A moment in history: Feb. 16, 1956

A moment in history: Feb. 16, 1956

· The Pulse

On this day in 1956, ideas were flying about for Edmonton's proposed international airport. The "free port" proposal was one of the many ideas floated. While the plan to make Edmonton a kind of duty-free zone never took off, it indicated the excitement surrounding the potential of the new airfield.

Edmontonians already had a fascination with aviation; the city was a vital air link to Canada's north. And during WWII, Blatchford Field was the world's busiest airport, serving as a training ground for Allied pilots and part of the aerial network that shuttled supplies to the Soviet Union.

As aviation technology progressed, the limitations of Blatchford became clear. In the '50s, commercial air travel evolved from small propeller planes to large jet airliners. The central airport's runways were too small to handle many of the larger aircraft, and its terminals couldn't handle a large number of passengers. And since the city surrounded Blatchford, expansion wasn't feasible. So in 1955, Transport Canada bought 7,600 acres of land south of Edmonton for the future international airport.

Turning the parcel of land into an international flight hub wasn't easy. Problems included rough terrain, thick patches of weeds, livestock wandering on runways, and a stubborn clan of beavers. Still, the airport eventually opened for passenger travel in November 1960. A single hangar served as a temporary terminal for three years until the construction of a proper facility (which still stands as EIA's north terminal).

The following two decades were a period of rapid growth for both the city and the airport. In 1962, just shy of 395,000 passengers went through the EIA. By 1974, it was 1.1 million. That number doubled by 1980. However, the city's air traffic was still split between the international and central airports. Long-haul flights would land at the southern airport, while Blatchford handled short hops. This caused more than a few headaches: passengers often had to travel the 35 kilometres between the two airports to make connecting flights.

In 1992, Edmontonians voted to keep the central airport open to all air traffic. In a second plebiscite three years later, 77% of voters decided instead to consolidate commercial air traffic at the international airport. The central airport lived on with less and less traffic until its closure in 2013.

The international airport saw another surge of growth in the 2000s, with the construction of a new terminal to house international flights, a new central hall, and an expansion of cargo facilities. By 2018, it remained one of the fastest-growing airports in Canada, with more than 8 million passengers. The pandemic has been hard on airports, of course, but the federal government announced $18.5 million in funding for the EIA to upgrade its cargo operations. And a new round of support announced last week sets aside $10.4 million for an overhaul of the airport's security screening as well as COVID-19 testing.

This is based on a clipping found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse — follow @VintageEdmonton for daily ephemera via Twitter.