Historic RCAF Hangar to Be Demolished

Photo credit: Adrian Lam, Times Colonist

A hangar dating back to the Second World War is set to be demolished at what is now known as Victoria International Airport.

Constructed with concrete pillars and steel trusses that have stood the test of time, the building also contains asbestos and lead paint, which doomed it to eventual demolition rather than preservation. It had been used for a time for storage of some aircraft belonging to the British Columbia Aviation Museum, but no longer due to the health risks.

“It’s a shrine and a beautiful building, historically,” said Doug Rollins of the B.C. Aviation Museum. “But it costs too much to renovate and doesn’t meet earthquake standards. It’s sad news, but not unexpected.” The Department of National Defence is carrying out the demolition.

In the late 1930s the military determined that a land-based airport should be constructed adjacent to the air station that already existed at Patricia ‘Pat’ Bay, on the west side of the Saanich Peninsula north of Victoria, British Columbia. Pat Bay was already home port to flying boats and having an airstrip close by was considered very convenient.

At first a grass strip was constructed, and AVRO 626 basic trainers were used to train initially Royal Air Force pilots and eventually pilots from other British Commonwealth nations, though it was not an actual British Commonwealth Air Training Plan facility. Instead, the base was home to the Royal Air Force Operational Training Unit No. 32, which trained thousands of pilots from Australia, New Zealand and Britain. A separate facility on the base trained Canadian pilots.

The air base eventually morphed into Victoria’s commercial airport. The military left the airport in 1952 but returned in the late 1980s when 443 Helicopter Squadron set up base with a fleet of Sikorsky CH-124 Sea King helicopters. Those machines have since been replaced with Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclones.