Toronto Pearson International Airport is the 31st busiest airport in the world, and the biggest in Canada. In 2009 it was ranked number 38, and handled 20 million less people a year than it does today. That’s substantial growth and it’s only going to continue.
However, as things move forward, we like to take a step back to remember where we came from. As such, today we’re jumping way back in time to look at the evolution and growth of Pearson Airport. And to do that we have to go back to 1937 when the area was nothing but fields and undeveloped land, and the soon-to-be airport wasn’t even named after Lester B. Pearson.
The land was purchased in 1935 from Frank Chapman, who owned and operated a farm on it. The government sought the area to build the first international airport for Toronto and laid out the tracks for the runways as seen above. You might think it looks like a completely desolate and unremarkable area and you would be right, which is what made it perfect for an airport.
The farmhouse was converted into the first passenger terminal which, back then had an observation deck on top so people could watch the planes take-off, and thus Malton Airport was born. The airport consisted of only two runways and just two airlines; Trans-Canada Air Lines and American Airlines. The former (which would later become Air Canada) ran regular flights to various U.S States and a few domestic ones.
To say those old planes would be frightening to us today would be an understatement; they would rattle so hard during take-off and turbulence would make the plane bounce almost uncontrollably. Not to mention they lacked all of the comfort and amenities we get nowadays, although there was a probably a little more legroom.
Malton Airport grew slowly over the course of the next 25 years, before being sold to Transport Canada and being renamed Toronto International Airport – it would be a further 24 years before it was named after Lester B. Pearson.
The newly named airport received a fourth and more substantial terminal. A nearby building, used as a warehouse at the time, was converted into a passenger hub to attempt to deal with overcrowding – as has seemingly always been the case with Canada, the country was growing faster than the infrastructure could handle.
Major remodelling and construction occurred during the 1960’s and 70’s, with a multi-storey car park going up and the passenger building getting a total makeover to include windows, of all things. By this point, there was more than a dozen airlines operating through Toronto International Airport.
In news that may come as a surprise to some younger readers, what we now know as Terminal 1 wasn’t actually built until 2004! It was a monumental project that pretty much completely changed the look of the airport. The project cost $4.4 billion, built the terminal, a new runway, terminal 3, and the monorail that connects the buildings.
The image above is of the airport today. In 2019 the airport handles more than 50 million flights a year, which means well over 1000 a day. And, not that anyone wants to hear about disasters or crashes, but in its 80 year history there have only been 9 incidents at Pearson Airport. Only two of those have occurred since the early 1980’s and neither resulted in any fatalities. Those are quite incredible statistic and should go some way to assuaging any fears you may have in regards to flying.
It’s quite incredible to see just how far the airport has come in that near century. Today more than 75 airlines assist in Pearson International Airport delivering customers all over the world, but the growth isn’t over quite yet. In fact, Pearson International Airport will be getting another grand redevelopment in the not-too-distant future that aims to outdo everything that has come before.
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) proposed some major changes to Pearson Airport earlier this year, which include a huge Regional Transit Centre, a substantial commercial area, and an initiative to make the area more green. The proposed changes aim to reduce traffic flow in and around the airport, to make it a more enjoyable experience for customers, to better connect the airport to the rest of the GTA, and to improve the overall look of the area.
This new master plan will fundamentally change Toronto Pearson International Airport, but somewhat ironically bring it back to the more scenic look of the original Malton Airport. As Canada and the GTA continue to grow at an unprecedented rate, it only makes sense that so does the airport. There’s always room for improvement and we’re excited to see what comes next, but we think it’s not too shabby as is.
Photos courtesy of The Toronto Archives.