History of Oliver airport
Published on ODN – FEBRUARY 1, 2015
OLIVER – LARGEST AIRPORT IN THE OKANAGAN 1937
During the depression, the federal government decided that the small community of Oliver would become part of a plan for national airmail delivery much to the chagrin of larger communities in the Okanagan.
An agent of the Federal Government came to the South Okanagan in 1929 to scout for an airport location. There was no local government and prime land was owned by the province for the South Okanagan Lands Project. The bubble burst on Wall Street and the Depression hit hard. An 80 acre site was purchased quietly to avoid speculation and a 3 runway airstrip was designed. The Canadian government launched relief projects and in 1935 work began on the Oliver Airport. Lighting and radio beam equipment was brought in by train from Barons Field in Alberta and radio operators were hired to communicate with “airships” flying between Winnipeg and Vancouver. All this publicity and action in Oliver got the people of Penticton quite riled when they heard that they might have to catch a bus south to fly out.
Vernon started an airport in 1929. Penticton would not have an airstrip for many more years. No useable land had been set aside in Penticton and negotiations with the local Indian Band were slow. Kelowna had no airport.
Oliver’s problem was that everything was contingent on approvals, other locations being ready and newly formed air transport companies being able to do the work. The airport was officially opened on Labour Day in 1937 to much celebration. Oliver was in its glory for 2 years with planes flying over and more plans for passenger and freight service. Coast to Coast passenger service started on March 6, 1938 and one year later daily airmail service between Montreal and Vancouver commenced. The outbreak of war changed everything.
Penticton airport was expropriated in 1939 and was operational in 1941. Kelowna built a large airport in 1947. All of the equipment at Oliver was taken away. It was over. Experts figured out that Penticton’s site was much easier for planes to negotiate takeoffs and landings and Vernon’s airport never attracted major airline travel. The two slowest cities – Kelowna and Penticton ended up as large regional air service hubs.
September 6, 1937 – Oliver Times – the ribbon is cut and Oliver’s new airport is officially opened by former Minister of Defence Grote Stirling – Conservative MP of Yale. 20 planes flew in. Bat Man (Cecil McKenzie) jumped out of one airship at 12,000 feet.
March 3, 1938 – Oliver Times –Station operators were hired but the radio beam has yet to be installed. The airport radio station will be manned 16 hours a day. The Trans Canada Airmail service (Winnipeg to Vancouver) is still having difficulty getting off the ground.
July 1st 1938 – Oliver Times – Flights begin on the TCA between Winnipeg and Vancouver. Electric lights were on all night.
May 28, 1939 – Oliver Times – Yukon Southern Air Transport flights connecting Okanagan to Vancouver are set to begin. A bus will be supplied to Penticton people wanting to use the service.
Thanks to Historian Brian Wilson