Airport Turns Eighty

Posted by Daniel on Aug 18, 2011

You know that movie a couple of years back starring Tom Hanks about a guy who is trapped in a New York city airport terminal? (Not surprisingly, it was called The Terminal.) It comes to mind this week as the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) celebrates its 80th birthday. The airport authority has chosen to mark the anniversary by installing its own Tom Hanks-like character out at the terminal. He is Jaeger Mah, a 29-year-old art school graduate from Port Alberni, and for 80 days, starting yesterday, he'll be in residence at YVR, meeting people and "sharing the stories of the airport" according to its website. If you're passing through, you'll find Jaeger at the Haida Gwaii sculpture in the International Terminal.

The airport officially opened on July 22, 1931 at its Sea Island location, replacing a temporary airfield that had been operating on Lulu Island for the previous four years. It was a big deal, a sign that Vancouver had joined the big leagues. Premier Simon Fraser Tolmie made the trip over from Victoria to officiate. All available aircraft were lined up along the single runway. A brass band played, flags flew and a congratulatory telegram from the Prince of Wales was read to the crowd of several thousand people.

Lunch was served to the dignitaries in one of the hangars. Vancouver mayor Louis Taylor was there, taking deserved credit for getting the airport off the ground. It had been his meeting with American aviator Charles Lindbergh in 1927 that had convinced Taylor that his city needed a landing field to take advantage of the amazing growth of commercial aviation. But the celebration did not go well for Taylor. The next day he took sick with a mysterious ailment, something akin to acute arthritis, and he spent the next several months in hospital before recovering.

Taylor was not the only casualty of the opening ceremony. When some of the local bigwigs went up in a plane to tour the area, one of them, a city alderman, got airsick and threw up in the police chief's hat.

The airport had a few thousand customers that first year of operation. In 2011, YVR processed 16.8 million passengers.