Blatchford Field Celebrates 90 Years

Story and photos by John Chalmers
CAHS Membership Secretary


The 90th anniversary of Edmonton’s Blatchford Field, the first licensed municipal airfield in Canada, established in 1927, was celebrated at the Alberta Aviation Museum on June 24. Originally established as an early airport on farmland, the field was named for Kenneth Blatchford (1882-1933), who served as alderman, then mayor of Edmonton from 1923-25 and served also as a Member of Parliament. He was instrumental in acquiring the land to be used as an airfield.

Later known as the Edmonton Municipal Airport, fondly called the “Muni,” the airfield was last known as the Edmonton City Centre Airport. Over the decades, it had a rich history related to bush pilots, commercial airline service, charter service and flying school training. During the Second World War, particularly during the days of the Northwest Staging Route when American aircraft were flying through Edmonton, the airport at times was the busiest in the world with up to 800 aircraft movements per day. It was home to No. 2 Air Observer School and No. 16 Elementary Flying Training School.

However, in 2013 the airport was closed by Edmonton city council, runways have been removed, and many of the aviation-related buildings at the airport are now gone. The former airport land is now being redeveloped as the Blatchford District. It will be a town within a city, ultimately housing 30,000 residents, with no single-family dwellings.

To be developed over a 20-year period, the district will have 100% renewable energy systems, be carbon efficient, will feature parks, lakes and shopping facilities, and have convenient access to roads and light rail transport. Development of the district will recognize the rich aviation heritage of the area through such means as naming of streets and features.

One building remaining at the airport site is the 1941 hangar of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, the last double-wide, double-long BCATP hangar in Canada. It is the permanent home of the Alberta Aviation Museum where Blatchford Field’s 90th anniversary was celebrated. Incidentally, Mayor Blatchford’s son, W/C Peter Blatchford, was killed in action in 1943 while flying with Royal Air Force squadrons. (For more info on Peter Blatchford click here).

002 Zena Conlin, Marketing and Events Coordinator at the Alberta Aviation Museum, served as M.C. for the 90th Anniversary celebrations of Blatchford Field.

003 Denny May, son of Wop May, was the first speaker on the program, telling the story of Blatchford Field and his father’s involvement with it. Wop May flew as a fighter pilot in the First World War, afterwards became famous as a bush pilot and commercial pilot. He was manager of No. 2 Air Observer School during the Second World War in the hangar that is now home to the Alberta Aviation Museum.

004 While speaking at the anniversary celebrations, Denny May and the audience were watched from above by a larger-than-life image of Wop May from the third-floor office which Wop had occupied as manager of No. 2 AOS.

005 A new display at the Alberta Aviation Museum pays tribute to the adventurous and colourful career of Captain Wop May.

006 The Alberta Aviation Museum provided a most appropriate setting for speakers and a large audience as Blatchford Field’s history was recounted.

007 Pat Barford, a granddaughter of mayor Blatchford, for whom the airfield was named, spoke of her grandfather’s work in establishing the airfield.

008 Speakers at the Blatchford Field celebrations were recorded on video by the museum’s volunteer Communications Coordinator, Steve Finkelman, centre. At left is Curator Lech Lebiedowski, responsible for much of the design and implementation of the museum’s new floor layout and displays.

009 From a script written by Elspeth McKown, the museum’s Program Coordinator and Assistant Curator, a dramatic presentation performed by summer student employees told about the establishment of Blatchford Field. Left to right, they portray mayor Kenneth Blatchford, Wop May, and a newspaper reporter. At rear is the story’s narrator.

010 Final speaker on the program was Mark Hall, project manager for Blatchford District development, who described in detail the changes and innovations that will occur over the next 20 years on land of the former airfield.

011 Among the many new displays at the Alberta Aviation Museum, this one is dedicated to the significant history of Blatchford Field and subsequent airport development.

012 Visitors attending the 90th Anniversary program had the opportunity to tour the Alberta Aviation Museum and see the new floor plan that emphasizes stories about the aircraft on display. Shown here is the unique Curtiss Special replica built from scratch over 25,000 hours by volunteers at the museum. It is an exact copy of the aircraft flown by Katherine Stinson in western Canada’s first air mail delivery, from Calgary to Edmonton on July 9, 1919. The backdrop mural is an enlargement of an original painting by Canadian artist Jim Bruce which he donated to the museum, showing the aircraft in its historic flight. Jim has often contributed his fine art to CAHS calendars, including the 2018 version.