Since my wife and I moved from Winnipeg, MB to Markham, ON, we immediately fell in love with the back roads of this area. Traveling between small towns, we see farms, woods, and beautiful tree-covered properties, nestled in this idyllic ride through Ontario’s countryside. (top photo courtesy of the Canadian Jewish News)
If you are traveling on Elgin Mills Road, between Ninth Line and hwy 48, if the corn fields are not too high, a trained eye will spot something quite unusual, a Cold War-era fighter jet, a beaten-up F-86 Sabre, sitting on a field. Beside it, another classic fighter, a wingless F-104 Starfighter. For a military aviation aficionado like myself, spotting this kind of machinery is like finding a treasure. I immediately started digging for some information about those planes and this is what I found.
From far away, it is kind of hard to tell but the planes are parked on the grounds of Markham Airport, a little facility of 200 acres, tucked away in between corn fields and the forest of the Rouge National Urban Park.
The airport was founded in 1965 by two former Polish air force pilots. It consists of a single 2,013 ft (614 m) runway for small and private aircraft only. Nowadays it is barely operational, it is home to The Royal Canadian Air Cadets Gliding Program and a dozen private small airplanes, but during the peak of its operations, the Markham Aiport housed more than 100 aircraft.
Although the stories of small countryside airports are always interesting, the real character here is a person, Allan Rubin, a Royal Canadian Air Force veteran, passionate about photography and aviation. Allan worked as the caretaker of Markham Airport since 1986.
Rubin joined the RCAF when he was 18 years old and after a brief period serving in Canada, he was transferred to the USA, to fly top-secret, high-altitude reconnaissance missions for NATO and the CIA. He was stationed in the most secretive and mysterious of all the American air bases, Area 51.
As the legend goes, Area 51, a CIA military base in the Mojave Desert, northwest of Las Vegas, is the facility where the American government keeps wreckages of extraterrestrial spacecraft, collected from crash sites all over the USA. Some conspiracists claim the base also houses corpses and even live species of aliens.
But Rubin dismisses all the alien fuss around Area 51. In an interview with the Toronto Star, in 2014, the veteran pilot declared that most of the UFO sightings in the 1950s and 1960s were the result of commercial pilots crossing paths with state-of-the-art, ultra-secret spy planes, like the one pilots flew at Area 51, the SR-71 Black Bird.
The job at the Royal Canadian Air Force was a dream come true, it brought him close to the two passions he had in life, aircraft, and photography, but instead of taking pictures of nature, he was now taking shots of Soviet territory.
Rubin was also an avid collector of aeronautical memorabilia. According to the Toronto Star, his office at the Markham Airport was littered with vintage airplane parts, from an old wooden propeller to ejection seats. But it was outside his office that the collection was much more interesting.
Rubin soon realized that aircraft parts alone wouldn’t satisfy his passion, he wanted more. So he started to collect whole aircraft.
After more than 60 years of collecting aeronautical stuff, he ended up with a great assembly of Cold War-era jet fighters. All those airplanes once belonged to the Royal Canadian Air Force and after they were deemed obsolete and retired, the machines were demilitarized, which means the engines and armament were removed.
All the aircraft, parts, and memorabilia collected by Rubin were the core of the Canadian Air Land and Sea Museum, a registered charity that he managed, parallel with his duties at the airport.
Allan wasn’t just a caretaker of the Markham Airport, he was more like a general manager, and he had big plans for the facility. During his interview with the Toronto Star, he showed the reporters the blueprints of all the renovations he had in mind, an extended runway, an air traffic control tower, modern hangars, a helipad, and a building for his museum. At the time, construction was well underway, even if the City of Markham never issued him a permit.
Unfortunately, Rubin’s plans never took off. The federal government has plans to build a new international airport in the city of Pickering, to mitigate the struggles of the Toronto Pearson Airport, in serving an ever-growing population. This new airport will be within 5 nautical miles of Markham Airport, which is not allowed by the legislation. In other words, the days of this little facility are numbered.
The pictures you see here were taken between 2002 and 2021, during this time Rubin’s collection steadily decreased. Maybe he was fully aware that his dreams would never come true and started selling his airplanes and parts to collectors.
The two most complete of CF-5s in the collection (pictured above) were sent to Garret Neal Aviation in San Diego, California, in 2017 and were fully restored to flying condition. (Photo courtesy of jetphoto.com)
Sadly Rubin passed away on May 18, 2020, at the age of 81. According to people who worked with him, the veteran pilot was a unique man, with a bright mind. For me, it was a pleasure to write about him and his dreams. It is a very interesting little chapter in the history of Markham, the town we chose as our home.
4 thoughts on “The Once Incredible Markham Airport.”
LOVE the pic of the SR-71! I saw one in person at the Udvar-Hazy annex of the Air and Space Museum. My first reaction? I literally cried. It still might be the most incredible machine ever built by people.
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I never had the chance to see a Blackbird up close but one day it will happen, and I will probably cry as well.
Great story. Really enjoyed it.
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Thanks, I am happy I have found this story so close to our home.