History

The Downsview Lands were first acquired from the aboriginal people as part of the Toronto Purchase in 1787. During the nineteenth century, the Downsview area was divided into parcels which the Government dispersed among homesteaders, immigrants and veterans. By 1900 much of area had been settled and as the community developed, churches, schools and transportation infrastructure were built. Downsview is named after a 1830’s farm that was called “Downs View” because of its high elevation and the excellent view looking down towards Lake Ontario.

 

In 1851, construction of the Gore and Vaughan Plank Road was completed immediately west of the Downsview Lands which was used by local farmers taking livestock and produce to market in Toronto. That same year, construction of the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railway began and by 1853 much of the railway had been completed. The railway ran north through Downsview to Lakes Simcoe and Huron transporting passengers, freight and mail, and still exists today as the Canadian National Railway, bisecting the Downsview Lands.

 

Between 1946 and 1970 the Downsview area experienced massive suburban development. Similar to other communities throughout the City, Downsview’s development was driven by strong immigration to Toronto from Eastern Europe, Southern Europe, Africa and Asia. As the region’s population began to grow the city expanded northward and rural areas like Downsview were incorporated into the City of Toronto.

 

Bombardier/de Havilland Aircraft one of the largest manufacturing plants within the City of Toronto, located to Downsview in 1929. Although a relatively small company, employing just 35 workers in 1939, de Havilland grew significantly during the Second World War. Factory buildings were expanded and land expropriated so that runways could be lengthened. By the end of WWII, de Havilland had employed over 7,000 people and, at its peak, completed 1.5 to 3 aircraft per day. After demobilization, de Havilland Aircraft of Canada was privatized and returned to the design and production of civilian aircraft.

 

Following WWII, the Government of Canada recognized Downsview’s strategic importance with its proximity to Toronto’s industry and infrastructure. Downsview was considered by the government to be well suited as an air station and logistical support base because of the existing airfield and hangar facilities. As a result, in 1947 and 1952 a total of 270 properties in the Downsview community were expropriated by the Department of Defence in order to establish Royal Canadian Air Force Station Downsview which was given the responsibility of Toronto’s air defence.

 

By 1994, however, the aircraft and many of the facilities at Downsview had become obsolete and the Department of National Defence sold the runway to Bombardier/de Havilland with an option to repurchase in the long term. Re-structuring of the Canadian Forces brought upon by budgetary constraints led to the closing of the base in 1996. Today, Bombardier/de Havilland continues to use the runways for testing and delivery of aircraft. Their facility is currently one of the largest private sector employers in the City and home to the production and assembly of the Dash 8 and the Global Express corporate jet.

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