In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, the present day location of Lansdowne middle school was home to the Lansdowne Airfield. The airfield was originally bordered by Lansdowne Road, Richmond, Newton, and Shelbourne. At one time, aviation was very much a part of local life, and aircraft in Victoria were quite the novelty for many residents. In this article, Islander author Hudson Blake describes what he remembers of the old Lansdowne Airfield and aviation history in Victoria.
There were always a few aircraft parked about on the grass and several in the hangar. Some were biplanes and at least one red monoplane which I belive belonged to local William “Bill” Gibson”.
In 1910 Bill Gibson gained fame in aviation for designing and having built here in Victoria an aircraft which was the first Canadian built airplane to fly from Vancouver Island and, the second from British Columbia.
When I was very young I was very proud when men like Bill Gibson…came over…to chat with us I thought contact with real fliers was really something.
When the Lansdowne field was purchased by B.C.Airways in 1927, the company proposed a triangle air route that could serve passengers from Victoria, Seattle, and Vancouver. To transport its passengers, the company purchased a Ford tri-motor passenger liner, which arrived at the airfield in 1928.
On a clear hot mid-summer day in 1928, the Ford tri-motor arrived at Lansdowne airport. It appeared like half the town had turned out to see it. Upon landing, pilot Hal Walker and engineer Ted Cressy had some very dicey moments as the still moving aircraft approached the vast crowds on hand. The crowd kept inching forward and the sea of faces kept getting closer and closer.
The pilot desperately tried to brake the machine before the spinning propellers caused a tragic accident. Finally, when only about 20 feet from the spectators, the propellers were stilled and the aircraft stopped. Both men stepped out of the plane shaking.
Despite the stir it had caused, the new tri-motors days in service were already numbered.
Unfortunately, not many days after its arrival in Victoria, the Ford tri-motor was flying passengers from Victoria to Seattle when it flipped over in fog [while traveling] across Juan de Fuca straight near Port Townsend Washington, and crashed into the sea. Every one was lost. This was the demise of the air service planned by B.C. Airways.
In the 1930’s, barnstorming airmen made regular appearances at the airfield.
During the early 1930’s trying to earn a dollar was a near constant challenge. Airmen were no exception. Various teams of barnstormers became common.
Although Bowker Creek flowed across Lansdowne field and made it very tricky for pilots landing and taking off from there, these daredevil flyers found that field to be a handy place from which to perform in their used First World War bi-planes.
When they arrived they would buzz the town to attract attention and draw a crowd out to the airport – where they would take passengers up for 20 minute flights for $5 or a penny a pound.Often there would be parachuting exhibitions, and always a display of death defying aerial stunts.
When housing development began to encroach on the field it was officially abandoned in 1931. However, Lansdowne field was still occasionally used in the years following to stage summer air shows. according to Blake, at one memorable show in 1932, stunts were preformed by more than a dozen aircraft of the B.C. Air Tours barnstorming team.
In 1955 the Lansdowne hangar was torn down and replaced by the Lansdowne junior secondary school. This signified the end of an era in Victorian aviation history.