A few decades ago giant white letters that formed the word “OTTAWA” existed in a grassy field. Measuring almost 500 feet long by 100 feet tall, the massive lettering was visible from hundreds of feet in the air as aircraft flew over the Nation’s Capital. By chance on Google Maps, I found that although faint, the giant lettering is still visible today.
Now in 2017, these long lost letters still remain hidden in the grass of the MacDonald Cartier Airport, a faded reminder of a time when our city was marked with giant letters to welcome visitors to our fair city while up in the air.
Probably made from white stone or chalk, the giant letters were most likely part of the Ottawa Flying Club’s original runway which opened in 1928. These letters would have also marked the site of CFB Uplands, part of the Royal Canadian Air Force wartime training station of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan which opened in 1942.
Our current MacDonald-Cartier International Airport roots go back to a time when a combined military base and public airport terminal on the site made it the busiest airport in Canada, reaching a peak in 1959 with 307,079 aircraft take-offs and landings.
This once unmistakeable giant OTTAWA sign would have clearly welcomed visitors and returning residents back to Ottawa with its 500ft of white letters as their aircraft circled above. I for one would like to be welcomed home by seeing a giant “Ottawa” out my airplane window, and that’s what happened until the early 1970s when it looks like the letters started to fade into obscurity.
Using geoOttawa and current aerial maps, I was able to trace the fading of the letters over time, watching them almost disappear.
The letters are faint, but still visible today, and with Ottawa2017 celebrations welcoming thousands of new visitors to the Nation’s Capital to commentate Canada’s 150th birthday, it might be a unique and fun idea to restore the large letters to their original splendour and once again enjoy OTTAWA’S GIANT OTTAWA SIGN.
Andrew King, January 2017