In September 1956 when flying pioneers Mel Hough, Ed Shaw, Clarence Sicotte, Ray Johnson, Art Tomsett, Bob Ritchey, Don Head, Ed Turner, Chester Day and John Wood formed the local flying club in Gibsons, they had a dream and a vision of one day seeing a municipal airport on the Sunshine Coast.
In the years that followed, these men worked tirelessly to lobby the governments of the day to operate an airport, registered the Elphinstone Aero Club as a non-profit organization to be the lobby group and helped clear the land for the airport space.
Sicotte was involved from the beginning. Along with partner Ritchey, a man Sicotte credits with the vision to create the airport where it sits today, they cleared the trees to create the 800 foot (240 metre) strip where pilot Roy Brett landed in 1957 — the first landing at the yet to be completed Sechelt/Gibsons municipal airport.
Ritchey pushed the villages of Sechelt and Gibsons to approach the senior government, and his efforts were key in getting the grant that allowed the runway to be extended to 2,000 feet (600 metres). Brett and his son Chuck Mitten were awarded the construction contract and five months later in a simple ribbon cutting, Lt.-Gov. G.R. Pearkes officially opened the new airport.
Oh, how proud they must be today — 50 years later — to see all that they and many other volunteers have accomplished. We know Sicotte was proud — you could see it on his face last Saturday morning at the 50th anniversary celebration of the airport.
Much work was done 50 years ago and much more work is still needed to bring the airport to even greater heights.
For many years now the airport improvement project has been talked about and debated at the District of Sechelt. Previous councils have lobbied for funding — some receiving grants from government and other agencies — but they were unable to keep the improvement project on track.
Now the present council have committed funds to a committee and are working with several community partners to get the project up in the air again. The airport has been and could be a huge economic driver for the whole Sunshine Coast. Why this project has not been completed yet is a question for the politicians to answer. All we know is that time is long overdue to finish what Sicotte and his fellow flying pioneers started in 1956.
Don’t let their efforts be for naught. Let’s get our airport up and running in an even bigger way. Let’s make their flying vision started 50 years ago a reality and soar to new heights.