Eighty years ago, Hangar 11 in Edmonton was built as part of a vital supply chain to help defeat Nazi Germany in the Second World War.
“To me, Hangar 11 is this unassuming little gem in the heart of Edmonton,” said David Johnston, Principal Heritage Planner with the City of Edmonton. “It looks a bit run down and maybe not very interesting from the outside, but it’s a remarkable reminder of an important time in our city. Very few Edmontonians understand the vital role we played in the Second World War.”
On May 24, 2022, Edmonton City Council declared Hangar 11 a designated Municipal Historic Resource. The new owners of the building will be required to restore the structure. A grant of $5 million spread over 10 years will be provided from the City’s Heritage Resources Reserve to assist the owners in restoring this remarkable piece of Edmonton’s history.
Built in 1942 by the US Army Air Force
Edmonton in 1942 was a very small city, with a population of approximately 93,000 people. The war was far away in Europe and the Pacific. It was at Blatchford Field in Edmonton, too, as part of what was known as the Lend-Lease program.
Under Lend-Lease, the United States equipped its Allies, including Great Britain and the Soviet Union, with food, oil and other war supplies, including planes, from 1941 to 1945.
When the United States joined the war in December 1941, Edmonton’s role in the Northwest Staging Route, created to ship supplies to Alaska and then to the Soviet Union and the war’s eastern front, became even more important. Edmonton subsequently became the headquarters of the Alaskan Wing, Air Transport Command, and the main distribution centre for Lend-Lease aid, specifically aircraft.
Using civilian contractors in Edmonton, the US Army Air Force garrison built four large airplane hangars—including the only remaining hangar on the site, Hangar 11. At one point during the war Blatchford Field was the busiest airport in North America with some 900 planes flying in and out every day. Aircraft flown into Edmonton from the United States were serviced and often painted with Soviet insignia before being transported to Alaska. It is estimated that anywhere between 7,000 to 10,000 aircraft were processed through Blatchford Field during the war.
After the war, Hangar 11 served as a flight training school and an aircraft maintenance facility, but its ties to the US Army Air Force and the Allied victory in Europe will remain its most powerful symbol.
A tangible reminder
“Hangar 11 was built 80 years ago this year,” said Johnston. “Most of us weren’t even born then, but the young pilots who flew aircraft and other material to the Soviet Union, and the Edmontonians who helped build the hangar and support the war effort, deserve to be remembered for their sacrifices. That’s what we’re trying to do by preserving Hangar 11.”
Johnston said preserving the building, and not just a memory of the building on a plaque, is the big win for Edmontonians.
“We’re going to have a wonderful, adaptive re-use of this building that’s been sitting underutilized for a long, long time,” said Johnston. “Driving by the site, walking by the site, walking into the building and saying this is exactly what was here in 1942, it just helps you make that much deeper connection to Edmonton’s history.”
Take a look back—and ahead—at the story of Edmonton’s Hangar 11: