flying over the farm

People in automobile watching first ever flight in Weston July 1910 People in automobile 
watching first ever flight in Weston July 1910 CTA F1244 it67

Airplane flight Weston Airplane flight Weston 1910

From the Open Road to the Open Sky

Organized in 1903, the Ontario Motor League (OML) was a collection of car enthusiasts, citizens concerned over the lack of road regulation and drivers irritated by the province’s abysmal road network. The Toronto-based group had been in existence for seven years when they decided to put on a massive spectacle to celebrate the latest innovation in engine-powered transportation, the airplane.

Aviation Meet ad Star July 12, 1910 p. 11  The Star,July 12,1910 p. 11

League secretary Mr. Wilcox, organized the first Canadian aviation meets. They were back to back events, the first in Pointe Claire, west of Montreal and the second from July 8-16 just south of Weston, a village northwest of Toronto. French and American aviators would demonstrate the beauty of flight in aerial manoeuvres and continue the rival record-setting of the French-designed Bleriot monoplane against the American Wright Brothers’ biplane.

The show on the farm field was closely documented. As the planes hovered, plunged and glided between earth and sky, reporters and photojournalists used all their creativity to do justice to the perspectives opened up by the new technology.

Well-Heeled Advocacy for Good Roads  

Cars were already conspicuous part of Toronto’s urban scene, numbering over three thousand by 1910.  Ownership of the latest design of automobile and motoring attire set one apart from the throng.  The same crowd that went to the Armouries Horse Show returned for the Auto Show. The Star ran a photo spread of leading women behind the wheel and at the Woodbine races the veil, a fashion quotation for being at home on the dusty roads, was much in evidence.

Some Toronto Ladies who are expert motor car drivers-page-001 veil Couple at Ontario Jockey Club F1244 it390 (detail) Couple at Ontario Jockey Club F1244 it390 (detail)

The executive of the OML included Tommy Russell and Oliver Hezzelwood,  men at the forefront of Toronto area car manufacturing, along with such representatives of Toronto society as distillery heir G.H. Gooderham. An indicator of the relative affluence of members was the group’s 1908 rallying cause: the creation of a “chauffers’ bureau for the purpose of securing that only the most reliable drivers may be employed.” (The Globe, Jan. 24, 1908 p.9)

The Orphans Auto Outing, Toronto World June 26, 1910 p. 7 The Orphans Auto Outing, Toronto World June 26, 1910 p. 7

To counteract the negative view of cars as a threat to the safety of street-playing children, the League ran an annual campaign to take orphans out to the countryside or a lakeshore amusement park. The car opened the horizons of orphanage life for a brief yet memorable afternoon.  Press photographers were invited to snap pictures of the automobiles in front of Queen’s Park piled high with orphans the message was clear: the car was a force for civic good.

Orphans...Toronto World June 26, 1910, p8 Toronto World, June 26, 1910, p8

A Big Day For the city's orphans The Globe, July 24, 1901p.A3

Building on its positive publicity the OML ventured into planning a far more ambitious and one-off event: an open-air meet to showcase an emerging mode of transportation that might one day be within reach of everyone. In the meantime everyone in a car would have to travel to the site along suburban country roads whose condition was a focus of OML lobbying.

Good Roads: Transport from Farm & Travel from City

Getting on board the Good Roads cause, the city’s Board of Trade invited the mayor and councillors to ride in a motorcade that took a winding route on the city outskirts, pausing for lunch at the Tretheway Model Farm, where preparations for the aviation meet had already begun.

Map, location of Tretheway Model Farm contemporary map showing location of Tretheway Farm south of Weston, Map of west Toronto junction 1919

Mr. Tretheway, discoverer of the Cobalt silver mine, hosted the dignitaries with a lavish lunch in his conservatory. The “model” aspect of his farm encompassed its cutting edge technology for producing milk to the new public health standards and an electrical canning operation.  While having a retail delivery office in town, the farm was a country drive destination and landmark. Families could pick out the prettiest Thanksgiving pumpkin at the Weston farm “one of the suburban institutions of the city” (The Star, June 14, 1910 p. 8).

Girl with pumpkin from Tretheway farm ca. 1909  Girl with pumpkin from Tretheway farm ca. 1909
tretheway model farm classified star Aug 12, 1910, p. 5 The Star Aug 12, 1910, p. 5

Four months earlier Tretheway had written an open letter to The Star‘s editor arguing that the price of fresh produce for city consumers, tied to the sustainability of local farming, depended on a good road system.

Cost of Living and Good Roads,Trethewey letter to editor  Star Feb. 22, 1910 p.4 detail "Cost of Living and Good Roads",The Star Feb. 22, 1910 p.4 detail

In the mid-1920s he would construct the road now known as Tretheway Drive to improve circulation through the land that was once his model farm. This area, donated by him for public use as a site for aviation, still held signs of this history in the 1950s.

Proposed Aviation Field, Tretheway, Star, Feb.8, 1927 p. 27 b  The Star, Feb.8, 1927 p. 27 b

As a way to draw attention to his farm as day-trip destination the aviation meet hosting was a stroke of genius; the ads prominently featured his farm’s name and press photo captions gave further visibility to his picturesque property.

Flying over Tretheway Model Farm, Star July 9, 1910 p. 1 The Star July 9, 1910 p. 1

See Them Fly ad Star July 2, 1910. p. 16 The Star, July 2, 1910 p 16

map 1910 aviation meet location map 1910 aviation meet location according to aviation historian Carl Mills

Corridor and Runway

The Tretheway Model Farm was located alongside a rail transportation corridor. The GTR and CPR rail lines ran along the east bank of the Humber and an electric radial line offered service from Keele up Weston road. Event organizers constructed station platforms and laid plank sidewalks that led spectators to the farm/aviation field entrance.

For the take-off and landing of the planes, a runway was created by lifting the pea crop and raking all remaining vines. The 600 feet long and 200 feet wide area was sprinkled with water and rolled in an attempt to make it as smooth as pavement.

Plane taking off 1910 w. printed text Airplane taking off 1910

Nevertheless one of the aviators, Count De Lesseps, when asked for his assessment of the field replied, “Well, it is quite long enough, but it is too narrow. On a day with a fairly high wind, as at present, it would hardly be safe to fly. The trouble is that fence at the north end. If the field on the other side was cleared, it would be all right, but when it is in crop, as at present, it will be difficult to land.” According to The Star, the field in question was planted with potatoes. (The Star, July 8, 1910 p.1)

Bird Men

Headlines for the daily articles that ran in The Toronto Daily Star during the eight days of the meet (July 8-16) reflected the popular view of aviators as other-worldly creatures. “A Bird Man Will Try High Flights” (July 7), “Five Times the Bird Men Flew”(July 10)  Some of the bird men were caught by camera earth-bound in a range of activities and moods.

Ralph Johnstone, trained by Orville Wright to put the Wright plane #2 through its paces, was snapped performing a kitchen chair balancing feat perhaps in the restaurant tent that served the thousands of visitors.

 Aviator Ralph Johnstone July 1910 Aviator Ralph Johnstone 
July 1910

Also flying a Wright biplane, on which he had set the Canadian speed record in Montreal, was Parisian DuVal LaChapelle, featured with Johnstone in side by side “at the controls” portraits. (The Star July 8, 1910 p 2)

 Figures at Opening of Aviation Meet, Star July 8, 1910 p2 Figures at Opening of Aviation Meet, The Star July 8, 1910 p2

Piloting the Bleriot monoplanes were American J.G. Stratton

The Canadian Owned Bleriot After the Accident, Star, July 13, 1910 p. 1 The Canadian Owned Bleriot 
After the Accident, The Star, July 13, 1910 p. 1

and Count de Lessep tagged by the plane’s French inventor to present the celebrated model which the previous year had been the first plane to cross the English Channel. The latter, having consented to have his helmeted, goggled and mustached face displayed prominently for event promotion gracefully played the role of the aviation meet’s matinee idol. His cosmopolitan poise was intact even as he looked down on July 13 at one of the wrecked Bleriots, .

Aviation Meet ad Star July 6, 1910 p. 13 The Star, July 6, 1910 p. 13

Count Jacques de Lesseps first airplane crash Toronto 1910 Count Jacques de Lesseps first 
airplane crash Toronto 1910

Mass Spectacle & Summer Sales

Eaton s Ad w. plane World July 6, 1910 p3-page-001 Toronto World July 6, 1910 p3

Hoping to give a flying start to its July Sale Eaton’s showcased a replica of the Farman plane used for a record-breaking London-Manchester flight on the fifth floor of its store. The local dailies in stiff competition for sales published daily photos and news from the Weston farm field. In the tabloid oriented TheToronto World, the latest French sensation—a young girl who had been trained to fly—was presented as the harbinger of an air-born generation.

Youngest Air Child World July 3, 1910 p. 3 Toronto World July 3, 1910 p. 3

Combined admission for round-trip train travel and admission to the “Aviation Field” was $1.00. Spectators could pay for one of the 5,000 grandstand seats, stand in the field or view the action from the comfort of their automobile. The show, screened by a canvas screen along the fence separating the field from the country road, began around 6 p.m. each evening as the wind died down.

spectators stand on billboards to watch first airplane flight, Weston F1244 it67A spectators stand on 
billboards to watch first airplane flight, Weston CTA F1244 it67A


Journalists experimented with novel imagery to capture the momentous events on the farm field. One strategy was to interpret the flying machines in relation to the surrounding animals. A photograph of horses pulling a plane was captioned to highlight the question of whether the work horse had suddenly become an archaic means of heavy transport.

There is Still Use for the Horse, Star July 9, 1910 p. 1 The Star July 9, 1910 p 1

Describing the arrival of Count de Lesseps on the tarmac for the July 9th meet, The Star drew a parallel between the plane at the moment before take-off to a racehorse at the gate:

The next second there was a great cloud of dust as the propeller in front of the Bleriot monoplane No. 9 whizzed around with terrific speed and force in the car was Count de Lesseps. He was at last about to fly

Six men held onto the framework with all their strength. They needed it to hold back the roaring machine which with more power than any race horse was straining to be off. Finally the Count raised his hand, the men let go and the Bleriot bounded on its three wheels along the ground. It had not gone more than ten yards when the Count turned the wheel in front of him which released the elevating tail at the rear and, the machine began to rise slowly and gracefully.

At the Toronto Aviation Meet Weston, Star July 12, 1910 p1 The Star July 12, 1910 p1

The Globe‘s July 9 report from the farm titled “Birds of the Air Fear Aeroplane” opens with the birds’ point of view as they react to the plane as an interloper in their air space.

The excitement of panic-stricken birds at the sight of strange flying creatures, enormous, out of all range of their experience, invading their domain, and buzzing through the air like a million-times magnified bee was among the most curious of the incidents observed during the flights made at the aviation grounds at Weston Saturday night…

Movement and Suspense in the Sky

While the print reporting explored the moving boundaries between what had been mutually alien categories of phenomena: animal, human and machine, the press photographers were also pushed to experiment with new ways to tell the story of what was taking place on the farm.

Images featuring a plane flying over cars neatly capture the kinship between the new motor-powered forms of transport. At the same time, pictures of crowds under the low-flying planes would have been read as records of moments fraught with danger. Planes regularly plummeted from the sky during aviation meets.

airplane flying over a row of automobiles airplane flying over a row of automobiles

Airplane flying over crowd 1910 airplane flying over crowd 1910

The volatile movement of the planes was captured in the many different angles at which it was portrayed silhouetted against the sky. Spectators marveled at the aviators’ ability to use wind direction and movement in concert with machine controls to maintain a stable course, do loops around the field or figure eights in the sky.

Ralph Johnstone flying box kite airplane, 1910 Ralph Johnstone flying box kite airplane, 1910

The aviators, conscious of the need to perform maintained the illusion of a hairs-breath separation between control and disaster.  As the photographers had their cameras turned to the sky, the reporters captured the crowd’s moment by moment reactions to the spectacle on July 10.

airplane in flight

… Johnstone made what was by far the most spectacular flight of the meet, so far. He remained in the air for seven minutes, and went through enough manoeuvres to show that he had perfect control of the machine. At first he went at an altitude of 100 feet. He made the figure eight a couple of times an dthen made some very short turns. On some of these, it looked almost as though the machine were upside down. There was just enough excitement to keep the spectators thoroughly aroused. On one of his circles he wnet quite a distance to the east and passed a short distance over the tops of a grove of trees.

A Beautiful Sight

It was a most beautiful sight to see the white flying monster sailing over the green trees. It was just the beginning of twilight, and the white and green showed up with startling distinctness of dark sky.

Johnstone son began to descend. As he came within 15 feet of the ground in the middle of the filed everyone thought that he was going to land, but he flew along close to the ground. It gave a splendid opportunity to see the machine and its operator in action at close range. Down the field the biplane dashed, with speed equal to an express train. At the extreme east end there is a crop of peas, and the machine just skimmed the top as it made the turn. Up again towards the west it raced, made one more turn close to the ground, and then came to a stop in a cloud of dust.

This time the crowd became enthusiastic. It cheered Johnstone again and again as he made his way to the tent.

Spectators at first flight at Weston, 1910 Spectators at first flight at Weston, 1910

???????????????????????????????flying 18

Further Viewing/Reading

The Dream of Flight: a 2003 Library of Congress online exhibition commemorating the centennial of flight

Nova documentary on Bleriot’s 1909 Crossing of the English Channel on the same model of monoplane used in the Weston Aviation Meet the following year

Nova documentary on the Wright Brothers’ development of the biplane

Wings : a history of aviation from kites to the Wright brothers to the space age by Tom Crouch


1 thought on “flying over the farm

  1. We have reason to believe that the photographs of the crowd enjoying Johnstone’s flight all show the same crowd shot. The plane shots were then superimposed on the one crowd shot. We are in possession of a third example. Two examples are shown here. You will see no difference in the crowd between the two – no head position, arm position, stance has changed, highly unlikely. Also planes are disproportionate in size, and the crowd are not looking at the planes flying high overhead. Interesting.

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