The Halifax Municipal Airport – Also called the Chebucto Road Airport

Submitted by Devonna Edwards

In the newspaper dated September 1928, it announced that the Bluehill Farm property was chosen for the site of the new Halifax Municipal Airport. The west-end site consisted of 60 acres, occupied by a number of farms, bounded by Chebucto Road, Mumford Road and Connaught Avenue and Bayers Road.

Work on the property started on May 20, 1930; the site was described as mostly a wooded swamp area and had to be excavated, filled in and graded. The bog located there was formed by thick layers of decaying vegetable matter from the farms. A large crane was used to excavate mud that was 6 feet deep. Thousands of tons of stone, from many quarries, were used to fill the bottom of the runways. Tons of hard, porous ashes were trucked in from everywhere possible and spread over the stone, covering the entire surface. Over this 2 inches of loam were placed and the grounds set to brown grass seed which would lessen the concussion when a plane landed. Seventy to eighty men were employed to lay two to three miles of drainage which was needed to carry any water, away from both sides of each runway. Telephone and hydro lines had to be removed. Also fencing needed to be built surrounding the runways.

Construction began on June 16, 1930, on two landing strips 1,800 by 600 feet and 2,000 by 600 feet. In 1931 the Halifax Municipal Airport was granted a temporary license to operate and tenders were called for its operation. The first offer came from the Halifax Aero Club and on Jan. 9, 1931 the city leased the Airport to them. The Aero Club bought two new DH60 Gipsy Moth planes with them. Donald Saunders managed the Aero Club, and he also served as Airport manager. He taught hundreds of students to fly, and during World War Two, many of these same students became military flyers.

The Gipsy Moth was a popular plane at the Club because it was so easy to fly. Anyone could be qualified to hold a pilot’s license after eight to ten hours of flying time plus ground school. For extra income the pilots of the Gipsy Moth plane would charge the public $2.00 for a ride over the city.

In Feb. 1931, the first regular passenger plane to land at the airfield was operated by Canada Airways Limited which flew between Halifax and St. John. The plane carried six passengers, charging them $20.00 each and it also carried express freight. One package contained dresses for Eaton’s Department Store.

In March 1931, construction of a hangar at the Airport began. It was 150 feet long by 75 feet wide and 30 feet high with a workshop for aircraft repair and an office for the Club House.

In June 1931 a permanent license was issued for operation of the Airport.

Pan American Airways constructed a terminal building which contained an office and a waiting room in August 1931.They also put in a concrete pad for loading and mooring planes at night. Pan American Airways started a daily air service from Boston to Halifax; the plane had a twelve passenger seating capacity and cost the passenger $35.00 each way. Two Sikorsky Amphibian planes were used by Pan American, they had Hornet motors, travelling nearly two miles a minute. On August 27 on a flight from Halifax to Boston, the Pan American plane crashed into the ocean due to foggy conditions near Gloucester, Mass. Miraculous there was only one fatality.

In April 1936, the Airport saw some of its busiest days during the time of the Moose River Gold Mine Disaster. The gold mine collapsed, trapping three men below for six days. The disaster became a worldwide media event. The Moose River Gold Mine Cave-In became famous because it was Canada’s first live radio coverage of a disaster. It was broadcast throughout Canada, the United States and Britain. At the mine a radio transmitter was dropped down a drill tube allowing people at the pithead to listen underground to the rescue in progress.

Reporters from all over Canada and the United States arrived in Halifax on chartered flight. Many flights arrived at night at a time when the Airport runway lights were not available, so the Airport’s manager, Don Saunders rounded up a number of car owners and had them circle the airstrip to provide visibility over the landing field. Only one minor accident resulted in this endeavour.

After the two men were rescued at the gold mine (one man died before the rescue), air traffic at the Halifax Municipal Airport runway was very heavy, there were eight planes of various sizes and designs lined up and ready to go. The cameramen rushed to the Airport to get their photos to various areas of Canada and American centers. The New York Times, however, made use of its special equipment set up in the Lord Nelson Building. Once the cameramen arrived in the city and the pictures were developed, they were placed on the Telephoto Unit and the pictures were transmitted in 15 minutes to New York.

In 1937, two runways were extended by 200 and 250 feet.

In 1938-39 it was decided that the Halifax Airport could not be adequately expanded for airline use; instead the new Dartmouth airfield at Shearwater, built for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), would be used when it was ready in 1940. Limited improvement to the Halifax Airport would make it suitable for use by light aircraft.

In April 1939, the Halifax Aero Club agreed to undertake the training of twelve recruits of the R.C.A.F. and the Department of Defence supplied two new DH60 Tiger Moths for that purpose. By early 1940, military planes were using the runways.

The Airport license was cancelled on Oct. 15, 1941 and the Airport closed and then the City leased the site to the government as an army camp called No. 6 District Depot (Chebucto Barracks). Dartmouth Airport continued to serve as the Halifax Airport until 1960 when the new Halifax Stanfield International Airport near Kelly Lake began it operation in June 1960.

Today a portion of the Airport off Chebucto Road, boarding on the Westmount housing development, is called Saunders Park. A memorial, a winged cairn, was erected marking the site as the original Airport. The cairn commemorated Wing Commander Donald Saunders, known as “Mr. Flying”, honouring him for being a pioneer in Canadian aviation. He was instructor of the Halifax Flying Club from 1928 to 1937, served with the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War and with the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War. He was also manager of the Halifax Municipal Airport.

The Westmount Subdivision was also built on the site of the old Airport. The first sod was turned in March 1948.
The wartime buildings (No. 6 District Depot) were demolished during the construction of the subdivision and some of the material taken from the demolished buildings, were used in the construction of the new houses.

A factory was established in the former army drill hall for the pre-cutting of construction material on a large scale. The buildings were all built from four basic designs and World War Two Veterans were given the first chance to purchase the homes.
Some streets in the subdivision were named after Halifax Servicemen who lost their lives during the Second World War: Peter Lowe Avenue, in memory of Captain Peter Innes Lowe, Royal Artillery. Doug Smith Drive, in memory of Flying Officer Douglas A. Smith, Royal Air Force. George Dauphinee Avenue, in memory of two veterans: Flying Officer George Alfred Osborne Dauphinee RCAF and Lieutenant George Wharton Dauphinee of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps.