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Buttonville Flying Club charts its next chapter with airport set to close 

By Ben Forrest | November 29, 2023

Estimated reading time 9 minutes, 9 seconds.

A member of the ground crew guides a general aviation plane during a Young Eagles Rally at Buttonville Airport. Robert Kisin Photo

It was a serious occasion with no room for error, a personal milestone Erica Peterson will likely remember the rest of her life. But looking back, she can’t help but laugh. 

As a young flight student, Peterson strode the ramp at Buttonville Airport, running pre-flight checks on a single-engine Cessna 172 and thinking through the flight plan for her first solo. Meanwhile, a group of actors shouted and mimed their way through a military scene nearby.  

“There was a film shoot going on, and it was very bizarre,” said Peterson, an aerospace engineer, private pilot, and member of the Buttonville Flying Club executive committee.  

“They were all dressed in military fatigues, enacting a battle or something like that … as I was having this momentous occasion for myself. But my first solo went very well.  

“I remember taking off and feeling the aircraft almost bounce off the ground without the weight of my instructor in it. And on the downwind, I looked down at runway 33 and it was beautiful.”  

These kinds of memories are part of the emotional tapestry of Buttonville Airport and its eponymous flying club, who will part ways after more than 50 years when the airport closes for good on Nov. 30. 

The flying club, founded in 1969 and re-established as a non-profit organization in 1992 — also known as COPA Flight 44 — has moved out of its clubhouse at Buttonville’s Hangar 15.  

Buttonville Flying Club has been an outlet for passionate aviators in the Greater Toronto Area for more than 50 years. Robert Kisin Photo

Its final monthly meeting in that space took place on the second Wednesday of October, a night of nostalgia, followed by a potluck and annual general meeting in the terminal building on Nov. 8. 

And while there’s no lack of disappointment about Buttonville’s closure, the club intends to carry on in its current form, keeping its existing name — for now, at least — and maintaining the close friendships, safety seminars, and family-like atmosphere it has enjoyed for decades. 

“We are not disbanding,” said Peterson, a single-engine pilot with a night rating, who is also a researcher at the Institute for Aerospace Studies at the University of Toronto.  

“We are continuing as a general Toronto-area pilots association … and we’ve identified some meeting space close to Buttonville Airport where we will continue to have hybrid monthly meetings.”  

Buttonville Flying Club has more than 200 members from many corners of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and was never exclusive to the airport that shares its name. Members are hangared at airports in Oshawa, Burlington, Kitchener, Brampton, Ont., and many others.  

None of that is expected to change any time soon.  

The club’s fly-outs, movie nights, meet-ups for coffee, safety training, and online communities — including a members-only WhatsApp group chat — will continue for the foreseeable future.  

An aerial view of Buttonville Airport. The beloved GA facility is set to close for good on Nov. 30, 2023. Tom Podolec Photo

“[We’re] sad that the bonds that many of our members have made over the years will fray, as there will not be the physical airport as a base,” said David Sprague, president of Buttonville Flying Club, in an emailed statement.  

“But on the upside, it is also a chance for our members to make new connections where they end up. It will also be an opportunity for them to continue to help others in the spirt of safety and good airmanship that Buttonville has established and will continue to promulgate.” 

Aside from being a close-knit social group, the flying club is also a crucial venue for sharing knowledge and gaining or maintaining skill in the cockpit. Peterson noted this is especially important for newer pilots who may not have the same access to mentorship and training that commercial pilots have. 

“It’s great to have that support structure, to learn from other people and have sort of an environment where you’re comfortable asking questions,” said Peterson.  

“Or, getting feedback on problems you encountered or decisions you made, or sharing what you’ve learned from your flying to someone who’s newer than yourself, possibly. It’s an environment that is very conducive to learning and improving safety and knowledge.”  

Runway decommissioning at Buttonville Airport began the week of Nov. 20, and a source told Skies that flight operations ceased entirely at 11 a.m. on Nov. 24, when the second runway closed.  

The club is not planning a formal gathering when the airport closes for good on Thursday this week, but members have been sharing memories in Facebook groups and elsewhere. 

In January, they plan to reconvene both in person and online from a new meeting location, which Peterson declined to identify. She noted the new space is not housed at an airport.  

One of Buttonville Flying Club’s final events at the soon-to-close airport was a potluck in the terminal building. Simon Lam Photo

So, while sadness lingers, the airport’s closure is also seen as a new beginning. 

“It’s the same as any place where you have good memories with people that you care about, and events that meant a lot to you,” said Peterson.  

“Everyone will move forward and create new memories at other airports, hopefully with the same group of people. On the one hand, it’s extremely sad, what’s happened to the airport. But things move on, and we’ll create new memories, have new fly-outs from other airports, and hopefully maintain the same social environment we’ve had for decades now.”  

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1 Comment

  1. My son, now a 787 F.O.with AC, took some of his early flight instruction at Buttonville over 20 years ago and I always enjoyed my visits there when I accompanied him. Shame to hear of it’s closing but it has served many folks very well over the years and germinated some worthwhile flying careers. Good luck to all members.

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