and de Havilland moved their operations to this site, now known as the Downsview Airport.  A new airfield and production plants were build, although de Havilland did take the recently built wood hangar with them.  This hangar still stands today on Carl Hall Road, directly across from the historic de Havilland Plant 1.

Skyways also had a brief stay at Trethewey, staying until around 1931 when the company re-located to the Malton Airport.

In 1934, No. 10 (Army Cooperation) Squadron of the RCAF took up residence at de Lesseps Field, two years after their formation.

The squadron, renamed a year later No. 10 (City of Toronto) Army Co-Operation Squadron and again110 (City of Toronto) Squadron in 1937, few their assortment of biplanes, from de Lesseps Field until they relocated to RCAF Station Rockcliffe in September 1939 and placed on active service.

Two years later, the squadron would be re-named 400 (City of Toronto) Squadron.  The squadron remains a part of the RCAF Reserve today, currently stationed at CFB Borden.

De Lesseps Field remained an active aerodrome during WWII, with barracks added and surrounded by barbed wire.

closed around the time of WWII.

One of the hangars on Trethewey Drive near Tedder Street was still standing in 1957 but today, nothing remains of the site of Toronto’s first aerodrome.

The former aerodrome property is now a mixed residential and industrial area.  Two parks named for the Trethewey family are in the area; one located on the original property, just south of Trethewey Drive and the other is located just east of the property along Black Creek Drive.

The Toronto chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society is currently fundraising for a historical plaque to be placed on the site of Toronto’s historic first airfield, with plans to dedicate it sometime in 2017.



Sources: The Early Airfields of Toronto – Robert D. Galway, Fred Hotson – “The de Havilland Story in Canada, 1987, Mike Filey – “Toronto Sketches – The Way We Were”, 1992, The Globe, Toronto Daily Star and Evening Telegram, July 13 and 14, 19, Goad’s Maps – 1910 -1916 – Toronto Archives, “Happy street a joy for T.O. kids,” George Gamester, Toronto Star, http://www.400squadron.ca, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/400_Tactical_Helicopter_Squadron, http://torontohistory.net/trethewey-airfield.html, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Lesseps_Field, http://www.torontosun.com/2013/07/13/air-pioneer-thrills-to–103-years-ago, http://disc.yourwebapps.com/discussion.cgi?disc=105008;article=22628..


About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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