Category Archives: History

Early years of the AFC

The inaugural meeting of the new club had been on November 14th 1961. There were over 24 people in attendance; a President, Vice President, Secretary/Treasurer, and directors were elected; and the next meeting was set for December. For the first few months, the meetings would continue to be held in the waiting room of the Terminal Building (Hangar 2).  On December 12th the meeting ‘was attended by about 35 members which was a very good turnout considering the ‘white weather’ of that day, the business went off very well and afterwards a really interesting film was shown on high speed flight and plane designs. All in all it was a very good meeting.’  Films on aviation subjects were a regular feature of meetings. Everyone was keen to learn. Although there were a number of experienced pilots in the new club, a lot of the founding members were still working on licences, and their progress was reported regularly. The January 1962 Newsletter reported that five members had soloed since the previous meeting,; Bill Shandley had also passed his written test for PPL, and Ted Koppen was ‘the proud possessor of a spanking new private licence.’. There were also seven new members.  Monty Shore was not a new pilot, but his news, early in 1962, was that he had become one of the few people ever to fly the AeroCar.

It didn’t take long for the idea of an air show to come up. How it happened is described elsewhere. But suffice to say, by March, the decision had been made. The AFC, with some funding and help from the Rotary Club, would launch an event that would become world famous, and grow in ways that no-one could have anticipated at the time. From March through to August the joint committee of the AFC and RCA met repeatedly to hammer out details, send invitations, arrange insurance, fencing, food, etc etc. and as the date approached, more and more members became directly involved. It would be an all-out effort for the club – everyone did something to help ensure success.

In the meantime, winter had ended, the weather had improved and members were ready for fly-outs. The first ever fly-out, in May, was to Hudson Island. This appears to be a privately owned island, 2,500 feet long with a 1,900 foot gravel airstrip. It is just south of Thetis Island.  The next trip was to the Penticton Air Show in June. An entire package deal was arranged – a single payment of $16 covered air transport, accommodation, food and the show. It was less than a year since John and Patricia Spronk had moved from Penticton, and the visiting club was well received by their hosts. In our archives, we still have three minutes of video from the trip and the show.

June was also notable for the departure flight of the Supermarine Stranraer from Abbotsford, of which we again have some video. Glenn Matthews, and possibly other members, had worked on the aircraft while employed at Aerovive.

By May, the club meetings were being held in the Armouries building. This was the old Officers Club from RCAF days. It became the Skyline Club, and would become the venue for many memorable evenings during future airshows. In May the club held a dance. And they would have another in November.

The story of the first airshow is told elsewhere. It was a great success, and that paved the way to have another in 1963. It also brought a net sum of $255.43 into the club.  This was a significant amount at the time. Right from the start the airshow was international, and attracted as much participation from Washington aviators as from those in British Columbia. The stars had included Mark and Grace Hoskins, both flying Ryan monoplane trainers. Jack Brown, publisher of the Northwest Aviator, was also a major supporter. In November a flight of three Cessna 172s took members to Seattle on a mission to thank the Hoskins’ and Jack Brown.

The club’s visibility and activities had attracted a continuous stream of new members throughout the year. The membership roll in December amounted to 70.  At the AGM John Spronk passed the chair to newly-elected President Bill Shandley.

After its initial surge, the membership roll stayed at something less than a hundred throughout the 1960s. But of course not everyone attended meetings regularly – only 25 out of 70 had showed up for the 1962 AGM in December. And membership dues could be paid any time to the end of March. The target for 1963 was 100, but by May the paid-up number was 68, and it rose to 83 in June.  A similar situation prevailed early in 1964, with only 29 people at the March meeting, a newsletter membership circulation of 100, and only 53 paid-up.  By June the paid-up number rose to 75, but meeting attendance was still low, and there were newsletter appeals to support club activities.

For the first few years membership was open to anyone who applied, but by 1968 applicants had to get through an interview first. Some years later there were moves to set a maximum limit on the number of members, and to only admit pilots.  This would eventually lead to the idea of Associate Members.

It’s understandable that not all members attended all the meetings or supported all the activities – because there were so many. In 1963, in addition to the monthly meetings and everything that had to be done for the airshow: there was a fly-out in March to Seattle again, involving seven aircraft; Chuck Dennett and Bernie Bennion flew to Mexico and back; members attended fly-ins in Comox, Twin Harbors, Ancortes, and others; There was a navigation contest and breakfast fly-in organized for June, but the weather was awful and only the breakfast happened (attendance 160); a corn-roast in August; a dance in December; three members bought aircraft;  members continued to gain qualifications; and in September, J. Beshuisen departed in Cessna 150 NSC to Florida and possibly Bahamas. Hurricane Flora changed his plans. The newsletter reported him in Texas and heading home, and described his trip as great example of inexperienced pilot in light aircraft being able to undertake long trips. Flora was one of deadliest hurricanes in recorded history, so he had made a good decision. However, June had already seen the first fatality of a member. Robert Ford had joined September 1962.  His death was described as ‘very unfortunate accident’ in the newsletter. The DoT report card is very brief, and appears critical of his decision to fly into weather over Allison pass – stall during attempted 180 degree steep turn, three fatalities, aircraft destroyed.   On a more positive note, 1963 was also the year of the green club jackets. They cost $13.91 including taxes, and could be picked up at Bennion’s Pharmacy.

The 1964 newsletters indicate a similarly packed schedule of fly-outs,  visits, a spot landing contest , the Pendleton air races, Halloween party, etc etc  and the newsletter started to cite the one-time popular radio show ‘Let George do it’ (it was a private-eye drama that ran from 1946 to 1954.) Members were asked not to just ‘let George do it’.  There was lots to do, partly because by April the club had secured its own room in the terminal building above the reception lounge. It needed decorating, furniture and signage. Then for August there was a more permanent move to a room provided by Sumas Air Services for a rental of $30 per month. This was great location, with direct access to ramp, and a view across to Mount Baker. The single key was held at the Tower. It would be the club’s home until the move to the old fire-hall in 1968.

The fly-out for breakfast to Victoria in September was the first ever subsidized flight – it introduced what became known as the ‘flying incentive’. Pilots could be reimbursed 25% of their cost.

Some other 1964 events of note included: Doris Giles was selected as one of four women and five men for the Canadian team at the world parachuting championships in West Germany; Millie Watson completed her private pilot training under the scholarship provided by the club; there was a new airstrip built on Savary Island; the BCAC started to offer its aviation map of BC at a price of $5; the fully aerobatic Citabria was available at a Canadian price $5,250 inc fed sales tax; the federal government planned to increase duties again on all aircraft not manufactured in Canada; the Rotary Club pulled out of further airshow involvement, but their place was quickly filled by the EAA Chapter 85, which became equal partner with the AFC.

The club was clearly forging ahead on all fronts, and we can surmise that the collective vision was expansive. Nothing has survived of discussions around the vision for the club. However, we know from newspaper reports, that the vision for the airshow was being boosted continuously. Moreover, the airshow was an operation of the flying club, with the same people being involved in both. So it is safe to assume a similar expansive approach. This is supported by the range and quantity of new activities the club took on, and it is indicated explicitly in the Constitution that was approved by Victoria in June of 1963.  The club’s new Constitution went much further than what the club was already doing.  The ‘objects of the Society’ included everything from owning, leasing and operating aircraft, facilities, airports, hangars, depots, etc to promoting aviation in general, raising money in every possible way, and providing training. Everything listed was to be for the mutual benefit of all members. The only constraint mentioned in the ‘objects’ was that training would not include ab initio training. This constraint was significant, because the club had already become a member of the Royal Canadian Flying Clubs Association. It signified that the club would not be like many other flying clubs, where their main purpose was specifically to train new pilots. To have included such an object would have put the club into competition with existing flight schools at the airport. Abbotsford Air Services had been extremely supportive to the club’s formation and to the airshow. John Spronk was their CFI until the end of 1963, when he moved to Skyway Air Services. Herb Porter, the owner of AAS was one of the club’s founding members. Barry Marsden of SAS demonstrated water bombing regularly at the airshow. In fact, the club maintained excellent relations with both AAS and SAS, with members using their rental aircraft for the majority of club flying – even after the club bought its first Cessna 150 in 1968.

For the first few years the club’s finances were quite modest, and despite the aspirations to own and operate fleets of aircraft, airport facilities etc, the income streams were limited to annual dues, airshow revenues, and incidental revenues from other events such as pancake breakfasts.  But the only fixed expense commitment (from August 1964) was the $30 per month rent on the club meeting room, and as required by the Constitution, the financial resources that were available, were spent to the benefit of members and to promote aviation in general.  In 1963 the club earned a net revenue from the airshow of $900, and immediately spent most of it to support a glider being built by Air Cadets, and to provide an Air Ranger pilot training scholarship.  In the years prior to the 1967 Centennial airshow, the club’s revenue from the show never rose above a thousand dollars.  For 1966 airshow revenue was $471.46, and at the end of the year the club’s total equity was $4,690.93, all as cash in various forms.

In 1964 the club had started to subsidise the cost of members’ flying.  The idea was to encourage pilots to participate in club fly-outs, and to take other members with them.  The Board would announce that a certain fly-out would qualify for a particular level of subsidy, and afterwards the pilot could submit their receipts in order to receive a partial re-imbursement.  The qualifying criteria could also include attendance at a preceding general meeting.   In March 1967 the program became more general and was dubbed the ‘flying incentive’.  The discussion on this had started a year earlier. For 1967 each qualifying member was covered up to 20 flying hours, and the incentive value ranged from $2.50 to $3.50 per hour.  This was a significant contribution to the normal cost. Aircraft could be rented from either Abbotsford Air Services or from Skyway Air Services, and it appears that Skyway also gave its own discount of 10% to club members.  The net result was that a Cessna 150 could be flown for as little as $7.50 per hour.  Members had to apply to qualify for the incentive at the start of each year. To qualify, they had to be signed off as having passed a test flight, and they were expected to have supported club activities and attended meetings (missed no more than three in previous year). The cost of the subsidy was billed directly by the provider to the club. The dollar amounts and hours would change each subsequent year as necessary.

The club and its finances were changed forever by the 1967 centennial airshow.  Its annual airshow net income jumped from hundreds to thousands. The $6,103.35 received at the end of 1967, enabled purchase of the club’s first aircraft, at the end of 1968. Also in 1968 the club moved into the old fire-hall.  And the previously happy airshow partnership with the EAA would break down in acrimony.

Times were changing. Acquisition of a significant annual income, aircraft, and other assets, would lead to developments and issues that simply didn’t exist previously.

The Cairn and the Time Capsule

The Cairn and the Time Capsule

A practical approach to physical history by Steve Stewart and Lorenzo Simeon

The story that has come down to us from 1970 was summarised in our(with Millie Watson) recent book:

The presence of Prime Minister Trudeau and six members of his cabinet in 1969 was already adequate indication that the federal government recognised the importance of Abbotsford to Canada’s aviation and aerospace aspirations. In his opening speech, he had explicitly described the show as being Canada’s showcase to the aviation world. The phrase was repeated in a letter received from Don Jamieson in December. He went on to say ‘I would therefore suggest that you name your air show next year as ‘Canada’s 1970 National Air Show’’.  With this endorsement, the show officially became the country’s national air show.  Minister Jamieson said ‘I would endorse this exhibition as being an excellent occasion for any Canadian or foreign company to display its aviation products and services’. To mark the development, Glenn Matthews designed a new airshow insignia, a limited edition airshow coin was minted (original price $2), and a souvenir postcard produced (10c). As well, at Don Jamieson’s suggestion, a project was started to erect a stone cairn.   Rocks were flown in from every Canadian province and  ‘every quarter of the globe, including the USSR’, pieces of the old London Bridge and rocks from the Matterhorn. A copper time capsule buried in the cairn contained messages from Prime Minister Trudeau, opposition leader Robert Stanfield, other Ministers, and President Richard Nixon. Dedication would be at 1pm on August 7th, the first day of show, by Jamieson and Fraser Valley East MP Jerry Pringle. The cairn and time capsule were scheduled to be opened after 50 years, on August 7th 2020.

The cairn was originally located just outside the airside entrance to the customs office of the terminal, which in 1970 was located in Hangar Number Two. Since then, over the past 50 years, as terminals have been built, moved, redeveloped and relocated, the cairn has been moved at least three times, and it no longer stands on its original base. The language used to describe the time capsule’s location was not precise. Was it in the cairn itself, or buried beneath it? Had they parted company at some point? Back in February, we invited Justin Trudeau to officially open the cairn and the time capsule – which seemed fitting, given his father’s role in their creation. He has not replied yet. However, we needed to be certain that we can open the time capsule on cue on August 7th.

In December we removed the plaque from the front of the cairn, removed cement and concrete from behind it, and failed to find the time capsule. The plan was to come back in March, but that was foiled by external forces. Lorenzo Simeon and I returned to continue removing concrete in early May.  We removed rocks from the back, and drilled and jack-hammered from front and back. But our holes joined up, after finding only concrete and steel in between.

The situation was not promising, and August is fast approaching. We arranged to use ground penetrating radar. We contacted a local stone mason in case he could provide insight. We asked Chilliwack airport about how their cairn was constructed. We asked Langley concrete about the pre-cast concrete core, around which the rocks are built. We contacted the Freemasons about the marks associated with the rock from the Old London Bridge.  We asked the national archives in Ottawa to look for records, because the airport was a federal facility and the cairn was built on the instructions of the Minister. And Millie Watson stepped up her campaign to contact AFC Members from long ago. We were prepared to hollow out the entire monument one chip at a time, while leaving its façade intact.  And we were prepared to excavate at the cairn’s previous locations.

But before launching the wholesale jack-hammering campaign, we tried some logic. During the 1970 ceremony, one convenient way to have placed the time capsule (other than directly behind the plaque) would have been to almost complete the cairn, then pop in the time capsule, and finish it off with a concrete cap. So we drilled and jack hammered up under the cap, but we got right past the centre without finding anything.  Bear in mind that we only knew the capsule was made of copper, without knowing its size or shape. There was not much remaining unexplored volume. Our last logical option was to pop off the whole cap and hope for something to emerge.  It did. The cap came off with a copper cylinder still embedded in the cement. It is 10 inches long and 3 inches diameter. The damage from our drilling revealed printed papers inside, but the papers are undamaged.  Who knows what those papers will reveal?

Before August we will reassemble the cairn, with the time capsule inside, so that it can be easily cracked open on the given day.

Later, the time capsule will be replaced in the rebuilt cairn, along with a new time capsule from 2020.  They will not be opened until August 7th 2070.

After the opening, we will publish a fuller story of the cairn, along with the contents of the time capsule. And there will be pictures.

Origins of the Abbotsford Flying Club and Airshow

Origins of the Abbotsford Flying Club and Airshow

By Steve Stewart

We start with the post-war situation of the Abbotsford Airport, its role through the 1950s, and its relationship to Vancouver Airport.

Vancouver Airport was created in 1931 as a civilian airport serving Vancouver and the surrounding region. It is on Sea Island, which is part of the City of Richmond, but was owned by the City of Vancouver. During the war the RCAF took over, and their presence continued through the following two decades or more. However, when peace returned in 1945, Vancouver Airport soon continued on its former trajectory of providing a focus for the growth of civilian air traffic on the west coast, and internationally.

In contrast, Abbotsford Airport was built specifically as a consequence of war. It started as an Elementary Flying School, and then became an Operational Training Unit. But within weeks of the Japanese surrender in August 1945, the entire operation was closed down, and almost everyone left. For some time it was used to store surplus aircraft. It remained a DND asset, and was part of various RCAF exercises for some years, including  a major combined army and air reserve exercise in July of 1951, regular use for Air Cadet summer exercises and gliding, and was part of the Civil Defence plans. As an emergency facility, in 1948, during the Fraser River flood, its barracks and grounds housed civilians and livestock displaced from Sumas and Matsqui Prairies. They were used again during flooding in February 1951. Just after the 1948 flood, an airshow was organized by the Abbotsford Lions Club and the Chilliwack Flying Club, with a large part of the profits dedicated for the relief of flood victims.

The barracks and other buildings were used again from 1956 to 1958 to house refugees from the Soviet response to the Hungarian uprising. Also in 1956, Lady Baden Powell attended a rally of 2,000 Girl Guides and Brownies. But usually the buildings remained empty, and there was a persistent trend to sell the ones that could be moved and repurposed. In 1960 a 30 by 68 foot building was moved some miles north up Mt Lehman road to become the Veterans’ Association building (where it still is), and the Guard House was moved to become the Matsqui Police Station and Courtroom. Classified ads in the local newspapers regularly offered buildings for sale, either complete or dismantled. Some buildings were used in place, with School District 34 arranging to use them for a 22 room school during the 1951-52 school year, on the understanding that the school would have to close if an immediate DND need emerged.

Although smaller parts of its physical infrastructure were gradually being eroded, the airport was still seen as a valuable resource by the Federal Government, by the local communities, by some civilian aviators, and by motor racing enthusiasts.

At that time instrument landing systems were not so capable of guiding airline flights into Vancouver during fog, and fog is much more common at Vancouver than at Abbotsford. Moreover, at that time there was a lot of industrial air pollution and smoke from beehive burners, that combined with the fog to make it more persistent, especially at lower altitudes. So Abbotsford became the regular diversion airport for Vancouver. A terminal facility with customs and arrivals lounge was set up in Hangar 2, and bus service provided for the trip to Vancouver. The terminal facility was in frequent, though irregular, use. Moreover, the runways were kept usable.  In one five-day period of November 1956 there were 150 diversions, and all the airlines made Abbotsford their base of operations. Sometimes important flights arrived intentionally. In 1953 Field Marshall Sir John Harding, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, toured Canada, visiting army bases throughout the country. He flew in to Abbotsford from Vancouver on his way to inspect the school of military engineering in Chilliwack, then returned to board his plane for Calgary. In July of 1958 Princess Margaret flew in, as part of her tour celebrating the centennial of the formation of British Columbia in 1858.  Civilian aviators visited from other established airports and marveled at the three long, wide runways.

It was actually the airport’s lack of busy flying activity that attracted the burgeoning sport of sky-diving, and during the late 1950s sky-diving was a common sight. The round parachutes used back then did not offer much directional control, and a large target area was desirable. In 1958, as part of the British Columbia Centenary celebrations, the North American Championships and trials for the world sky-diving championships were held at Abbotsford, and it was the location for some ‘firsts’. One was the first pass in North America of a one foot long yellow and green baton from one free-falling sky-diver to another, after jumping from 12,500 feet and while falling at 240 mph.

Starting in 1951 Abbotsford Airport became the major venue for motor racing in the region. Various circuits could be laid out, using the runways, taxiways and apron. Grass fires were not uncommon.  Barely a week went by without a sports car or motorcycle event. Sometimes even ladies got to drive, but with a head-start handicap – of course. And there was drag racing as well. From 1949, Annual Auto Shows were organized by the Lions Club in Hangar One. Racing continued right through to the very last race on March 30th 1958, the day before the airport was transferred from the Ministry of Defence to the Ministry of Transport.

Way back in 1951, a visionary letter to the Editor of the Vancouver Sun, from F. S. Hayward in Abbotsford, described why Abbotsford Airport was so valuable. At the time its potential use in another war was still of great significance, but he also recognised it as the ideal location for an international civilian airport, citing its location on the US border which could allow joint customs; the significant absence of fog compared to Vancouver; and its solid gravel base and heavy-duty runways. ”All we need do now is build a four or six lane highway from Abbotsford to Vancouver city centre…”

But as time passed, the prospects of Abbotsford returning to full-time use, as an airport or RCAF base seemed to fade, despite rumours that the RCAF operations from Sea Island might end, and be transferred.

Vancouver was becoming ever busier. In early 1957 officials in Ottawa released a plan for Pitt Meadows to become Vancouver’s second airport, capable of handling aircraft up to the twin-engine DC-3, and with 4,000 foot grass runways. According to the plan, Abbotsford would be the third Vancouver Airport and have a runway extension to 7,000 feet.  Surveys started for the extension in May. The BC Aviation Council protested the choice of Pitt Meadows and called for Boundary Bay to be re-opened stating that it was half the distance from downtown Vancouver, had half the rainfall of Pitt Meadows, and already had hangars, runways and other facilities. Boundary Bay had not been maintained as an airfield since the end of the war, but the MoT showed some interest in the idea.  Then in October it was announced that “Abbotsford would be taken over by the Department of Transport as an alternate to Vancouver International Airport for both domestic and international flights next April”. However, there were no immediate plans for improving runways or passenger facilities.

In fact, as soon as the DoT took over in April 1958, they announced plans for a new terminal facility, including customs and air traffic control.  They also made space available in the old RCAF hangars for aircraft storage. Then, in May, as part of a federal government public works program, $750,000 was allocated for extension of the main runway to 7000 feet, together with re-surfacing.  This would make it capable of handling the biggest commercial aircraft of the time, such as the Bristol Britannia.

Tenders for the new passenger terminal (in Hangar Two) were invited in January 1959, with an estimated cost of $55,000. By the time the building permit was issued in April, the estimate had risen to $92,000

The airport facilities continued to be developed after its 1959 renovations – a control tower went into operation in 1960, and high-intensity runway and approach lighting was planned for 1961.

Aerovive, the first commercial aircraft repair and inspection facility was opened in 1959 by Bert Green, providing employment for up to 10 persons. Speaking to the local Rotary club in November, Green boosted the airport’s potential growth. In just seven weeks his company had nearly doubled the floor space it needed, and he described the presence of about 400 light aircraft in BC, most of which had previously been serviced in Vancouver, but were being squeezed out by crowded conditions. He described the potential at Abbotsford as at least the equal of Sea Island.

Vancouver continued to get busier, the terminal and facilities became more and more in need of updating or replacement, and the bridges to Sea Island were completely inadequate. There were plans to restrict flying by light-aircraft because of the dangers of them mixing with jet traffic. General aviation was being forced to move either to Langley or Abbotsford or Pitt Meadows, because Boundary Bay had been completely closed to aviation since the war. In January 1961 Grant McConachie, President of CPA, described Vancouver as “a shacktown in the international community of jet-age airports”. He predicted a shift of major airline traffic to Abbotsford, unless the Vancouver Airport was sold to Ottawa.  Vancouver ratepayers were about to vote on whether to sell their stake in the airport for $2.75 million or to raise at least $12 million to build a modern jet-age terminal. McConachie could foresee only losses if the City chose to build a new terminal itself.  The Mayor of Vancouver agreed and recommended the airport’s sale.

Fraser Valley MP Harold Hicks advocated the benefits of Abbotsford Airport unstintingly, both in his regular column in the local newspaper and in Parliament.  He considered it “time that traffic be directed to Abbotsford”. He could not see why the Dominion Government would want to buy from Vancouver when they already owned outright the airport in Abbotsford.  The fog issue was still prominent – 52 flights had been diverted in December 1960, nine of which were giant DC-8s. Hicks imagined the great things that could be done if that $2.75 million was directed to Abbotsford instead.  Bert Green, owner of Aerovive, suggested one idea – “The Air Show”. It would be a natural location, with no congestion of population, and would provide manufacturers an opportunity to display their equipment. “I’d be all for it” said Harold Luesley, the airport manager. Mr. Hicks suggested that a local service club might take up the challenge.

But, as things turned out, Vancouver voters did opt for the City to sell its stake in their airport. The DoT bought it in 1962 for $2.5 million, and then built a new terminal – completed in 1968 at a cost of $30 million, and the airport has continued to grow and develop ever since.

It would be another four decades almost, before regular airline traffic started to develop at Abbotsford.

From Aug 3rd to 22nd  of 1961 the RCAF Golden Hawks were based at Abbotsford. They practiced regularly for shows at English Bay, Kelowna, Victoria, Comox and the PNE. This was significant because it was the first time that an RCAF display team had been based at Abbotsford instead of at Sea island, and it must have made people think hard about having a show in Abbotsford.  The remarks by Hicks, Green and Luesley in January show there was clearly an appetite for an airshow in Abbotsford, and it may have been a common topic for speculation. But maybe more importantly, there was also an opportunity, because the Vancouver airshow was no longer viable. Although they are now generally forgotten, there were airshows as part of Air Force Day, based out of Sea Island every year right through the 1950s and early 1960s. In the 1950s there were a number of civilian shows as well, and they were hugely successful.

The Aero Club of BC planned a civilian airshow for June of 1950, in conjunction with Air Force Day, and it was to be the first civilian show at Vancouver for 13 years. However, it was cancelled because of difficulties with the old Marpole Bridge. The Air Force event went ahead anyway, and attracted 20,000 people. Later, when presented with a detailed traffic plan, the Airport Board relented, and a free admission, all-Canadian show was re-scheduled for September 3rd. It was a civilian show, but it included RCAF jets anyway, from 442 Reserve Squadron.

Air Force Day 1954 was in June, but flying was cancelled because of weather. For the civilian show in August, the RCAF planned a cavalcade of 15 jets (Sabres, CF-100s and T-33s) with one of the five CF-100s attempting to break the sound barrier for the first time on the west coast. A huge attendance created the biggest traffic jam yet on the Marpole bridge.

1958 was special because the airshow was a Centennial event – to celebrate the 1858 creation of British Columbia. Attendance was estimated at 100,000, with another 20,000 on the other side of the airport for the RCAF event. Undoubted star of the show was the Tupolev Tu-104  — simply because it was Russian, with real, live Russians aboard. The Russian pilot was given the chance to take the controls of the new Boeing 707, and he was tremendously impressed by its easy handling. Later the 707 pilot flew in the Tu-104, but was denied even the right seat, being told it needed two pilots at all times. He concluded that “..it may be a good airplane, but for my money it’s obsolete’. The highlight of the RCAF event was a series of slow passes by an RAF Vulcan bomber.

The last civilian airshow at Vancouver was in 1959. It celebrated 50 years of aviation in Canada. Its cost was underwritten up to $5,000 each by the City of Vancouver and by industry, and the only revenue sources were a 50c/car parking fee and program sales, with attendance being free. Aircraft expected to attend included Russia’s new Tu-114; two RAF Handley Page Victors and a Mark 4 Comet; a Boeing 707; a Douglas DC-8; several USAF B-52s, F-104 Starfighters, F-101 Voodoos, F-102 Daggers and F-89 Scorpions; RCAF CF-100s, and the RCAF Golden Hawks Sabre-jet display team. A Bomarc missile, for static display, arrived in the belly of a USAF C-124 transport. Attendance was reported at 120,000 with another 300,000 crowding the shores of English Bay for the RCAF displays.   These numbers are probably not reliable (the population of the whole Province in 1959 was only 1.567 million people, and the idea that over a quarter of the entire population was there watching the show seems a bit stretched), but what is undeniable was the catastrophic effect on road traffic. Parking for 12,000 cars was provided, and buses ran from Oakridge Centre, but it was clear that this could not go on.

The RCAF continued its Sea Island Open Day displays for years, but there would never be another airshow at Vancouver Airport.  And that is why, in January 1961, Bert Green suggested “The Air Show” for Abbotsford, not just ‘an air show’.   Vancouver Airport was no longer available, but the public demand for an airshow continued. The opportunity for Abbotsford was obvious. Circumstances had created the conditions and opportunity, and all that remained was for a suitable organization to grasp that opportunity.

Abbotsford would have to wait until 1997 for the start of regular airline services (by Westjet), but in the meantime other activity increased slowly. To facilitate development, the DoT arranged for new ‘Abbotsford Airport Zoning Regulations’ to be approved under Order in Council and the Authority of the Aeronautics Act.

Aerovive had been the first commercial operation to start up at Abbotsford, and possibly their most remembered achievement was to completely rebuild what was one of only two remaining Supermarine Stranraer flying boats. It had arrived at Abbotsford by road, very early one morning under police escort, being towed on its own beaching gear. Rebuild took seven months and $40,000. Then on June 10th 1962 it flew again, for 40 minutes to the Fraser River at Sea Island. Take-off was from a specially constructed detachable 4-wheel dolly, from which it lifted off when flying speed was reached. The dolly continued along the runway. Pilot was Slim Knights. In late 1961 Aerovive bought Hangar Number Three from Crown Assets, but at least some of the Stranraer work had been done in Hangar One.  By 1964 Hangar Three was occupied by Sumas Air Services, (was that just a name change or an actual different company?)  In 1964 the building was sold to Skyway Air Services.

Skyway Air Services had already bought Hangar One in April 1961 for use as a base for timber and crop spraying operations. Skyway was based in Langley and was a leading developer and operator of aerial spraying and water bombing capabilities, and were mostly using Grumman Avengers at that time.

Another new company in 1960 was Abbotsford Air Services; started by Herb Porter, with one Cessna 150 airplane, to provide flight instruction and charters. His business grew quickly, and by 1961 had already occupied a succession of four locations in the terminal building (Hangar Two). He was ready to hire a Chief Instructor, and he found John Spronk in Penticton. (A year later he would be ready for a whole new building – which was ready shortly before the first airshow in August 1962.)

John Spronk had come to Canada from Holland after a successful career in the Dutch Air Force. He had trained on Tiger Moths and Harvards, before moving to Spitfires and then Gloster Meteors. He had reached the rank of Captain, and further advancement would mean desk-work and much less flying, if any. His air force superiors and colleagues, and his wife, all urged him to stay with the air force, but he had decided they would move to Canada, where he could convert his qualifications, and then continue a civilian flying career. John and his wife Patricia moved to Vancouver in 1958, and after obtaining the appropriate licences and ratings, moved first to Kelowna, where John worked for Cariboo Air Charter, and then Penticton, where he was CFI at the new flying school. He joined the flying club, and became a Director in March of 1961. Forty years later John described his first visit to Abbotsford, and the subsequent formation of the Abbotsford Flying Club:

My first landing at Abbotsford airport is etched in my memory – it was February 1961. My boss and I were returning to Penticton, (where I was CFI) after completing some Flying School business in Vancouver.

 The weather forecast was not good, and the Hope-Princeton highway route would be our only chance of making it through to Penticton. When we reached Hope the weather in my opinion was not suitable to continue. My boss, however, felt we should go on because it was his birthday and he wanted to get home! After some debate, I said: “The right side of the airplane is going back, I don’t know about your side.” I won the argument and we diverted to Abbotsford.

 I could not believe my eyes as we approached. THREE big runways and all kinds of hangars and even a Tower! We were the only aircraft to land that day! The Tower was operational because Abbotsford was the Alternate Airport for Vancouver! We couldn’t get over the fact, that nobody was using it. Howie Williams, the Tower’s only Air Traffic Controller cleared us to land. (Howie later became a friend and supporter of the Flying Club).

 In April of that year, Herb Porter flew in to Penticton and offered me the job of CFI for his brand new flying school at Abbotsford. He was looking for a suitable instructor and I had been recommended to him. I accepted that offer as my family wanted to return to the Lower Mainland anyway.

 The new company was called Abbotsford Air Services, and was located on the second floor of Hangar 2. It was the first civilian flying school at Abbotsford. I started with them in July ’61, and soon after that met the local pilots: Butch Merrick, John McGowan, Hank Hamm, Chuck Dennett, Monty Shore and others. Most of them were members of the Chilliwack Flying Club. This made me wonder why there was no club at Abbotsford.

 One thing led to another and we canvassed other interested people, with the idea of forming a local Flying Club. A meeting was called on the 14th of November 1961 in the terminal facility of Hangar 2. About two dozen attended. After some discussion the group was very much in favour, and the decision was made to go ahead! The name was going to be: The Abbotsford Flying Club! An election followed and Monty Shore became Secretary/Treasurer, John McGowan and Hank Hamm, were directors at large and I had the honour of becoming the first President. ……..   In a typical gesture, Butch Merrick stood up and immediately paid his dues, making him the first paid up member of the Club!   ….

 John was clearly struck by the lack of activity at Abbotsford, but he would not have been immediately aware that it was only three years since the DoT started to rent hangar space to individuals and for commercial activity. Some of the people he met, who had recently started to store their airplanes there, and would soon help form the Abbotsford Flying Club, were already members of the Chilliwack Flying Club, which was large and active and had existed since the 1930s.    Of the other Members of that first AFC Board: Monty Shore had spent the war serving on convoy duty with the RCN and had reached the rank of Lt. Commander. He continued for many years with the naval reserve. He was an Abbotsford Electrical Inspector and General Contractor.  John McGowan had served in the RCAF and had trained on Liberators at Abbotsford and Boundary Bay. By 1961 he was a very successful Motor Dealer in Abbotsford.  Hank Hamm operated the Esso Service Station in Abbotsford and was a keen sky-diver.

Abbotsford Air Services would have provided the first focus point for general aviation activity at Abbotsford. So it was really only around the time that Spronk arrived that the necessary elements and conditions for the formation of a flying club came together. As CFI at AAS, and with his background and contacts, he was one of those key elements. Once the ingredients did come together, it did not take long for that core group of pilots and student pilots to agree on forming a club.

John Spronk arrived at Abbotsford Air Services in July, and he was there during the extended visit by the Golden Hawks in August.  Seeing them practice day after day, and going off to perform shows elsewhere, would have undoubtedly made everyone at the airport think about the idea of having a show right here in Abbotsford.

The next step in this story is about the decision to start the airshow. The Rotary Club of Abbotsford was looking for a fund-raising project, and one of their members, John Beldam, who was also a member of the new Flying Club, suggested an air show. He probably voiced the same suggestion at both the AFC and the RCA.

W.J. (Bud) Lloyd, another Rotary member, had been interested in putting on an air show for some time.  He received encouragement from Frank Bernard, who had been involved in staging the shows at Vancouver, was on the board of the BC Aviation Council, and later maintained that the Abbotsford show basically was a continuation of the Vancouver shows. Bud and his son, Jerry, met with John Spronk, and agreed to pitch the idea for the show to the Rotary Executive meeting of March 15th 1962.

At the meeting, they talked about the RCAF Golden Hawks display team, which everyone had seen practicing at Abbotsford the previous summer; the Lockheed Neptune maritime patrol aircraft; the F101 Voodoo supersonic fighter-bomber, and the Grumman Albatross Search and Rescue flying boat. With a vote of 9 ‘for’, and 1 ‘against’, the decision was made to stage a show on August 11th and 12th 1962.

The AFC’s Buildings: An Historical Summary

The AFC’s Buildings
An Historical Summary

by Steve Stewart

The AFC was created in November 1961. Its first meeting was in the waiting room of the
Terminal Building (Hangar 2). The second meeting in January 1962 was also in the terminal
waiting room, but by April 1962 the meetings were in the Armouries building, which had
previously been the officers club for the RCAF. The Armouries were finally demolished in the
1980s. They occupied the same location as is now occupied by the southern half of the AFC
hangar building.
The meetings continued in the Armouries through to April 1964; then in May they moved to a
clubroom that had been secured in Hangar 2, above the Terminal reception lounge. But by
August they had moved again, to a dedicated clubroom located in the southeast corner of
Hangar 3 which was operated by Sumas Air Services. This was an excellent, airside location,
and it remained unchanged until 1968.

Where these people are shown standing, in front of the AFC meeting room, is now enclosed by an extension that was added to Hangar 3 some time since the 1960s.

In early 1968 the airport fire services moved to a new building, thus leaving the original fire-hall
vacant and available. The AFC has occupied this building ever since. The meeting room was
created from the original fire-truck garage. A lean-to storage extension had already added to
the eastern end where the original fire truck doors were, and big bay doors put into the front
(see pics). Various storage ‘sheds’ have been added at the back. A significant extension was
added which now accommodates the pool room. And the patio was also added at the rear. The
interior bears no resemblance to how it was originally.
The clubhouse became an essential part of airshow operations, and it took on a variety of roles
during the show, including being the centre for communications, traffic control and security
operations. Right through to 1997 the AFC had entire responsibility for the show’s operations,
and all volunteer activity was co-ordinated through the building. However, when the show was
re-aligned to 07-25 for 1992, the building’s location became less central to operations during
the show. Since 1999 its main role has been to accommodate the Broken Prop restaurant.

This picture, looking west, is from the 1967 airshow. The fire-hall (now AFC clubhouse) is to the right. The Armouries building is just to the left of the centre of the picture. And the old Tower, which was replaced in 1980, is on the left. The big building in the middle (Hangar 2) contained the airport terminal facilities and DoT offices, and from late 1968 the airshow office.

This picture, looking west, is from the 1967 airshow. The fire-hall (now AFC clubhouse) is to the
right. The Armouries building is just to the left of the centre of the picture. And the old Tower,
which was replaced in 1980, is on the left. The big building in the middle (Hangar 2) contained
the airport terminal facilities and DoT offices, and from late 1968 the airshow office.
At some point the club acquired ownership of the clubhouse building, but the land was leased
from Transport Canada, and the lease was renewed regularly. Then, in 1997 the airport was
sold to the City of Abbotsford, but this did not appear to have any immediate effect on the club.
As recently as 2004 one of the club’s strategic goals was to obtain a long-term lease for the
clubhouse land and also for the hangar land. It turned out that the City had other plans.

Butch Merrick outside clubhouse – either 1968 or 1969.

The AFC hangar building was built in 1991/92. Construction cost about $220k. A large part of
the capital was raised from members who wished to have their own hangar space, and they put
up $12k each. The expectation was that in time those hangars would be acquired by the club
for use as rental hangars. This would happen naturally as members moved on and no longer
needed the space, at which time their interest would be bought out by the club. The club put
aside a capital amount to cover this expense.

The clubhouse, thoroughly covered with ice. Probably winter of 1968-1969.

Then, in May 2007 both leases expired — for the clubhouse and for the hangars. This time there
were no routine renewals. But the real coup de couer was that the City lawyers had realized
that upon lease expiry, there was no obligation to renew, and moreover, that the buildings on
the leased land automatically vested to the airport. This left the AFC stripped of its buildings
ownership, and with no leases. And it also meant that those hangar occupants who had helped
finance the construction now needed to be paid out. That payout cost the club over $140k. We
had finally paid for the hangar building, but its ownership had vested to the airport.

The airport naturally offered to rent both buildings to the club, but at an annual cost very much
higher than previous costs, and far more than we were able to pay. Finally a more reasonable
rental agreement was reached for both hangar and clubhouse, and the club sub-rented hangars
to their occupants. But there was no security because the agreements could be terminated with
just 90 days notice. At the time the airport wanted to keep the whole GA area and west side
available for a big dream tenant, so the club was told to look at possible new construction
either at the north end of 01-19 or with access off Walmsley road. The airport’s big plans were
not well thought out; the big dream tenant did not appear; and fortunately things eventually
changed.
In 2011 the airport agreed to also rent to the club the other two older hangar buildings they
had taken (vested) from Jake Friessen. (He had built those hangars back in about 1980, but he
walked away rather than continue dealing with the airport) The club added these buildings to
its hangar rental operation.
In 2015, new long-term (25 years) leases were agreed for both the clubhouse land and the
hangar compound, and the agreement included purchase of all the buildings from the airport.
This is when YXX Hangars was created. The hangar agreement also included a requirement for
approximately $300k capital improvements during the first ten years. That requirement has
already been met.

And that is how we got to where we are now.

During the airshow weekend, sometime in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. THe AFC clubhouse is on the right

Possible Airshow time capsule message of greetings from U.S. President Richard Nixon, August 1970

The following text has been reconstructed from historical clues, and may well represent the message from Richard Nixon in 1970, and sealed in the time capsule to be opened on August 7th this year. 

By Steve Stewart

“My fellow Americans” Greetings from Richard Nixon 37th President of these United States of America, and from History. In 2020 I trust that History is still well taught, and that for all of North America and the Free World, the godless threat of Communism from the Soviets and from Red China and from Cuba has disappeared as thoroughly as did European Imperialism, German Nazism, and Japanese Imperialism.

I greet you all as Americans because I believe in the great tide in the affairs of men that carries human progress forward, under God. These United States in 1970 are still locked in battle against communism in South East Asia and other places, as part of our great struggle that has lasted over decades, and has taken many forms. But we see the light towards which we travel. We, the free peoples of the world, have chosen to ride that tide of history at its flood, and it will take us, and all humanity, onwards to a brave new world, that has such people in it as love their fellow man.

The North Vietnamese have realized the need to negotiate, and we expect a peace with honor soon, which will bring our boys home. They will be welcomed back into the bosom of America as heroes who have done their part.  But for you, dear readers in 2020, that is already history. You will also know what happened next, and I pray that we will be successful with the next steps in our plans. We will make a direct approach to the leaders of Red China, and in this we are being guided and helped by our great friend Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada. We will start in a small way and work up slowly, and in time we hope that China will be welcomed into our great community of nations and once again be part of that global interchange of ideas, people and things which characterizes our way of life. Our dialogue with the Soviets in Moscow has never completely broken down. The talks to limit strategic weapons are very promising, and in time their numbers might be actually reduced. Nobody should live with the constant threat of imminent and sudden destruction which has already overshadowed a generation of humanity. Communism can not be beaten by military efforts alone. It is an evil system that thrives on fear and conflict. But it is an empty and hollow system, and it will collapse from within.

Our vision is for a better world – protected not just from war but also from the self-inflicted evils of hippie culture, drug use, materialism, atheism and selfish consumerism. Just a few days ago I signed into law a new agency to protect our world from those who damage and use up its resources in their quest for personal riches, with no thought for future generations. Once again, we aim to start small and gradually build. When you read this, I hope the Environmental Protection Agency will be an established arm of government, as respected as is the Presidency itself. The resources of this planet are finite. Our space programs have made us all dramatically aware of that, and the biggest challenge for this generation is to preserve our planet for the good of all mankind.  I am particularly concerned by our dependence on oil, which, as it is depleted will lead to unprecedented rivalries for its control.  Here in North America we import our oil because it is cheaper than developing our own plentiful resources. It might take some crises of supply to raise its value and make it worth extracting our own. In this I include Canada. (I hope that by 2020 the borders between Canada, the current United States as they now stand, and Mexico are no longer of significance, that trade and people can pass freely throughout this great continent, and that we stand united as a continuing beacon of a hope that has been realized; a recognition of our shared prosperity and values. I started by greeting you all as fellow Americans, because truly we are, and the visions of our founding fathers I hope by now are realized.) Canada’s oil resources are vast, but difficult to extract and distribute. I know that Mr Trudeau wants to develop them for the benefit of all Canadians. But we need to use up our oil reserves less rapidly, process and distribute them more cheaply, and raise their value to make the effort worthwhile.

It has taken me many years to reach my present office. My second year in office is still only half complete and there are many other things to achieve as well as those already mentioned. You, readers in 2020, will know how things have turned out – where we were successful and where we failed.  I have pledged to not shirk from the tasks ahead, and to do my utmost to carry them through, whatever it takes. We have already achieved valuable goals, and started towards others. Not all will be achieved in just one term.  It will take time to deal with the Soviets and with Red China, and for the fruits of our environmental initiatives to appear. I have a long view of history, it is the only valid view – a man should not be judged on just one thing, but on his total record.  I will stick the course, and I know that we will need to return this administration to office to complete a second term. That is not our focus at present, but it will start to become so next year. For a President, a campaign is a distraction from the core job, but this is our democratic way and it keeps us accountable to the American people. Many dedicated people will eventually work on that campaign, in many capacities, some more visible than others. We will monitor progress, while continuing to work on the things that matter most, for which we were elected. I have unquestioned confidence in our people, their abilities, their motivations and their dedication.

Today’s event celebrates the creation of Canada’s first National Air Show. But it was not created by an edict of national policy. Canada is the true north, strong and free, an equal partner with the US in NORAD, and we share the value of individual and community enterprise. This show was created by the people of Abbotsford. They, and the people with whom they shared the vision, created the show from nothing, in less than ten years. The United States has helped. Aviators from Washington state have always been involved, and our Navy, Air Force and Coastguard almost every year. The United States is proud to be associated with this community. Over that same decade we have had aerospace projects of our own, to which Canadians have made essential contributions. Just one year ago the Apollo missions placed a man on the moon and returned him safely to Earth. We stand at the dawn of a new age of Discovery and Enterprise; a challenge to boldly go where no man has gone before. Our industries have developed unparalleled missile defenses. And our civilian aviation has developed aircraft of such capacity that the eternal dream of flight shared by every man can now be realized.  I look forward to an age when ordinary men and women can travel regularly and in safety across the oceans of this world, to further the bonds that bind us together – the old world and the new. We gladly acknowledge the presence of the RAF at this show: the British, with whom we share so much, and to whom we owe so much. Their Concorde project flew last year and I know that all Americans will welcome that beautiful and amazing aircraft once it enters service. The Russians are its first rivals, and there will be others, but few are likely to look as good as Concorde.

In 1970 we can not imagine how the world will look in 2020 and how it will engage with aviation. No-one in 1920 could imagine the world as it is now, or how aircraft have developed. Perhaps you will all have electric flying cars. Perhaps there will be world peace. Perhaps the iron curtain and bamboo curtain will just be memories. And perhaps you will have forgotten the names of Nixon and Trudeau. War and defense have been a spur to aviation, but it is not aviation or the other capabilities of our armed forces that cause war. War is created in the soul of man, through ignorance, and want, and greed, and the lying promises of evil men. But it also creates heroes; who dream of using the technologies created by war, to end war and in the pursuit of peace and prosperity. That would be the dividend of peace. I was born into a poor Quaker family in California, but I am proud of my Navy service, and I am just as proud of every man and woman who serves to protect the rights and freedoms we all enjoy, and we are proud that some of them are at this air show. I know that Canada will continue to welcome them and other Americans, in the spirit of a shared love of flying. Until the generation of our fathers, to fly was just a dream, and had been since the beginning of time. This show celebrates that dream, and brings it closer, within reach, and into reality. I hope that the aims of those that created this air show are still held dear in 2020, and that, although your aircraft may be completely different from those we now know, you are still making aviation possible for ordinary men and women, and inspiring the dreams of children not yet born.

Let me sign off by expressing my hope that you, all future Americans, remember my terms as President kindly. I hope in future years to look back with pride on our achievements. Finally, I hope that you now live in a caring world, more free of hunger, want, war and threat of war, than ever before in history; that you acknowledge and respect what we hope to have achieved; and that you take continuing inspiration from the American belief in Truth, in Honesty, in dealing with Reality as it is, in our love of Peace, our Acceptance and Tolerance of all peoples, and in the true Democracy that established and continues to guide our great nations.

 

Richard Nixon

 

37th president of the United States of America

 

To be sealed on August 7th 1970 for fifty years, and opened on August 7th 2020