Seventy years ago Chilliwack residents overwhelmingly agreed to allow the city and municipality to borrow $40,000 for the purchase of land and construction of a new airport.
Turnout for the referendum was light (due, some said, to the August growing season). However, 70 per cent of the voters who cast their ballots supported the plan.
The argument for construction was primarily economic: Just as cities of the past thrived on seaports and rail stations, cities of the future would depend on airports.
In the heady days following the end of the Second World War, air transport was seen as the way of the future. Tourism, and Chilliwack’s agricultural sector in particular, would benefit from the aviation developments that had occurred over the course of the war.
There was debate. The airport would occupy prime farm land, and the purchase would put the municipalities into debt.
However, led by groups like the Chilliwack Board of Trade and the Chilliwack Flying Club, it was argued Chilliwack would miss a great opportunity if it didn’t take advantage of the post-war enthusiasm for air travel.
“I submit the question is not can Chilliwack afford an airport,” flying club president Murdoch Maclachlan told the board of trade in 1945. “The question is can we afford not to have one.”
Today, the argument for the airport remains economic. And while the earlier dream of using air transport to move Chilliwack’s agricultural produce seems fanciful, the importance of the facility to the region’s future remains strong.
According to the city’s economic development arm, CEPCO, “The City of Chilliwack is committed to developing the aerospace and aviation industry in our community. Efforts have been initiated to attract new businesses and help the city’s existing aerospace/aviation businesses grow, expand, and diversify.”
There have been frustrations in pursuit of that goal. But certainly one of the bright spots has been the arrival of aerobatic pilot Dave Mathieson and his “Super Dave” team. Not only has he brought attention to the local air industry, he’s brought investment.
But he’s also generated complaints. And this week it was learned those complaints may force him to move elsewhere.
Reaction has been fierce. And while some say they’d be happy to see him go, others are angered by the arbitrary and seemingly obfuscated way a decision was reached. (Transport Canada would not respond, citing privacy reasons.)
True, airports present challenges. But as residents here recognized 70 years ago, they also hold tremendous promise.
It would be a shame if we lost sight of that.