Students attending Lansdowne middle school joined local MLA Rob Fleming in unveiling a sign that commemorated the first flight of an all-Canadian aircraft. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Sign tips wings to Saanich aviation pioneer

Lansdowne middle school was site of the first flight of an all-Canadian aircraft

A sign unveiled last week pays tribute to the pioneering spirit of a magnificent Canadian aviator and his flying machine.

Joined by students and administrators of Saanich’s Lansdowne middle school, Education Minister and local MLA Rob Fleming unveiled a sign commemorating the first flight of an all-Canadian aircraft.

“On this airstrip, as it was, history was made,” said Fleming.

On Sept. 8, 1910, Victoria-resident William Wallace Gibson lifted off the grounds in his self-made Gibson Twin plane. Based on the replica that hangs in Sidney’s B.C. Aviation Museum, Gibson was relentless, courageous and slightly mad at the same time.

Built over several months, Gibson’s plane looked more like a large-sized bed on bicycle wheels with wings and two propellers located half-way between the nose and the tail. Aerodynamic it was not.

In fact, it did not have a cockpit in the modern sense, as Gibson controlled the plane, while sitting open air in a horse saddle.

Gibson suffered ridicule and failure along the way. But he always managed to escape serious injury along the way, and eventually prevailed. According to Saanich Archives, it flew over 70 feet longer than the Wright brothers’ flight in 1903. But this success remained unrecognized, and Gibson eventually moved to California where he died at the age of 91. In 1985, his son William Gibson unveiled a plaque at Lansdowne middle school to honour his flight.

For Fleming, Gibson fits into the tradition of entrepreneurs and innovators, who built up B.C. while following their dreams.

The sign paying tribute to Gibson stands just off Lansdowne Road as part of the Stop of Interest program, which the provincial government initiated in 1958 to mark the 100th anniversary of British Columbia.

(In 1858, Vancouver Island was a separate British colony that did not join B.C. until 1866).

The field from which Gibson lifted off also served as the region’s first airport between 1928 and 1931. “It would have been a really cheap cab ride,” joked Fleming.

While physical evidence of this history disappeared long ago, Lansdowne middle school continues to breathe its spirit as its school teams bear the nickname of Flyers.

Regional aviation also has a present and a future. “What is great on the South Island is that we still have so many active flying clubs. We make aircraft at plants that employ hundreds,” said Fleming, in alluding to Viking Air Ltd., the Sidney-based manufacturer of the iconic DHC-6 Twin Otter, a familiar sight in local skies.

The region is also home to Canada’s 10th busiest airport poised for future expansion, as the regional population and economy grows.

 

William Wallace Gibson’s plane. He built it in his coach house at 146 Clarence Street in James Bay before flying it Sept. 8, 1910. (Photo courtesy of Saanich Archives)

Just Posted

The 21st annual Japanese Cultural Fair streams online Oct. 24 from noon to 3 p.m. (Facebook/Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society)
Esquimalt’s Japanese Cultural Fair takes tastes, experiences and cultures online

21st annual free event streams Saturday, Oct. 24 starting at noon

Kwick’kanum (Eric Pelkey), a hereditary chief of the Tsawout Nation, addressed the crowd that gathered at Mount Newton Cross Road and Highway 17 on Oct. 23. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
UPDATED: Pat Bay Highway reopens after rally supporting Mi’kmaq fishing rights

Supporters call on government to recognize Indigenous treaty rights

The Baynes Sound Connector cable ferry. Black Press file photo
Baynes Sound Connector delayed due to emergency call

Paddleboarder was in distress near Union Bay Thursday

Premier John Horgan and Rob Douglas, BC NDP candidate for Cowichan Valley, meet with Cowichan First Nation elders, as they demonstrate spearfishing along the river. (Submitted)
Horgan acknowledges A&E sector hit hard by COVID-19, but showing signs of recovery

Hollywood North doing better than Hollywood South, Horgan says

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson,  BC NDP leader John Horgan and BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau. (File)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Climate change and sustainability promises from the parties

Snap election has led to a short campaign; here’s the lowdown on the platforms

Conservative member of Parliament Michelle Rempel Garner, left to right, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen arrive to hold a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No-confidence showdown over sweeping Tory motion on government handling of pandemic

The Conservative motion is to be put to a vote Monday and has the support of both the Bloc Québécois and NDP

Most Read