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Flights into history marked with new sign at Lansdowne Middle School

The Lansdowne Middle School Flyers have perhaps the most appropriate team nickname in the region, considering that the site of their school was home to Victoria’s first airport from 1928 to 1931.
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Education Minister Rob Fleming, right, with students after unveiling a sign marking Lansdowne Middle School's aviatic past on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017. The former aerodrome was the spot where William Wallace Gibson took off on Sept. 8, 1910, in a plane he designed and built.

The Lansdowne Middle School Flyers have perhaps the most appropriate team nickname in the region, considering that the site of their school was home to Victoria’s first airport from 1928 to 1931.

That also explains their unusually large playing fields — big enough to accommodate airport activity — which cover the majority of the school’s sprawling 10-hectare site.

A provincial government sign marking the school’s aviatic past was unveiled Wednesday at the Lansdowne Road site, known in its airport heyday as Lansdowne Field, specifically recognizing the fact that the former aerodrome was the spot where William Wallace Gibson took off on Sept. 8, 1910, in a plane he designed and built.

The Gibson Twin was hailed as the first all-Canadian aircraft to take flight, Victoria-Swan Lake MLA and Education Minister Rob Fleming said at the sign unveiling. “So a major milestone in the aviation history of the country and also a site of technological innovation and serious bragging rights for Victoria in terms of having, I suppose, a nascent areospace industry way back in the day.”

The plane flew for 61 metres at a height of six metres, according to the Canadian Museum of Flight.

The “stop of interest” signs are put up in places “where history was literally made,” Fleming said.

Another one was unveiled Monday in Nanaimo to honour the remarkable soccer career of late-19th century, early-20th century Snuneymuxw First Nation member Harry Manson, who played a major role in breaking down racial barriers.

Fleming said Lansdowne students are helping to carry on history when they compete for their school.

“It’s still the home of the Flyers.”

Students wearing school gear were enthusiastic participants in Wednesday’s ceremony, pulling the plastic covering from the sign. The sign is near the edge of the school property and large enough to be seen from a distance, Fleming said. “This is something the people of Victoria are going to enjoy for a long time.”

The current school building goes back to the 1950s. Part of the school was built to resemble an airplane hangar, as a nod to the past.

“This was a fast-growing area of densification in Saanich and Victoria at the time,” Fleming said.

Lansdowne principal Sean Powell said sharing the school site’s past is a positive step.

“I’ve had some conversations of late with people in our community that were unaware of our history,” he said. “I’m excited, and kids spread the word faster than anybody.”

The 75th anniversary of Gibson’s flight was marked in 1985 with the placement of a cairn on the Richmond Road side of the property, while a replica of his plane is displayed in Sidney’s B.C. Aviation Museum.

jwbell@timescolonist.com