Guelph Air Park celebrated in pictorial book

Guelph Air Park, one of the best small airports in Canada, has received overdue recognition in a pictorial book covering its colourful 65-year history. Cindi Conlon, a Guelph resident, produced the book as “a labour of love.” She was impressed with her first visit to the famous Tiger Boys vintage aircraft restorers at the Air Park and was inspired to write the book after learning the full story had never been documented. Full credit for the research is due to Cindi, a mother of four and grandmother of three who works in the arts. Cindi dedicated the coffee table-sized book to the pilots – past and present – who have called Guelph Air Park their aviation home, and to its visionary founder, Len Ariss. A hobby pilot, Ariss purchased the original 45-acre parcel of farmland in 1953 and created a grassy landing field just beyond Guelph’s north-eastern city limits. Ariss saw the value of flightas a means of commucation in his growing construction and paving business. He wanted closer access to his aircraft and built his home on what is now Skyway Drive, just “47½ steps” from his airplane. His enthusiasm for the new airport was infectious. By 1957, the Guelph Mercury was reporting “the local airfield is busy just about evening now.” Today the Air Park continues to flourish as a hub of general and vintage aviation activity. Described by Cindi as “a jewel in the crown of the Royal City,” the Air Park was made possible by the generosity of Len Ariss. In fact, there are now 100 or more small hangars on the site.

Len Ariss, speaking at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Air Park in 2003, told the crowd an estimated $1.5 million was spent on the airport by then. He had always planned the airport as a place where people could bring a lunch and watch aircraft in action. The Air Park has been a remarkable community asset. Over the years, it has facilitated Medivac patient transfer, RCAF JTF2 training, police and environmental surveillance, educational field trips, university pilot studies, aviation training, aircraft maintenance and much more. Len Ariss died in 2008 at the age of 86. His daughter, Jane, shared the family scrapbooks and memorabilia that made the book possible. The air park is synonymous with the legendary Tiger Boys Aircraft Works, established inn 1970 by founder Tom Dietrich as a collection of parts and remains from historic old aircraft. Tom and his Tiger Boys partners, including Bob Revell, soon began to restore the vintage airplanes to factory and airworthy condition. As Bob emphasized, “This is not a morgue – this is a flying museum!” Stats Canada data shows the volume of air traffic peaked in 1998 at 80,370 movements annually. Guelph has always been a popular destination for the entire aviation community and is poised for a bright future. Cindi enjoyed a flight over the Air Park in a Tiger Moth piloted by Steve Gray. As she recalls with a smile, “the loop performed midway in the flight resulted in a three-hour horizontal rest on the kitchen floor” upon her return. As Cindi says, Guelph Air Park is “an amazing place.” Her book is a fitting tribute to a multi-dimensional story that enriches Canada’s aviation history.

For more information about the book, contact Cindi at cindic@gto.net

Gord McNulty, CAHS Vice – President