You can’t be in two places at one time — but what if one place has two names?
That’s the philosophical question being bandied about as officials scratch their heads over the naming of Brandon’s airport.
Big white letters over the terminal building spell out "Brandon Municipal Airport," and that name is also what’s used in most official communication about the facility. But smaller signs and a plaque from the early 1970s clearly state it was once designated McGill Field as well.
A bit about Ed
Although Ed McGill wasn’t born in Brandon, he moved here from Vancouver at the age of seven and quickly set down roots. The son of a bank manager, McGill went to Park School in Brandon as well as Brandon Collegiate. He then spent a year at Brandon College before going to Queens University in Kingston, Ont., where he received a bachelor of commerce degree.
In 1933, he was hired by Inco in the smelter and later as an accountant. He worked there until 1939, when he enlisted in the Canadian Air Force as a pilot.
He worked as a flight instructor for two years before marrying Marguerite Eve Shaw in 1942, in Saskatoon. They later had four children.
In 1943 he was posted overseas with 418 City of Edmonton Squadron. McGill flew the De Havilland “Mosquito,” also known as the “Wooden Wonder,” in the Second World War and performed 38 sorties.
After the war, he returned to Brandon. With the aviation industry in a difficult period of post-war turmoil and
readjustment, McGill devoted his energies to retaining the airport’s facilities before the government’s Crown Assets Corporation could sell them all off.
In the early years of the Brandon Flying Club, McGill was chief instructor and he served for more than a quarter-century as its secretary-manager. He was also instrumental in forming Maple Leaf Aviation and helped organize satellite flying schools in Virden, Dauphin, Neepawa and Souris, as well as the Flying Farmers of Manitoba.
From 1952 to 1970, McGill managed the Brandon airport, while also being active with the Kinsmen and the chamber of commerce and serving on the Brandon police commission and the Brandon General Hospital board, among other volunteer activities.
In 1969, he was elected as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Brandon West, a position he was re-elected to in 1973 and 1977 before deciding not to run in 1981. While in office, he served as minister of consumer, corporate and internal service as well as minister without portfolio.
In 1977, he received a Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal.
He died in Brandon on Dec. 3, 1996.
» Brandon Sun/Manitoba Historical Society
Now, airport staff are removing letters from Brandon Municipal Airport signage to help restore the McGill name at the airport — a task that should be complete next week.
The issue came to a head recently when a battered old sign that still bore the McGill Field name came down and was replaced with a new sign for WestJet service.
Patti Mazer noticed the change a few weeks ago while driving to her cabin at Clear Lake. The airport had been named after her father, local aviation pioneer and former Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA Ed McGill.
Patti had her husband, businessman Bob Mazer, make a few calls, and the city said that removing McGill’s name from the sign had been an inadvertent oversight and that they were hoping to honour the McGill Field name during planned airport upgrades.
But did that clear everything up? No.
"This whole naming thing is really confusing," said airport manager Tim Sanderson.
Just last week, Sanderson said he was ready to move forward with the McGill Field name, which he liked the ring of. Now, though, newly unearthed paperwork from the 1970s is throwing a wrench in everything.
Staff at city hall have dug up copies of documents from then that seem to show the McGill Field name was more of a local moniker than an official airport name.
In fact, although a Brandon Sun article from January 1971 says that the then-minster of transportation approved the name change, a letter from the federal Department of Transport sent just a month earlier appears to slam the door shut on the McGill Field renaming.
"The old practice of naming airports after individuals who contributed to aviation in their respective locations was found confusing and impractical and … this practice has been discontinued," says the December 1970 letter from P.E. Arpin, then the regional controller for civil aviation with the federal Department of Transport.
"Airports are now named after their respective communities or area that they serve and, with all due respect to Mr. E. McGill’s contributions to the Brandon Airport and aviation in the area, an exception cannot be favourably reviewed."
The letter also threw cold water on Brandon’s efforts to upgrade its airport from a municipal designation to an "international airport," noting that international airports had to serve large populations of 225,000 or more, have frequent large flights and be strategically located along major routes.
The letter ended on a positive note, suggesting that although the airport name couldn’t be changed, no one would mind if Brandonites called it McGill Field on their own.
"While your request is regrettably denied," Arpin wrote, "we would have no objections if (it) is locally referred to as … ‘McGill Field’ and so inscribed on the airport sign under the official title …and in somewhat smaller letters."
Transport Canada wasn’t able to immediately comment on current policies regarding airport names. A spokeswoman spent several days trying to dig up information about either airport renamings or archives about the Brandon airport’s official name.
"Transport Canada registers aerodromes in accordance with the Canadian Aviation Regulations," wrote Transport Canada spokeswoman Jill Ritchot. "Our regulations do not govern the naming of aerodromes."
She suggested a call to NAV Canada.
But a NAV Canada spokesman said the agency was interested in "aircraft control only" and that the name of the airport was not in its hands. He said all that mattered to NAV Canada was the three- or four-letter airport code, which in Brandon’s case is YBR or CYBR.
It appears though, that in recent years, exceptions to the no-personal-names rule can be finagled for some airports, for some reasons.
In 2006, the Winnipeg International Airport was renamed after J.A. Richardson, but the airport also kept its geographic designation, so the airport’s official name is now the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport. That’s a mouthful on par with the MontréalPierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport or the Saskatoon John G. Diefenbaker International Airport.
"The most important thing is that it needs to have a geographical designation," Sanderson said, after he had a chance to look over some of the criticism from the 1970s.
"We’ve done a little bit of digging and it’s all coming together … At least now we know what we don’t know."
Sanderson added that an official renaming request might end up saddling the city with "The Brandon McGill Regional Airport, which gets somewhat cumbersome in the wording."
It also makes it sound like "Brandon" was McGill’s first name, he noted.
For now, airport staff will be replacing signage at the airport entrance to say "Welcome to McGill Field, Brandon Municipal Airport." A similar sign will be place near the jet just off Highway 10.
"We want to have some visibility from the highway," Sanderson said.
He also left the door open to renaming specific portions of the airport, like the terminal building itself.
"It’s still important to honour McGill," he said, "and I think that’s what we’re doing."
» Twitter: @Gramiq