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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/

2 comments

  1. Ralph Cameron

    H Bruce:

    I was brought up in Leaside and was interested to read about the RCAF having a Radio Direction finding training school there during the war. This was probaly in conjunction with Research Enrtrerpises Ltd’s manufacture of “Anti Aircraft ” ears during that period. They also made optics for the Canadian Navy and we often saw great slabs of red hot optical glass dumped over the hill to the north of R.E.L. along which a dirt road led toward the Don River( where we swam). This road would have been between the north .side of R.E.L. and Eglinton Ave.

    Between that road and Eglinton Ave was an Army storage field where perhaps 100 Army trucks were awaiting to be fitted tithe parabolic shaped acoustic “ears”. I recall strolling through that field as a teen ager an surprised at the complete lack of security. Later that year someone had broken into the trucks and stolen all the tool sets. Not far from Canada Wire anbd Cable and on Wicksteed Ave was a company called “Metal and Alloys”. They recycled damaged military aircraft and we often snuck under the fence to roam the fuselages of Harvards and Ansons. We also pilfered an aluminum aircraft seat from some aircraft and our parents were quite concerned we would be arrested.

    During one such stroll down that dirt road to go swimming, we saw a pair od the acoustic ears tracking an Anson flying patterns for calibrating the equipment

    At the moment, I volunteer as a radio opr at the Diefenbunker and am doing some research on its role in history, mainly from radiocommunication aspect. Thanks for a few tips from your site.

    Ralph Cameron
    Ottawa

    1. Bruce Forsyth

      Hi Ralph,

      Thanks for stopping by my web site. You are right about the Radio Direction finding training school along the Scarborough Bluffs. That is one of the small former bases/schools that I have not added yet. Thanks for putting it in my head that I should add it to the web site.

      It must be very interesting being a radio op at the Diefenbunker. Too bad the provincial bunkers haven’t been turned into museums. I believe the only bunker that hasn’t been demolished or sealed-up in the one in Debert.

      Bruce

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