Up and away: The thrills of flight in Kawartha Lakes
Just in Time local history series
About 120 years ago, brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright took off from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in what has been celebrated as the first flight in an aircraft. Their primitive machine, known as the Wright Flyer, set the scene for something we all take for granted today: jumbo jets cruising from one continent to another and private planes taking off and landing at the Kawartha Lakes Municipal Airport on a sunny spring morning. Flight, as we know it, has long since lost its novelty.
That wasn’t always the case – not least in a rural community like ours, where the sight of a plane aroused tremendous excitement on three different occasions in 1919. Aviators who had served during the First World War were in demand as “stunt flyers” following the conflict, and communities clamoured to have these airborne celebrities put in appearances at special events.
Lindsay was no exception, and Lt. Leroy H. Holmes of Toronto was invited to fly here for that year’s July 1 celebrations. “He gave the crowd many a thrill by performing stunts and flying very low immediately in front of the grandstand,” an impressed Watchman Warder correspondent wrote on July 3, 1919. (Holmes would be back in the area later that month, when he joined another pilot in taking aerial photographs of Bobcaygeon, Fenelon Falls, Lindsay, and Peterborough.)
Perhaps the most memorable in this trifecta of aerial events transpired that autumn, during the Lindsay Central Exhibition. Captains Dallin, Pearson, and Salter, employed by the Bishop-Barker Company, Ltd. (a Toronto-based charter aircraft company), flew into Lindsay for a few days’ worth of stunt flying in their Curtiss and Fokker biplanes. For most fair-goers, though, the real highlight was a chance to take a ride in one of these open-cockpit aircraft.
Young and old alike took to the skies, with Watchman Warder manager J.W. Deyell writing a detailed account of the occasion in the Sept. 25, 1919 edition of his newspaper. “It was my first trip up!” Deyell told his readers excitedly. “From the time the propeller first began to churn the air and we left the earth until we bumped along the exact spot where we had left an hour and a half before, the experience was one of surprises and thrills…What a sight our northern country is from a height of three thousand feet!” Deyell wasn’t alone in gushing about the thrills of aviation. According to the Warder, an 86-year-old resident of Victoria County’s House of Refuge “made the remark that he never expected to get so close to heaven before his death, but he was game to the core to take a flight.”
Indeed, 1919 may well have marked the beginning of our community’s love affair with the sky. “Flying machines are going to become almost as common as automobiles,” the Warder predicted on May 15, 1919. “They will convey excursionists and space will be literally annihilated. What part will the Town of Lindsay take in the development of this great industry of the future?”
Commercial and recreational aircraft were common enough sights in local skies by 1936, when nonagenarian artist W.A. Goodwin watched airplanes soar over Sturgeon Lake from the vantage point of his boathouse, an event he would record in his diary. Alas, the looming clouds of war meant that recreational flying would take a backseat for a few years by the early 1940s. Young men from across Victoria County joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as pilots, radio operators, and tail gunners – some never to return home after making the supreme sacrifice.
The return of peace brought with it a renewed interest in flight, but not until the 1960s would the region have a purpose-built flying field of its own. Starting in 1962, development began on what is today known as the Kawartha Lakes Municipal Airport. A deed issued on Sept. 5, 1963 reveals that the Town of Lindsay agreed to lease Lindsay Airport Services, Ltd. a parcel of land on Lot 24 in the third concession of Ops Township for use as an airport. (Somewhat ironically, and in a testament to how far transportation technology had progressed, the airport’s runway was built directly over top of the Midland Railway’s right-of-way abandoned over half a century before.)
By 1982, the airport could boast of a runway measuring 3,000 feet in length that was capable of accommodating aircraft as large as the propeller-driven Douglas DC-3. Today it remains one of the busiest airports in central Ontario. Apart from supporting commercial flight, it is also the only airport between Minden and Peterborough used for Ornge air ambulance evacuations.
In addition to these vital functions, the airport is also the place where members of the Kawartha Lakes Flying Club, like Bob Burns, take off in their Cessnas, Pipers, and other light aircraft for the annual Interprovincial Air Tour, or for just a short fly-out to another community for lunch and back again.
Like those early aviators who awed locals more than a century ago, KLFC pilots are keen to share their passion with others. “The wonderful thing about flying is the camaraderie,” says Burns, who spent over a decade doing aerial photography. “You get to know so many people from all over Ontario and beyond.”