By F. C. MacNaughton
Research and Interviews by Alex McPherson, Earl Watters, R. Hall
The story of the Oliver Airport starts back in 1929 even before the eventual acquisition of the land by the Dominion Government. The following is a copy report from the Oliver Echo published in July, 1938.
“The building of the Airport at Oliver has opened a new era for the surrounding district, for today the town of Oliver stands on the threshold of greater things to come.
Started through the efforts of the Oliver Board of Trade, the airport was officially opened on September 6, 1937, Hon. Grote Stirling, M.P. for Yale, performing the opening ceremony.
As early as 1929, Col. McLean was sent into the Oliver-Osoyoos district to locate a landing field. Col. McLean contacted members of the Oliver Board of Trade and found them keenly interested in aviation. A committee of three was sworn to secrecy regarding plans in connection with the Airport. The main object in view to keep the matter secret was to avoid the possibility of the land, surrounding the location, soaring sky high in price.
Opening of Airport 1937, Oliver, B.C.
The land was taken over by the Dominion Government and even the local project manager did not know what the senior government intended to use it for. A few years later, a relief camp was established and development work commenced. This work was done under the Department of National Defence. The relief camp remained in operation a comparatively short time, and in 1935, the camp workers were put on wages. G. T. Chillcott was engaged as engineer in charge and J. Wright as foreman, and in a short time the airport began to take shape. The amount of labor used in the construction (elementary) was the equivalent of 8000 man days. The amount of material used and moved was approximately 150,000 cubic yards. Piled up, this amount would build a mound 600 feet square and 34 feet in height. About
17,000 tons of rock were moved into fills to make the field level. The Airport covers an area of about 80 acres and has three runways. The main runway is 3300 feet long and 600 feet wide; the other two are 2700 feet in length. Of particular note in this matter is the fact that 2600 feet length in a landing
field is sufficient to land even the largest transport planes, so that even the smaller runways on the Oliver Airport qualify. Early this year the Airport was taken over by the Department of Transport who sublet it to Canadian Airways to form a link in the chain of landing fields from Coast to Coast.
Considerable development has been made recently in the radio department at the Oliver Airport and at the present time the radio building is equipped with modern machinery capable of meeting the requirements for a two-way setup. Already there has been some $25,000 spent on radio equipment. There are two operators at the radio station and they are constantly in touch with the planes that fly on the Trans-Canada route. These men are Mike Meek and Ches Rickard.
Lighting of the Airport
A few months ago, a floodlighting system was installed at the Airport and a tower standing 40 feet tall was erected. Atop the tower a revolving beacon of one million candle power was set up. This beacon plus the side identification lights cast their light for many miles and although it is not lighted every evening at the present time, it is planned that before long, the ray of light will shine from dusk to dawn. The flood lighting system consists of lights set at intervals around the border of the Airport and this definitely
marks out the Airport for night flying.
Airmail from Oliver
A jitney service from Oliver, by air, may be operated in the future. When this comes to pass, it will be possible to board a plane at the Oliver Airport and connect with the Trans-Canada planes at Lethbridge or Vancouver. It was impossible for the big planes to land at airports other than those in large
city centres. Too much time would be lost on Trans-Canada flights. This service would also carry mail from various points throughout the valley. Oliver stands today on the ground floor of a great future, and as air transportation of mail, freight and passengers advances so will Oliver.”
(Note: Soon after this article was written automatic time clocks were installed and all field-lighting became automatic dusk to dawn.)
Since 1938, many changes have taken place. A regular service was operated for both passengers and express by Yukon Southern Airways. The city of Penticton found it hard to accept that a small town like Oliver should have the first large airport in the B.C. interior and an intensive campaign was launched to get their own airport. With their longer runway and more traffic, it was inevitable that it would become the important air centre of the South Okanagan.
Eventually the bulk of the air traffic went to Penticton. So did the beacon, the radio and other lighting; and over the years the Oliver Airport has been stripped of buildings and equipment. However it is still used by many small planes and on most Sunday mornings it is a hive of action. I think it’s interesting history worth recording. Often small incidents and names crop u which are directly hooked up with the names of people who came to Oliverbecause of the construction and operation of the Airport and stayed and became part of Oliver’s history.
The actual construction was begun in July 1935 when Earl Watters moved the first dirt with a new diesel cat. For some weeks he worked on his own and then more workers were brought in. In early 1936 two more cat drivers went to work, namely Stan Reynolds and Paddy Herbert. Some of the fill on the southeast side was as high as 25 feet. Hundreds of tons of rock were hauled in by horse and wagon. Much of this rock came from the government development orchards close by where the stones had been windrowed between the rows of trees. Some of the teams owners were Archie Fleming, Cliff Leighton and Bert Hall. There was also a small narrow gauge railway with ore cars for moving material to the fills. A large machine shed was erected and other buildings added.
Part Two to be published Saturday
Thanks to Bill Michaels and the Okangan Historical Society