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Farmland holds military aviation past

Published in the Alliston Herald
11 April 2007
Published in the Essa Times
9 November 2007

The intersection of County Road 10 and the CPR rail tracks north-east of Alliston looks like most farms, and it always has been. However, the property was once the site of a forgotten military airfield. Known locally as Leach’s Field, this landing field is all but forgotten by only a few longtime residents of the Alliston area.

In the late 1920s, the Royal Canadian Air Force approached farmer John Leach about developing an auxiliary landing strip in one of his fields, located on Lot 8, Concession 3 in Essa Township, to be used in conjunction with the flying training school at RCAF Station Camp Borden. The L-shaped airstrip was pretty rudimentary. It was simply a pasture field with no actual construction going into creating it. Unlike some aerodromes that had turf runways, the “runways” at Leach’s Field utilized the existing ground surface.

Although there were no hangars or aviation facilities of any kind, Leach’s Field was quite a busy military landing field. It was used quite extensively as a practice field, but it also doubled as an emergency landing site. John Leach still used the field for grazing his livestock, although he was required to have the animals off the field by 8 o’clock in the morning.

Provisional Pilot Officers (pilot trainees) primarily used this airstrip for touch-and-go flying, which is where the pilot comes down as if to land and then lifts off again just prior to touching the ground. When pilots did land, they had to be careful to stay on the “runways”. One unfortunate pilot who landed at Leach’s Field in April, when the ground was still soft, found himself stuck when he steered his airplane off the “runway”. John Leach hitched up a team of horses to the air plane and pulled it out, saving the pilot the embarrassment (and possible ridicule) of having to contact a recovery crew from Camp Borden, which was the proper procedure.

Aircraft frequently seen at Leach’s Field were the Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny”, Tiger Moths and Fleet bi-planes in the pre-World War II years and the Harvards, Yales and Fairy Battle aircraft during World War II.

Leach’s Field was used very briefly for air gunnery target practice during World War II, with camera guns being used instead of real guns.

Although the Federal Government had taken a 90 year lease on Leach’s Field, the Royal Canadian Air Force ceased using the field sometime in the early 1950s.

Today, absolutely nothing exists to indicate that the land was once used as a landing field. Even the late John Leach’s house and farm buildings are gone; replaced by modern buildings.

Special thanks to Alliston resident and RCAF veteran Wally Byers for his assistance with this article.


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.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/farmland-holds-aviation-past/

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