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Long vanished Royal Flying Corps aerodrome was the destination point for Canada’s first air mail delivery

April 2012

Deep in the heart of the Leaside neighbourhood in Toronto lies the Leaside Business Park, a vibrant centre for business and manufacturing. The area also has an almost forgotten military past.

During World War I, Canada Wire and Cable opened a munitions production factory, creating the subsidiary company, Leaside Munitions Company, to oversee shell production.

In May 1917, the Federal Government constructed an airstrip, named Camp Leaside, on about 220 acres of land between Wicksteed Avenue and Eglington Avenue. The Royal Flying Corps Canada established a training school, one of three in the Toronto area, for training of pilots, mechanics and maintenance crews, as well as the School of Artillery Cooperation. The aerodrome featured nine hangars, instructional and repair buildings, a mess hall and a hospital building. Student pilots received instruction on the basics of flight, aerial reconnaissance and aerial combat.

Royal Flying Corps Camp Leaside was also the destination point of the first “Air-mail” delivery in 1918, having originated in Montreal. A plaque commemorating this event sits at the corner of Broadway and Brentcliffe, what was once the north-west end of the airfield.

The newly formed Toronto Flying Club purchased the aerodrome in 1928, making it the first flying club in Canada to have their own aerodrome.

A small clubhouse was built, along with a canteen, an Imperial Oil office and fuel supply for use by club pilots.

The club had a brief stay at Leaside as the aerodrome closed in 1931.

During World War II, the property was used by the Royal Canadian Air Force as No. 1 Radio Direction Finding School from June 1942 – March 1944, and the station was briefly known as RCAF Station Leaside.

Over the years the area was redeveloped with new manufacturing, retail and residential homes taking over the land. The last remaining aircraft hangar was demolished in 1971 and today, not the slightest trace remains of the Leaside Aerodrome. As a nod to the area’s aviation past, one of the streets in the area is named Aerodrome Crescent.

In an interesting footnote to the “air-mail delivery” in 1918, the true purpose of the flight would emerge years later; that it was a scheme for pilot Brian Peck to get a free round-trip flight from Toronto to Montreal to visit his family. Oh yes, and he was also smuggling illegal liquor back into a then dry Ontario. Peck managed to organize the flight to Montreal and back to Toronto by convincing managers of the Leaside Aerodrome that it could be a valuable publicity flight for the recruitment of pilots into the Royal Flying Corps Canada.

Peck served overseas early in WWI, but by 1918, he was an instructor with No. 89 Training Squadron at the Leaside Aerodrome. Originally from Montreal, Peck had not seen his family in a long time. He arranged to perform an aerial display for the citizens of Montreal in his Curtis JN-4 (Jenny) aeroplane, concluding with the dropping of recruiting leafletts. It was on the return flight, officially carrying a bag of mail, that the aeroplane was crammed with so many cases of Old Mill scotch, that Peck was only able to keep it about 40 feet in the air. Peck’s mechanic, Corporal C.W. Mathers, was forced to sit atop some of the cases, intended to be used in a wedding celebration for a certain stores lieutenant at the Leaside Aerodrome.

Adding to the weight issues Peck faced, a strong wind caused the aeroplane to burn more fuel than usual and he had to make an unscheduled stop to refuel (first in Kingston, then Deseronto as Kingston had the wrong kind of fuel). The “history-making” flight was so hastily arranged that even Toronto Postmaster Willliam Lemon, was not made aware of the flight until the plane had landed at Leaside.


Sources: the Lost Rivers web site – http://www.lostrivers.ca/points/air.htm, the National Archives of Canada – http://www.archives.ca/05/0518/05180203/0518020303_e.html, information provided by Jane Pitfield, Councillor, City of Toronto (2005), the Leaside Business Park Association – http://www.leasidebusinesspark.com, Esprit de Corps magazine, April 2012, https://www.insidetoronto.com/news-story/2536566-leaside-100-aerodrome-was-site-of-canada-s-first-air-mail-flight, & the personal recollections of the author (2004 & 2015).

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/leaside-aerodrome/

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