NORTH DURHAM: In June, federal Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty pushed the Pickering Airport back into the limelight with an announcement that the proposed airport would be proceeding, sending shockwaves throughout the North Durham community.
The saga of the Pickering Airport has been playing out since the early 1970s, and Scugog Township once played a key role in the proceedings.
In May of 1971, the federal government pared down their initial list of 57 potential sites for the GTA’s second international airport to four secret locations.
Although the actual list of sites remained a closely guarded secret, Scugog Island quickly emerged as the rumoured preferred location for the airport.
Local residents quickly sprung into action, forming the Scugog Protective Committee (SPC), with Peter Redman serving as Chair of the group.
After a report in June of that year pegged the cost of the airport for the province as high as one billion dollars in roads, sewers, water and rapid transit, the SPC made a historic presentation to Don Jamieson, the federal Minister of Transportation in July of 1971.
During the presentation, the group shared their concerns over the project with Mr. Jamieson. Among the issues presented by the SPC were severe alterations to the ecosystem of Lake Scugog, as well as harmful pollution to the surrounding areas due to jet exhaust and potential fuel run-off.Mr. Jamieson left the presentation assuring the group that the federal government shared their concerns for the area in the event that it was chosen as the proposed airport’s location.
"I would like to assure you that the importance of conservation is one of the points which will be given very serious consideration before the final decision on a location for the airport is resolved," said Mr. Jamieson.
In August of 1971, the SPC found an ally in their fight to keep the proposed airport off Scugog Island.
The Cartwright Ratepayers Association (CRA) - which was largely made up of cottagers - overwhelmingly approved the idea to join up with the SPC, with 95 per cent of its members voting in favour of the measure.
The CRA came out in support of keeping the airport off Scugog Island, hoping to preserve the natural habitat.
"If the government chooses Scugog, it wouldn’t be too many years before Scugog would cease to be an island," said CRA member Edward Glithero, of Woodstock.
Among the recommendations made by the CRA, was that the government look at a location on the site of Camp Borden near Barrie, as the government already owned the land. As well, the CRA claimed an airport at that location would not interfere with cottages, homes or industry.
Speculation surrounding the airport heated up again in the early portion of 1972, when a site near Claremont emerged as the new rumoured front-runner for the proposed airport.
However, not all of those in the area agreed with the speculation about the airport’s final destination.
"There’s no doubt (the airport) will be in the east Metro area, but I think it’s more likely to be in Scott Township, north of Uxbridge Township," claimed then Pickering Deputy Reeve George Ashe.
Aside from rumours about the airport possibly be located in Scott Township (near Sandford), there was also speculation that a site near the borders of Reach, Cartwright and Darlington Townships (Burketon) was also under consideration by the federal government.
The rumours and speculation finally came to an end on Thursday, March 3, 1972, when Jamieson and Ontario Treasurer Darcy McKeough jointly announced that the new airport would be built in Pickering Township.
The pair also announced that a new city named Cedarwood would be created over the next 20 years in the immediate area of the airport, with an expected population of 150,000.
Work was expected to begin on the Pickering Airport later in 1972, with a completion date set for the end of the decade. Cedarwood was to be completed by 1990. The total cost of the project was estimated to be two billion dollars (almost 12 billion dollars in 2013).
For those on council at the time, the lasting memory of Scugog’s airport saga is the way the community rallied together against the proposal.
"The people we dead set against it," said former Scugog Councillor and Mayor Howard Hall. "The general public didn’t want anything to do with an Island airport. It seemed like a crazy idea at the time, to put an airport right in the middle of an island with cottages on every side. The runway would’ve had to be right down the centre, where Island Rd. is."
Another former Scugog Mayor, Jerry Taylor, also served on council at the time of the airport speculation, representing Ward 3 (which includes Scugog Island), and like Mr. Hall remembers fierce opposition in the community.
"No one wanted an airport. I can’t recall anyone supporting it in the area," Mr. Taylor recalled. "There was a lot of unrest for awhile, and a lot of rumours. It was hard to keep track of what was true and hat wasn’t. The real major concern was the environment, and the marshland around the island, and it was unanimous among residents that they didn’t want any kind of airport on Scugog Island."