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The Bowness Flying Field

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Fred McCall

Captain Fred McCall, founder of the Bowness Flying Field, June 1919

Calgary Herald, June 30, 1919

I’m always learning new things at the heritage events I attend. What I learned recently was that Calgary’s first commercial airfield was actually in Bowness, started by Fred McCall, a former RAF pilot on fallow land near the Calgary Electric Railway tracks just after the end of the First World War. According to Bernd Martens, writing in the Bowness history book Our Village in the Valley, “the airplane hangars associated with the Bowness Flying Field were located just east of present-day Bowness Road. The runway extended eastward in a large empty block of farmer’s field, likely between the present 47 Avenue and 44 Avenue and eastward to the present high school field.”

The Bowness Aerodrome (as it was sometimes called, a rather lofty name for a farmer’s field) saw its first flight in May 1919 when Frank Donnelly flew his Curtiss from Bowness to the HBC company building in downtown Calgary to drop streamers advertising the company’s 249th birthday. “1670 – A Message From Mars – 1919” was what the streamers read. “Calgary celebrates the greatest event of the year, the 249th birthday of the Hudson’s Bay Company. So unusual are the values that we’ve chosen an unusual way to tell of them….Keep this streamer as a memento of the first literature ever dropped in Calgary from an aeroplane." Tappy Frost was one of the first to get his streamer, chasing it down in his little Ford car and clambering up on a roof when the elusive little thing tried to hide from him.

Power was taken from the electric railway lines to service the hangar but there were no runway lights so when Capt. McCall was flying at night, he would buzz his house so his wife would know to bring the car to light the runway with its headlamps. Car lights provided illumination for the landing of Capt. Ernest C. Hoy from Vancouver, the first flight over the Canadian Rockies, which touched down in Bowness on August 7, 1919.

The Bowness Flying Field was also the place from which the plane carrying W.J. (Bill) Oliver, Calgary Herald photographer, took off. Oliver would take the first air photos of the city which were published in the Herald. Below is the photo published in the June 30, 1919 edition:

Calgary Herald June 30, 1919

Aerial Photograph of Calgary taken by W.J. Oliver from Fred McCall's Plane, June 1919

Calgary Herald, June 30 1919

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