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Kelowna International Airport looks back on 75 years

YLW started out as a 320-acre field purchased for $20,000
Undated photo of Kelowna Airport. (Courtesy City of Kelowna)

In late 1947 an aircraft took off from a 3,000-foot-long grass airstrip, with a small terminal building, at the north end of Kelowna. It was the first flight to lift off from what was then called Ellison Field. The year before, Kelowna residents voted 466 to 460 in favour of purchasing the 320-acre Dickson Ranch, a tobacco farm, for $20,000 (nearly $300,000 in 2022) to make way for what is now Kelowna International Airport.

“The people who put the proposal together and fought for it were certainly visionaries,” said Sam Samaddar, airport director. “We’ve come a long way. When I first came here, Penticton, Kamloops and Kelowna were handling around the same number of people in terms of traffic. To see Kelowna speed ahead to become the tenth busiest airport in the country, and the second busiest in the province, we’ve seen some amazing growth over the years.”

YLW is celebrating its 75 anniversary this year. Samaddar has been at the airport for 30 years, becoming director in 2008, and sees a bright future for the facility.

“I think when we look at the next 75 years there will be lots of discussion about what happened over the last 150 years. Aviation in the Okanagan goes back to the early 1900s when they had triplanes and biplanes.”

The anniversary theme is 75 Trips Around the Sun, and it will be a year-long celebration, including a visit from the world-renowned Canadian Forces 431 Air Demonstration Squadron.

“We’ve confirmed with the Canadian Snowbirds that they will be here July 9 and 10,” said Samaddar. “Two shows over the water which will be a great opportunity for the community to see the Snowbirds. It’s been about eight years since they’ve done a show here over Kelowna.”

Other celebrations will include contests and flight giveaways, as well as community contributions.

“We’ll be asking them to share their photographs of going through the airport over time,” added Samaddar. “We’ll probably get some beautiful, historical photos out of that as well.”

Samaddar also gave a nod to KF Aerospace, which started operation at YLW in 1970.

“We’ve got the KF Centre for Excellence which is a legacy project with KF, they’ve been a partner with us for 53 years,” he said. “As part of that building is an exhibit that celebrates the rich history of aviation in the Okanagan. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture with working vintage aircraft that will be stored in the wings of that building.”

Samaddar added it also celebrates an opportunity to look at the future of YLW facilities and attract young people to aviation by showing them how an airport or airplane operates.

Read More: Kelowna’s KF Aerospace launches passenger charter service

Read More: Kelowna airport collects $3.2M in federal funding to help with COVID costs


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Gary Barnes

About the Author: Gary Barnes

Journalist and broadcaster for three decades.
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