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  • Plaque Celebrating Aviation History in Mount Dennis

    Saturday, July 15 - 10:45 am

    Hearst Circle and "The Wishbone" (Opposite Harding Park in Mount Dennis)

    Reception to follow at The Atrium, 12 Division Police Station, 200 Trethewey Drive, North York

    This event is a joint function of Heritage Toronto, CAHS (Toronto Chapter & National) and 400 Squadron Historical Society.  The plaque is honouring the airfield that hosted 1st flight over Toronto in 1910, the startup location of DeHavilland Aircraft in Canada in 1928 at this airfield and in 1932 the first operational base of the RCAF 400 "City of Toronto" Squadron as 10 Sqn and later 110 Sqn.

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    FINAL Invite Trethewey july15 545

    Background on the William G. Trethewey Property

    By Dr. Robert Galway

    This property was purchased by William Trethewey following his sale of two Silver mining properties that he discovered in Cobalt, Ontario on 1904. He and his brother Joseph O. Trethewey made millions in this transaction. William Trethewey came to Toronto and purchased 600 acres in Weston, near present day Jane St. & Lawrence Ave. in 1907 The Royal Automobile Club of Canada and the OML of which Trethewey was a member, asked for permission to use a portion of the property for an exhibition Air Meet. This took place July 9-16th, 1910 following closely on the heels of the initial Air Meet held in Pointe Claire, PQ.

    During the Toronto meet, French Aviator Jacques de Lesseps completed the first flight over the city of Toronto as he had done two weeks previously in Montreal. The Toronto flight occurred on July 13, 1910. This is the basis for recognizing Jacques de Lesseps on the Heritage Toronto Plaque that will be unveiled this summer on July 15, 2017.

    However, this is not the sole reason for recognizing the contribution that this plot of farmland made to Canadian aviation history.

    Following the Air Meet of 1910, the property became the center of early aviation activity in Toronto. Indeed, it became known as de Lesseps Field. In 1928 de Havilland UK decided establish a manufacturing center in Canada. They were persuaded to do so because of the success they had met in selling the DH60 Moth to the Ontario Provincial Air Service. In their search for a suitable property, they were put in touch with Frank Trethewey who had inherited the property on his father’s demise in 1926. Trethewey leased a parcel of the land to de Havilland and with the incorporation of de Havilland
    Canada was appointed to the DHC Board.

    Consequently, the Trethewey property became the first manufacturing site of de Havilland. In fact the first building used to assemble the DH60 series was the Trethewey Canning Shed made famous by the sketch completed by famous aviation artist, Robert Bradford.

    Frank Trethewey was given the opportunity to purchase DH aircraft at a significant “favored” price. He and his brother were RNAS veteran pilots. In the 1930's he was Chairman of de Havilland Canada.

    The establishment of de Havilland Aircraft on this property in 1928 is the second reason to grant historic recognition to this property.

    Frank Trethewey not only over time purchased three aircraft from DHC but went one step further and joined the RCAF. This led to the establishment of the RCAF Squadron 10/ 110 on Trethewey Field. Frank Trethewey was one of the first four flying officers appointed to the Squadron. In 1940 he was appointed commanding officer of Base Trenton.

    The squadron was formed in October 1932 as 10 (Army Cooperation) Squadron and began flying in 1934 at the Trethewey Farm airfield (aka de Lesseps Field) in Toronto. In April, 1935, the City of Toronto adopted the squadron which then became officially known as “10 (City of Toronto) Squadron”. In 1937, the squadron was re-designated “110 (City of
    Toronto) Squadron”.

    The squadron flew five basic types of aircraft, all biplanes, from Trethewey until late 1939 when it deployed to Rockcliffe. During the Trethewey era, the squadron was involved in recruitment and flight training. At Rockcliffe, the squadron underwent conversion to the Canadian-built Westland Lysander until mid-February 1940. The squadron then deployed to the UK as the first RCAF squadron to enter the Second World War.

    In the UK, the squadron was initially equipped with the Lysander III and was involved in the Army Co-op and photo reconnaissance role. The squadron was active in the Dunkirk evacuation (27 May - 3 June 1940) but not directly involved in the Battle of Britain (10 July - 31 Oct. 1940). In mid-1941, the squadron was re-designated “400 Squadron”.

    Today, the Squadron is located at Camp Borden and is the main maintenance centre for maintenance of the RCAF's Tactical Helicopter Squadrons.

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  • My Snowbirds Flight - Aide-Memoire

Emerson International Airport

Written by Bill Zuk.

Emerson International Airport

Emerson AirportBy Bill Zuk

The author acknowledges the research carried out by James McClelland for his article "Bombers Over the Border", which appeared in the Western Canada Aviation Museum's Review, June 1996.

January 15, 1940

It was miserably cold that morning when Joe Wilson hitched his team of horses to a wagon. He looked up in the sky to see two aircraft circling overhead. Joining a procession of cars and a truck laden down with fuel barrels, he lumbered his way to the front, coaxing his workhorses, Prince and Fred, forward along the wind-swept field.  The assembled crowd began to gesture at the swooping twin-engined planes now clearly in view.  Piling out of one of the lead cars was a film crew that hastily set up a tripod and movie camera.

2535c-1 200stJimmy Mattern, the famous test pilot, peered out the side cockpit, astonished at the sight below. It was a wind sock planted in the middle of the prairies. After the long cross-country excursion from Burbank with numerous stops along the way, he was nearly at the end of his ferry flight. Lining up for an approach, he maneuvered the Lockheed Hudson bomber downwind for a landing short of the international border that straddled his landing site. Following closely behind was an identical Hudson bomber, also painted in a dark drab, with only civilian markings on the underside of the wings to identify it.  The subsequent touchdown was hard, the second bomber swerving off the improvised runway and  nearly tipping on its nose, before righting itself.

Ron Lendrum, the customs officer on the Canadian side of the border had just arrived for his shift, bemused at the gathering outside his small white frame building. He did a double take as he looked over to the U.S.- Canada border. The low rumbling came from two bombers taxiing up to the international boundary line. The pilots idled their engines as they swung the planes to a few feet from the border.

While movie cameras rolled and flash bulbs went off to record the scene, Joe Wilson drove his horses up to the border and then slipped a hook and rope from th2535d-2 200ste harness. Striding quickly over to the first bomber’s main landing gear, Wilson cinched up a tow rope and hook, pulling back on the harness and driving his team forward. In seconds, the bomber had rolled across the border and Wilson was on to the next plane. Wilson hauled the bomber, which had shut down its engines, across the border to greet the fuel truck that pulled up. The truck driver and his helper were dressed in military overalls, quickly busying themselves with 45-gallon fuel drums, they began to refuel the Hudson bombers.

Wilson’s wife dutifully noted the aircraft number; her job was to keep a meticulous record of the Wilson “towing company” since her husband would be paid $3.00 per plane.  Mattern and his crew hustled into one of the idling cars to get warm while his plane was being fueled. Within half an hour, the crews emerged from their cars, waving to the small crowd of locals and reporters before jumping into their bombers and starting up their engines. Rushing down the long prepared strip, they took off in succession, circling the Customs House where the dumbfounded agent was still trying to piece together what he was seeing.  What he had witnessed was an incredible smuggling operation that was taking place at the Emerson International Airport as one local wag, Jim Johnson, had christened the impromptu landing field.

1940- much of the world was at war but the Neutrality Act passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Aug., 1935 was designed to keep the United States out of a possible European war. The law specifically banned shipment of war materiel to belligerents. Amended in Feb., 1936, to prohibit the granting of loans to belligerents, and later (Jan. and May, 1937) The Neutrality Act was extended to cover civil wars, a step inspired by the Spanish civil war. In Nov., 1939, the act was further revised in favor of supplying warring nations on the “cash-and-carry” principle.

2535e-2 200stRoosevelt was carefully treading between the “America First” isolationist movement and others who wanted to see the United States line up on the side of the Allied nations fighting the Axis Powers. He may have privately been supportive of the British efforts although any public pronouncements in this vein were denounced roundly by one of the leading isolationists, Senator Gerald Nye from North Dakota. With the looming Battle of France, efforts had been made to procure U.S. military weapons, especially modern fighting planes. The Neutrality Act allowed purchase of war material but disallowed their movement out of the United States. Foreign pilots could not come to the United States to “fly away” aircraft while American pilots could not fly the planes to international territory unless…

The next part of the story– a massive “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” enterprise involved two countries and a “hands-across-the-border” operation. Before the shooting war had begun, the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the L’Armeé de L/Air had placed millions of dollars of orders with various aircraft manufacturers, chiefly Lockheed Aircraft Company and Douglas Aircraft Company in California. The aircraft were fitted out to the customers’ specifications and painted in foreign liveries before company officials realized the dilemma of ensuring delivery to their foreign customers.

Rather than breaking the aircraft apart, a scheme was concocted to spirit the aircraft out to Canada as a way-point to their final destinations. Looking at the map there 2535f-2 200stwere many sites that were  ideal for a smuggling operation. Agents from Lockheed and Douglas and other aircraft manufacturers began to secretly buy up land on both sides of the border at various locations, including Alberta and Montana border towns. A few test flights in late 1939 proved the concept when 15 Harvard trainers were shepherded across at the Sweetwater, Montana– Coutts, Alberta landing strip.

The secret nature of the work was somewhat negated by the arrival of newspaper and film crews in Coutts. A cowboy actually lassoed a propeller and a tow truck pulled the planes over the border. F/L Bervens, one of the four Canadian Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) pilots assigned to fly the trainers recalled that the scene was more farcical than clandestine. The pilots were all wearing civilian clothes and were confronted by a rancher who demanded a $150.00 “landing fee” for each plane they accepted. The rough terrain and changeable weather conditions made the delivery treacherous although, between December 1939 and June 1941, over 500 aircraft slipped across the border at Coutts.

Negotiations had progressed late in 1939 between the American aircraft companies and the Canadian military to choose a more favorable landing site, especially for larger bombers that were also awaiting delivery. After checking possible landing strips, the decision was made to switch to a new secret landing strip at Pembina, North Dakota. Alex Milne Jr. owned the farmland near Emerson and he agreed to clear a landing strip adjoining the international crossing with his caterpillar tractor. On the other side of the border, George Kochendorfer’s land became the other half of the international landing strip. In January 1940, the ground was still frozen and was uneven in spots, making each landing an adventure in itself, however, the Lockheed and Douglas delivery pilots were all pros and learned to bring in the aircraft without suffering any damage.

2535a-2 200stMrs. Wilson recorded 33 aircraft in the next year-and-a-half that Emerson International was in service. Many other aircraft arrived, many of them unceremoniously pushed across, to the consternation of Custom Agent Lendrum. He told onlookers that none of the airplanes had ever paid a duty and when one hapless pilot had accidentally landed on the Canadian side of the border, he had demanded a customs duty from the startled pilot.

Residents on both sides of the border showed up for the regular visits made by Lockheed Hudson and Douglas Digby bombers joined by Harvard trainers, Boeing-Stearman PT-17 Trainers and Cessna T-50 Cranes. The local Emerson movie theatre, the Deluxe, showed a newsreel on Friday and Saturday, March 29- 30, 1940 of the bombers at Emerson. Even the New York Times and Newsweek covered the story. Newsweek called the Emerson-Pembina crossing, the “Neutrality Dodge, ” which was especially galling to Senator Nye who recognized that the subterfuge was taking place in his home state.

The U.S. government had understandably been concerned that aircraft manufacturers had been flaunting the provisions of the Neutrality Act yet the Nazi advances in Europe had pushed Britain’s back against the wall and Roosevelt realized that aircraft destined for the RAF were desperately needed. Representative E.H. Foley proposed a revision to the law in June 1940 to permit both an American and British flight crew onboard to transport a plane. The amendment provided a loophole for a transfer of ownership and crews as the aircraft crossed the Canadian border. Bombers now merely circled the Pembina-Emerson crossing as they made the cross-over. If enough fuel was available, the flight would proceed directly to Stevenson Field in Winnipeg before the American aircrew was sent back.

emerson airport2 200For nine months until the Lend-Lease act of March 1941 was enacted, aircraft still were over-flying the Pembina-Emerson border. Effectively, the Emerson International Airport was out of business, ending a curious but vitally important wartime program. Soon enough, the warplanes would be needed by all the Allied powers.