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First Municipal Field in Canada

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Blatchford Field, Edmonton (1926)

Flat field acted as a landing fieldAs aircraft continued to play an important role in transportation into the north, and in roles such as fire patrols, surveying, geology, and the extraction of natural resources, Edmonton became the gateway. Central to these developments was the base of activity for the pilots, which became known as Blatchford Field. The field at the Hangmann farm became a central location for pilots like Wop May and George Gorman to fly out of in the 1920s. It was named after the mayor of Edmonton, Kenneth A. Blatchford, and in 1926, $400 was received from the federal government to keep the soil packed down and the runways free of weeds. With this donation came the field's official designation as the first "Air Harbour" in Canada.

Blatchford Field In 1927, the Northern Alberta Aero Club was established and the first class of trained pilots graduated from Blatchford Field. In 1928, Commercial Airways Ltd was established by Wop May, Cy Becker and Vic Horner, with the Field serving as the base of the operation. City council authorized $35,000 to upgrade the airfield in 1929.

Captain James Bell became the first manager of the Edmonton Municipal Airport in 1930 when the City of Edmonton took over operation of the airport from the Northern Alberta Aero Club. As the vice-president of the flying club, an RAF veteran, and a former city employee, Bell was well-suited to the position. He quickly gained a reputation for excellent service and organization, and was manager until 1962.

James Bell The federal government committed the funds needed to build proper runways at Blatchford Field in 1937, and took jurisdiction of the Field in 1939 to use as an RCAF training base. Canadian Pacific Air operated the #2 Air Observer School as a part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan that produced over 131,000 aircrew for the Allied cause during the Second World War.

The airfield played an important role in assisting the massive effort to build the Alaska Highway in 1942. Blatchford Field was also used by the United States to carry out airlifts to Alaska. By 1943, Blatchford Field had the record for all of North America as the busiest airfield.

Blatchford Field was first renamed as the Industrial Airport, later became known as the Municipal Airport, and finally as the Edmonton City Centre Airport. The airport, close to downtown Edmonton, continues to play an important role in Alberta aviation today, serving mostly private aircraft with a capacity of 19 seats or less.

Source: Myers, Patricia A. Sky Riders: An Illustrated History of Aviation in Alberta 1906-1945. Saskatoon: Fifth House, 1995.

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