Edmonton’s City Centre Airport closes to make way for the new Blatchford

Runway 12-30 at the City Centre Airport officially closed at 4:49pm on Saturday, November 30, 2013, bringing to an end one of Edmonton’s longest-running civic debates. City Council voted to close the airport in phases on July 8, 2009 after years of fierce arguments, countless reports, and two plebiscites. Runway 16-34 closed on August 3, 2010 in the midst of a last-ditch effort by Envision Edmonton to keep the airport open. Now the full closure means the planned redevelopment of the lands into “a walkable, transit-oriented, and sustainable community” can move ahead.

Last departure
Last departure, photo by Jeff Wallace

The final flight to depart the airport was a 1963 red and white Cessna 172D, with registration C-FWKV, piloted by Chris Blower. Two CF-18 jets from the 409 Squadron out of 4 Wing Cold Lake were scheduled to perform a touch-and-go to mark the closure of the airport, but they had to cancel at the last minute due to weather. It would have been a nice reference to the airport’s history as two Royal Canadian Air Force Siskins were the first to land when Blatchford Field officially opened in 1927.

City Centre Airport

Here’s a look at the final departure and closure of the City Centre Airport:

Earlier in the afternoon a press conference was held at City Hall to mark the occasion. David Ridley of the Edmonton Heritage Council called the Blatchford lands “among the most important of historical locations in Edmonton.” He said naming the new community Blatchford “the first step” in preserving the history of the airfield.

City Centre Airport Closure

Newly elected Councillor Bev Esslinger also spoke, reinforcing the importance of the site’s history. She unveiled a plaque and living time capsule that will be on display at City Hall until it can be included in the redevelopment. “The items included show and tell the story of the airfield, and will be an enduring reminder of the role aviation has played in shaping Edmonton,” she said.

City Centre Airport Closure

Over the last year, any remaining uncertainty about the closure gradually faded away.

  • A new, 3,600-square-metre air ambulance based opened in March at the Edmonton International Airport, completing the relocation of medevac services.
  • City Council voted on June 19 to expropriate interests in the airport lands, which included more than 200 individual landowners.
  • On October 10, Villeneuve Airport announced a large expansion with plans to build 6 new hangars, to extend one runway to 5,000 feet, to install an Instrument Landing System (ILS), and to improve storm water, domestic water, and sanitary systems.
  • The new Alberta Flying Heritage Museum was announced on November 17. Located at Villeneuve Airport, the new museum will focus on the broad history of Central and Northern Alberta. The Alberta Aviation Museum will remain open in its current location and will focus on the history of Edmonton and Blatchford Field.
  • The Pacific Western Airlines Boeing 737 that had been featured as an exhibit at the Alberta Aviation Museum since 2005 flew once more on November 29, landing at its new home at Villeneuve Airport.

City Centre Airport Closure

Though many called the closure bittersweet, I’m glad it is now finished. With the airport closed, the City can move forward with implementation of the Master Plan for Blatchford.

The 217 hectare (536 acre) site will become a home for up to 30,000 residents, and a place to work for up to 11,000 employees. This will transform the City Centre Airport into a mixed-use urban community that meets the City of Edmonton’s goals of building strong, vibrant neighbourhoods and increasing density to make best use of existing infrastructure.

Shovels are expected to be in the ground next year, with the first Edmontonians living and working on site as early as 2016/17. Full build out of the community will of course take decades. The opportunity to build a community as large as Blatchford so close to the heart of the city is one that cities of our size simply don’t get.

Blatchford Redevelopment
Artist rendering of future Blatchford community street

I feel more now than ever that closing the City Centre Airport was the right decision for Edmonton, and I look forward to the incredibly positive impact that the Blatchford Redevelopment will have on our city.