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Torontoist Remembers: Aeroquay One

It’s been demolished for two years now, but the old Terminal 1 at Toronto’s international airport was once world-renowned for its futuristic and innovative design. State-of-the-art when opened on February 28, 1964, it was obsolete only a decade later as jet travel became commonplace. Known as Aeroquay One, the inventive terminal would process 1400 passengers per hour.

aeroquay_drawing.jpgAfter World War II, passenger air travel grew at double-digit rates over the next fifteen years. The 1950s not only brought a new era of prosperity, but also the turbo-prop aircraft and soon after, transatlantic travel and jumbo jetliners. Post-war aviation technology was bringing prices down while increasing the size and range of distance for passenger airplanes. Up to this point, ocean liners were the embodiment of luxury travel.
Though flying was still somewhat of a luxury for the leisure class and business traveler, airports in major cities found themselves unable to process the influx of passengers. Toronto had Malton Airport, which had been formerly used as a military training airstrip, including for test flights of the infamous Avro Arrow, but was in serious need of expansion. In the late fifties, the Department of Transport commissioned architects John B. Parkin and partner John C. Parkin (no relation) to design a new terminal for what would soon be renamed the Toronto International Airport (it became Pearson International Airport in 1984). The massive structure would not only handle an unprecedented number of passengers through its gates, but establish Toronto as a world leader in airport design.


Aeroquay One was completed at a cost of $27.5 million, and was the world’s first circular terminal. The Aeroquay consisted of a central, square parking garage surrounded by a circular concourse with 24 gates spoking the outside of the ring. Other airports around the world were set up as long rectangular buildings where passengers had to walk extended distances to reach their respective gates. The design of the Aeroquay meant that each gate was never more than two minutes from the nine-level parking garage — a revolutionary concept soon to be replicated in new airports around the globe.
aeroquay_exterior.jpgThe exotic new terminal was also known for its architectural aspiration as a sculptural form. Its ramps were swooping and futuristic-looking and its lounges and restaurants overlooked the gates and runways through large windows. It featured the latest in modern art and furniture, appropriate for Canada’s entry into the jet age, and many elements echoed the styles of other Modernist architects like Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe.
When architect John C. Parkin took his friend Arthur Hailey for a tour, the author was so moved by the environment that it inspired his famous book Airport. The Aeroquay was considered such a masterpiece that a photo of it accompanied the Voyager spacecraft through the solar system.
Sadly, the very design that had been so acclaimed was to bring forth its obsolescence. Jets became even larger and had trouble with the limited space at Terminal 1. Passenger volume would skyrocket as fares became more affordable, and the expansion of the air freight industry added more problems into the mix. Instead of being whisked from the parking garage to the gates, passengers soon became accustomed to waiting while the airport juggled planes and schedules. Terminal 1 was one of four similar proposed designs, three of which were never built because of the need to accommodate the huge new aircraft.
To meet demand, a grungy freight depot began conversion into Terminal 2, opening in 1972. In the 1980s, the world started to become more conscious of security, so barriers were installed throughout Terminal 1 that ruined the intended passenger flow around the ring and caused even more logistical problems.

The bright and airy Terminal 3 opened in 1991. By the time the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) took over operations in 1996, all of Pearson’s terminals had reached capacity, and by 2000, 30 million passengers were passing through the airport annually (more than half of all airline passengers in Canada).
When a massive redevelopment plan was implemented, Terminal 1 had to go. What made it difficult was the need to keep Terminal 1 open while the new facility was built around it, so a complex tangle of ramps and roads were constructed for both passengers and contractors. According to rules implemented by the GTAA, the construction could not disrupt the regular operation of Pearson despite its immediate proximity to live runways and passenger areas.
aeroquay_new_terminals.jpgOn April 5, 2004, the last flight left the terminal (Flight 862 to London) and on November 4th, the final chunk of Aeroquay One disappeared into history. Terminal 2 is next and the young Terminal 3 will also eventually meet the wrecking ball. When the final stage of the current construction is completed, Pearson will process 50 million passengers annually until the airport will need to be expanded again around 2020.
Still, the old Aeroquay remained useful for almost 40 years, moving about 218 million passengers. Airports are too often frustrating and quotidian today, but the debut of Aeroquay One marked a time of great promise when the future was as close to reality as it’s ever been, and when Toronto really could call itself world-class.
Photos courtesy of the GTAA, Canadian Architect, Air Canada and Anthony Prevezano


  • rek

    I absolutely hate the word ‘quay’ because I can’t help but pronounce it wrong each time.

  • Marc Lostracco

    It’s pronounced “key” (same with the word “cay”), so it would be said “aerokey” and “Queen’s key”.
    The mispronunciations (“kay”, “kway”) have become so common that some usage guides now consider them correct.

  • james

    “commissioned architects John B. Parkin and partner John C. Parkin (no relation)”
    Let me be the first to say….. WTF?!

  • rek

    I know how it’s pronounced, but my first attempt always produces “kway” and I have to backspace to get my brain to come up with “key”.

  • Marc Lostracco

    James: The article actually started out as a post about John C. Parkin, so maybe I’ll post that later. John B. Parkin started the firm with his brother Edmund T. Parkin, and then brought on John C. Parkin (spinoff firms are still around as Parkin Architects Limited and NORR).
    The Parkins submitted a plan for the new City Hall, but when their proposal was rejected, they signed on to work on the Viljo Revell building and were instrumental in its completion after he died. They also worked on Mies van der Rohe’s black Toronto Dominion Centre.
    The most recent Parkin building in the news was the former Bata Shoe Headquarters just east of Don Mills and Eglinton and IBM’s headquarters moments away. The firm was once the largest in Canada and was also responsible for Union Station in Ottawa, Bell Trinity Square, the Vanier residence at York University, the Clarke, and the ugly Simpson Tower and Sheraton Centre across from City Hall.

  • mathew

    Do you know what I hate? That we all have to pay for the renovations through airport taxes. Seriously dudes; it’s one of the most expensive airports in the world. It better be worth it.

  • Ben Lawson

    Mathew, the new T1 has a monorail. A MONORAIL! How can you put a price on that?

  • Marc Lostracco

    A monorail! It’s like living in the Year 2000! What will they think of next?

  • Claire

    Nice summarizing article of the life of the terminal. Can appreciate the research that went into it, as i took a mag writing course at Ryerson a few years back and did one of my assignments (a hyper short 400 word piece) on A-quay. Good times in the ref library sourcing old newspaper articles!

  • Shawn Micallef

    ” Airports are too often frustrating and quotidian today”
    A mild understatement. Looking back at Aeroquay 1 makes the terribleness of air travel today seem so much worse. That era, the first 20 years or so of the jet age, seems like a fairy tale. We’ll never have that again — “attractive stewardesses” and all.
    This was one of the best Torontoist posts. Nice work. It was sad in 2004 being in new T1 and looking out the big windows into the belly of old T1 as the machines chipped away at it, finally just leaving a dark stain on the runway where it was.

  • Marc Lostracco

    One of my favourite airports is Oslo Lufthavn, which has a low-noise policy (i.e. no unneccessary gate announcements or music playing), and has a cool, clean, woody IKEA-type vibe. Mind you, it’s hardly the busiest airport, but it’s pretty chill.
    The Cathay Pacific lounge at the Hong Kong airport also rocks the socks…quiet, very comfortable, and they have private bathrooms with rainhead showers and free toiletries. It really makes a difference when you’ve got a day of being crammed inside a tube.
    The comfort of general air travel has been sacrificed for getting more planes in the air and more bums in the seats. I can’t even imagine how much it sucks to be scheduling gates at a major airport. The new T1 is (necessarily) one big, impersonal machine. Blame the success and convenience of modern jet travel, which has also lost its scientific and technological mystery.
    On a side note, which I excised from the article, the concept of commissioning art for airports was — at the time — revolutionary, especially coming from the government. Around the time the Aeroquay was built, the Canadian government put a lot of money toward many art works to place in our major airports. Some of this original art is still installed around Pearson and some is in storage. Before this time, airports were seen as glorified bus terminals, but the Department of Transport had the foresight to realize the acclaim sculptures and paintings brought to an international terminal, as well as the prestige such an architectural design risk could welcome.

  • DavidF

    Really good post!
    Just one nitpick – I don’t think Terminal 3 is scheduled for a meeting with the wrecking ball yet. Of course it’s fate as inevitable – much as each one of us is ever drawing nigh to death – but it’s supposed to operate with the new T1 for the forseeable future…I think.

  • Chris Taylor

    Marc, terrific post. Great research and background info on this departed icon.
    “finally just leaving a dark stain on the runway where it was”
    That would be “apron” or “ramp”, Shawn. The runway is the big long asphalt/concrete strip that the planes land on and depart from. All the other bits are either taxiways (connecting the runways to the apron) or the apron itself (where the jets park).

  • Carrie

    Great post, Marc! Really interesting read, and your graphics always kick ass.

  • Gloria

    Ditto. It’s lovely reading up on Toronto’s history like this.

  • Marc Lostracco

    DavidF: I believe Terminal 3 is slated for destruction around 2020 when Terminal 1 will be expanded into its space to process around 65 million people annually. Sorry; should have been more clear at the end of the article.
    Chris: speaking of aprons and runways, what also made Aeroquay One so impressive was the underground world underneath the apron and runways allowing for almost 360º use of the hub on top.

  • Chester Pape

    You need to carefully read the GTAA master plan it does call for T3 to be replaced eventually and shows a picture of the “ultimate” configuration of T1-new, however they don’t put a specific date to this “ultimate” configuration, there is other material in there that makes it clear that T3 will still be there in the 2015-2020 period. It’s more accurate to say Terminal three might be replaced sometime after 2020.
    There WAS at one point a proposed design that kept the aeroquay active through the construction of a new terminal, I can no longer remember the details, but I think it required an airside light rail (ala Atlanta, Vegas or Orlando).
    Oh, T2 opened in 1972 not 1968. It was supposed to be temporary until Pickering opened…

  • Marc Lostracco

    Added a bit to the T2 date…it began conversion from the freight terminal in 1968, but was opened in 1972.

  • forbinsmockingbird

    “when Toronto really could call itself world-class.” that’s where you lost me

    • Frank Ch. Eigler

      That’s cool, that means they had you through the entirety of the article.