Downsview is part of Canada’s aviation past, but with federal and provincial funds announced this week, it should also have a place in the future.
Centennial College is getting a new $72.4-million aerospace campus in Downsview Park, on the spot where de Havilland of Canada built bombers and peacetime aircraft.
Recently home to the Canadian Air and Space Museum, Downsview’s de Havilland plant was where the first Canadian satellite, Alouette 1, was built, as well as the first Canadarm for the U.S. Space Shuttle.
During the Second World War, workers there turned out 1,000 Tiger Moth biplanes, and more than 1,100 Mosquito bombers.
“You could say this is hallowed ground,” Centennial’s president, Ann Buller, said Monday after a ground breaking staged beside the former factory, which is being partially demolished.
The campus, scheduled to open in Fall 2018 within walking distance of the new Downsview Park subway station, will have room for 900 students and about three times the space Centennial’s aerospace programs have now at its Ashtonbee Campus in Scarborough.
Those programs at Ashtonbee have been pressed for space since interest in the trades picked up.
“We’ve outgrown our house,” said Josh James, a Centennial aerospace lab technician.
Centennial’s transportation school will expand by moving into the Ashtonbee hanger.
In a bar near the site, Canada’s Science Minister and Etobicoke North MP Kristy Duncan said the federal government is offering $18.4 million to the new campus. The province will contribute $25.8 million, while $28.2 million will come from the college and its donors.
The campus will be used not just by Centennial, but by aerospace programs at the universities of Toronto, York and Ryerson — and, it’s hoped, by Bombardier and other companies — for training and research.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne told Buller she recognizes the Centennial president was “dogged” in her determination to create this hub, which Wynne called a “bricks and mortar testament” to the strength of Ontario’s economy.
“If we’re going to punch above our weight, as we need to do, we have to innovate,” she said.
Progress on the vast Downsview lands has come slowly since Canadian Forces Base Downsview closed in 1996 and the federal government declared plans for Canada’s “first urban national park” there in 1999.
York Centre MP Michael Levitt acknowledged it’s been a long wait, but said the new Liberal government is committed to “bring about the vision that’s been promised for so long.”
Longer-serving politicians for the area also sounded optimistic. “We have a dream in Downsview that’s partially come true today,” said York Centre Councillor Maria Augemeri.
Buller said designs for the building, incorporating its brick facade facing Carl Hall Road, are meant to respect its past, while creating something “that promises to the be jewel of the Downsview community.”
Students from Ashtonbee Campus, who sat in their coveralls behind the politicians Monday, said they were also excited.
“It’s one of the greatest things that can happen,” said Manuel Gonzalez, who doesn’t live far from the park.