Downsview hangars at risk of demolition

The following is a cross-post of a missive sent out by Lloyd Alter, President of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario late last week. Two hangers at Downsview are slated for imminent demolition, but there may be time to stop it. When Downsview is finally (one day….one day) developed as a proper urban park, you can imagine the many ways these fine structures could be incorporated. Think of 401 Richmond, or the Artscape Whychwood Barns on Christie. Or even indoor soccer.

The Department of Defence is demolishing two world war 2 vintage hangars at Downsview Airport. Being the Feds, they don’t need a demolition permit and just go ahead and do it, even though they’re deemed significant and gained Recognized federal heritage building status. “Recognized” is the second of two levels of heritage status, the uppermost being Classified.

You have to wonder sometimes what people are thinking. Huge, clear span structures, spectacular lighting from those windows on the roof, close to the subway and highways, you could put these buildings to so many kinds of uses. But to the Department of National Defence they are just rusting inventory, so they are tearing them down….

Toronto Heritage developer Paul Oberman says stop. He wants to restore them and put them to use again, to make yet another landmark in Toronto. (And his track record is pretty good.) So email The Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence (email or snailmail addresses here) and ask him to stop this waste, and give us a chance to look at alternatives.


  1. Oh, Spacing headline writers … you mean ‘hangars,’ not ‘hangers.’

  2. Thank you, Peter. Like the Toronto Star, we’ve outsourced our copy editing and headline writers offshore — there are still some wrinkles to iron out.

  3. It was the Diefenbacher Conservative Government which axed the Avro Arrow program and physically dismantled each and every plane.

    In hindsight, most everybody realizes the colossal mistake that was to our City and Canada’s then leadership in the aerospace industry.

    These two hangars may not look like much, yet ghosts of the Avro Arrow era echoed whenever I passed by the base and looked at them in the distance.

    And that’s the point. It is important to keep pivotal buildings around and not send them out to pasture, for when we pass by them, even if for a moment, we connect to who the City was, and who to we are today.

    Apparently, the Harper Conservative (Minority) Government is finishing off what little was left by Diefenbacher.

  4. These certainly are fine structures and living near the new Whychwood Barns, it’s obvious to me how they could become a defining element of a great piece of parkland. While I’m no architect or urban planner, I hope that proper due-dilligence is done before any demolition, it would be a shame for them to disappear without a thought or care.

  5. I sent an e-mail to the Minister of National Defence e-mail address there. Thanks for the link!

  6. I work at the government building up the road. I’d kill to see this dept or another fed dept. redevelop the existing hangars into a new work space worthy of LEED/Architectural awards…Im imagining roof top greenery, open light filled work spaces will a short stroll to Downsview Stn…how great would that be…of course the bulk of the staff that drive would be ticked that they had to drive further into the city.. If they want to preserve these structure they better hustle…the hangar doors are already torn of last week that is..

  7. They shouldn’t destroy these relevant pieces of Cold War Canadian history.

  8. Thank you for your support. DND is proceeding with the demolition of these important buildings because they do not believe the public cares enought to save them. Please write The Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defense at and express your concerns.

  9. I don’t know anything personally about the Downsview hangars, but at other locations where the feds have had WWII and earlier DND buildings, they investigated repurposing the buildings and found it to be impractical, mostly because of the simple (and shoddy) construction and the asbestos insulation everywhere. By the time you were done taking the asbestos out, you would hardly have had any building left.

    Not saying it shouldn’t be done, but the issue may be more complex than at first sight.

  10. I’m not an asbestos expert by any means, mike, but if we chuck’d out every building that had the stuff, no heritage bldns would be left. No 1960s schools, etc. A valid point though about the cost — maybe Paul Oberman could respond to this point, as he is the expert in favour of saving. A developer like Oberman wouldn’t call for saving a building like this unless it was economically…realistic.

  11. Thanks for letting me know. Those hangars have been a fixture in my neighbourhood. I have been sadden to see them vandalized over the last couple of years. I find it ironic to have learned about this during Remembrance Day. I would hope the Canadian government does not forget about these spaces where Canada’s position in the world took flight.

    To help with the letter campaign don’t forget to send a letter to Ken Dryden ( He’s the MP in my riding.

  12. Downsizing Downsview

    Thanks for this wake up call. The government is too eager to demolish buildings on its bases. There’s little for anyone who grew up in those small “towns” to go back to. Let us keep at least a piece of “home.” And let the country keep its history. Destruction is not progress.

  13. For many years I used to be in those buildings (sometimes 3 or 4 days a week) when I was a teenager in air cadets, lots of great memories.

    It would be great if they could be turned into public recreational facilities or training facilities for the military (they were for the last few years until thy got condemned).

    But I also remember that the buildings were literally falling apart, I’d imagine it would take a huge investment to get the structures up to code…

  14. It’s official, just received a letter from Ken Dryden, MP for York Centre. Mr. Dryden has also submitted his letter of support to Minister MacKay to save buildings 55 & 58 on Downsview Airport.

  15. It’s been a week since I wrote an email on this topic and I still haven’t had a response from Peter MacKay. Ken Dryden’s a great idea too, but you could also try writing to the Assistant Deputy Minister who’s REALLY making the decisions here…

  16. According to Heritage Toronto, “the Downsview Hangars have been granted a 60-day reprieve from demolition”. Read more herehere.

  17. So Mr. Oberman, I assume that you and your supporters are willing to reimburse the Department of National Defence (read taxpayers) for the construction delay claims that will be incurred as a result of your actions. I think everyone should be made aware that halting a construction project like this is not without significant financial impact and it will ultimately be borne by the taxpaper.

  18. Just as I suspected, Mr. MacKay has ordered the demolition to proceed. I was told that the cost for delay of this project is $20,000 a week. I can guess who’s on the hook for the money, not Oberman you can bet.

  19. I am quite shocked at the decision to knock these to buildings down. But the decision looks final and with a $20k per week cost for standing time you can be sure that this is going to happen. This is not like an ordinary house demolition if enough people group together I am sure there will be some response.
    We tried a similar thing in the Uk at West Malling airfield but it was to little to late. Best of luck , you have my support.

  20. It really bugs me that we taxpayers are on the hook for the costs related to the work stoppage because anyone can throw a wrench into the works and do it without financial risk to themselves. That money could have been put to a much more benefical uses. The waste just keeps on going.

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