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A Look Back: Parting ways with the past

The aviation industry is replete with companies that provide excellent service but, because of the vagaries of the industry, find cause to leave the field.

March 22, 2012  By Wings Magazine

The aviation industry is replete with companies that provide excellent service but, because of the vagaries of the industry, find cause to leave the field.

Summer, 1930: Leavens Brothers Air Service heads out to Western Canada, reaching as far as the foothills of the Rockies, before returning to Belleville on Oct. 7, 1930. Total flying time per AAR logbook, 224.7 hours.
PHOTO: Leavens Aviation


One of the most notable, to date, in Canada has been Wardair, whose owner, Max Ward, developed the airline into an icon due to the superb service it gave its customers. The quality of service was excellent from top to bottom yet the company failed because of its inability, in a very competitive market, to find enough domestic passengers for international flights.

Another Canadian firm, Leavens Aviation, finds itself in a similar situation. The company was formed in 1927, which makes it an octogenarian in the life of the industry, surely an accomplishment of its own. However, after 84 years of service, the family-owned business is closing up shop.


Leavens was formed in Belleville, Ont., and, like a number of other aviation enthusiasts at the time, started a barnstorming business with the well-known Curtiss JN-4 Jenny, an American training aircraft. The founders were three Leavens brothers and for 10 years, they practised their craft across Canada. The Leavens brothers were wise enough to see that the age of barnstorming was coming to an end and, to get closer to the current action, they decided to move operations to Barker Field, on the east side of Dufferin Street, a stone’s throw away from Toronto’s Downsview Airport. Few Canadians will be acquainted with the name, but Billy Barker was Canada’s most decorated flier in the First World War. After the war, he helped form the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and then went into partnership with Billy Bishop, whose name now graces Toronto Island Airport as well as the one at Owen Sound, Ont.

The Second World War brought an unexpected opportunity to Leavens Aviation, as it did to a number of other private aviation companies. In 1939, the RCAF did not have adequate personnel available to carry out many of the training tasks required for RCAF intakes, not to mention those of the BCATP (British Commonwealth Air Training Plan). Leavens was one of those companies called upon to provide this expertise. To accomplish the goal, personnel moved to London, Ont., to carry out the training during the war for No. 4 Air Observers School at the RCAF station there. At the same time, the operaton diversified to include forest spraying, charter and aerial photography.

In 1945, Leavens returned to Barker Airport and stayed there even after the field was sold in 1953. The company also expanded its services to include aircraft repair and overhaul as well as an aircraft parts business. Eventually, this side of the business developed into a worldwide operation. The firm also expanded to Western Canada, near Calgary airport, to service that part of the country.

The lure of Toronto’s Malton airport, some 10 miles to the west of Barker Field, was irresistible for many aviation companies and Leavens followed suit. A new 30,000-square-foot plant was constructed at the north end of the airport in 1972, just to the side of the 15/33 threshold.

Leavens has been a family-owned business since its inception, a feat few companies can claim.

In a final letter to customers, president Jeff Leavens thanked them for their continued support for more than eight decades. The Leavenses can take pride in their accomplishments; theirs is truly one of the iconic companies in the Canadian aviation world. 


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