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A History of Island Airport Expansion Schemes

With Porter Airlines trying to expand Billy Bishop Airport, here's a look back at a century of controversy over the site.

20130508 divinghorse

Leafing through the history of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is like listening to a broken record. Every few years the groove locks on yet another proposal to expand the Island airport’s facilities. Until the arrival of Robert Deluce and Porter Airlines, most of these visions failed to take flight. Even ideas that became reality endured lengthy delays. In fact, the pedestrian tunnel between the mainland and the airport that’s currently under construction is a revival of a project briefly worked on during the mid-1930s.

While we wait to see if the staff study authorized by city council Monday night leads to the changes Porter Airlines CEO Robert Deluce desires (he’d like to introduce jet service, currently banned on the Island), here’s a look back at how the airport was born, and at previous proposals to alter the status quo.

Click through the image gallery, above, to learn more.

Additional material from More Than an Island by Sally Gibson (Toronto: Irwin, 1984), Unbuilt Toronto by Mark Osbaldeston (Toronto: Dundurn, 2008), the July 6, 1937; August 19, 1938; September 9, 1939; December 31, 1963; and May 29, 1974 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the July 10, 1937 edition of the Toronto Star.


  • Guest

    Why is there a horse falling into the lake in the first picture?

    • Kate Roberts

      Well from the sign in the picture, it looks like the horse was an attraction of the island back in the day – “Diving Horse”

  • BertArcher

    I can understand not taking the time to read all the difficult words that accompany a picture before charging into the comments section, but not even looking at the picture itself, which includes a sign that says “diving horse”? That’s a level of laziness and carelessness that makes me worried about the state of your probable bedsores.

  • Mark

    Couldn’t read the article. Got stuck staring at the Diving Horse. o_0

  • Wendy F

    BertArcher — such witty sarcasm and sniping to lead off the comments! I believe that Guest’s comment was tongue-in-cheek as in “WHY is there a horse falling into the lake?” As in please explain the point of horse diving. Judging from the handful of onlookers, the idea was a FAIL.

    • dsmithhfx

      Didn’t they use horses to fetch pearls from the bottom of the lake?

      • Wendy F

        If that’s true, and I really think you’re trying to pull my leg, I hope the horses at least got to wear the pearls after all that effort!

  • Greg

    My grandparent’s island summer home was moved from Hanlan’s Point, to the break wall at Center Island, due to the construction of the airport. I spent my first year there, the summer of 1956, the house was demolished not long after. The stories my father and aunts and uncles told of growing up on the island painted many priceless vignettes of a unique wonderful life on the edge of a grey, staid Toronto.

    We would picnic and held several family reunions at Hanlan’s when I was young. It was difficult for my father and his brothers to go back to the island of the 1960′s. Their memories were strong, the change so great.

    My father’s memorial service was held at St. Andrew’s on the Lake, which was moved to Centre Island. At the back of the church is a plaque honouring islanders of the congregation who served in WW2. The four brothers, all honoured, enlisted in the RCAF. How ironic.

    A lovely lady who dated my father when they were in their teens, and apparently on occasion dated his twin brother (or was it the other way around?)… attended. She had many wonderful memories and stories to recount, and still lived on Wards.

    We spread some of his ashes were the house once stood, looking east down Long Pond, where they spent their summers rowing and boating. My father’s twin brother will return for his memorial at the island this spring.

    My 2 children were fortunate to attend the island public school, catching the ferry each morning after a drive or subway ride to the dock. We often talk about or go back and recount their memories now.

    As a lakeside city the island is Toronto’s great central asset, a resource to be cherished and it’s restive qualities preserved. As the central city population dramatically increases the island park system will continue to grow in importance.

    Are we mature enough as a city to set it aside and preserve it for future generations to enjoy, to create their own unique experiences, their own history and stories, in our unique green space on the edge of downtown.

    New York City had the foresight 150 years ago to create Central Park. Do we in Toronto, have the foresight today?