The History of the Kelowna and District Flying Club
Representing general aviation and private aviators for 85 years in the Kelowna area.
The Dirt-Strip 30’s
The earliest records recognize a group of pilots with a variety of small aircraft using a 1500 foot rough-leveled, dirt base airstrip on a 320 acre ranch known as the Ellison Field. In 1946 Kelowna residents narrowly voted in favour (466 to 460) of purchasing the ranch at a capital cost of $20,000 to serve as the community airport. The Grand Opening of Ellison Field was celebrated in 1947. The easterly portion of the property was resold to Mr. A.C. Taylor, and in 1948 the landing strip was lengthened to 3000 feet by 300 feet wide and planted with grass. (1)
The First Hangar
Built by the City of Kelowna in 1949, and Mr. Cliff Renfrew built the first private hangar; his plane is believed to be the first private plane to land on the field. The Grand Opening, complete with a big air-show, was held on August 1, 1949; the largest plane landing up to that date was a DC-3.
From Grass to Grave
Throughout the next decade (1950’s) the demand for better service at Ellison Field, and particularly constant lobbying of then Mayor Dick Parkinson, resulted in the federal Department of Transport helping to gravel the airstrip, and pave a parking lot and aircraft parking apron. Canadian Pacific Airlines introduced daily, scheduled DC-3 service to Vancouver in 1958, prompting the City to begin negotiations with the federal government for a longer paved airstrip. (2) On August 11, 1960 George Hees, Conservative Minister of Transport, officially opened Kelowna Airport with the firing of a pistol. (3)
We’ve Come A Long Way Baby!
The private aviators that initiated the current airport have carried on a long and proud presence at the Ellison Field. Originally incorporated as a Society in 1973, the club occupied the original ‘old terminal building’ after the new one was built at the south end of the runway in the 1970’s; around the same time that the new air traffic control tower was built to replace the original tower located on the deck of a flatbed truck. (4) The ‘old terminal building’ was home to the club members for decades; the club recently moved into the ‘new-old BCIT portable building’ in 2006.
The original Society was struck from the Registrar in 1982 after a period of not attending to the required provincial paperwork. The (current) Kelowna and District Flying Club was incorporated on April 4, 1984 and carries on today. Cliff Renfrew was recognized as the oldest pilot in area and made an honourary life-time member of the Club in April 1985.
Current long-time members of the club have many tales of working with and supporting past administration to help the airport grow through its start up stages, and the Club continues to support general and private aviation interests within the community and district today.
Researched and authored by Pamela Nelson, 2014.
- Ellison Centennial Committee. The History of Ellison District 1858 – 1958. Kelowna : Ellison Centennial Committee, 1987.
- City of Kelowna. Airport History. Kelowna International Airport. [Online] [Cited: November 18, 2014.]
- Kelowna Centennial Museum. A Pictoral History of Kelowna. Kelowna BC. [Online] [Cited: December 17, 2014.]
- The 1912 Elison School Centennial Committee. First 100 Years Ellison School and District. Kelowna : The 1912 Elison School Centennial Committee, 2012.