Canada is a nation full of aviation highlights, from the major hub airports across the country’s main cities, to the wild north where bush flying and older aircraft is still a part of everyday life.
In this article we’ll look at some of the highlights of spotting in Canada, and the things you will not want to miss.
Main Hub Airports
All of Canada’s main hub airports are large facilities with multiple runways, terminals and many airline operations. The country’s main airlines generally serve all of these airports, and there are plenty of cross-border links to the USA, as well as long-haul links to Asia, Europe and South America – particularly from Toronto and Vancouver.
Canada’s main hub airports are:
- Toronto Pearson
Other Interesting Airports in Canada
- Toronto Billy Bishop Downtown
These airports are of particular interest to enthusiasts, thanks to their unusual aircraft movements. Yellowknife is home to Buffalo Airways (see below).
Canada’s Main Airlines
- Air Canada
- Air Canada Express
- Air Canada Rouge
- Air Transat
- Canadian North
- Flair Airlines
- Sunwing Airlines
- WestJet Encore
Aircraft Production in Canada
Canada has long been a centre for aircraft production.
Manufacturers like de Havilland Canada have churned out thousands of airframes of aircraft like the DHC-2 Beaver, DHC-6 Twin Otter, DHC-7 and DHC-8.
Later, this company became Bombardier Aerospace, which centred on producing later versions of the DHC-8 like the Q400, as well as many different types of business jet.
More recently it also developed what was the CSeries airliner, which was bought by Airbus to become the A220.
These aircraft were produced and tested at Toronto’s Downsview Airport, but the future is less certain now that airliner production has been reduced. Biz jets like the Challenger are still produced.
Other manufacturers like Viking Air and De Havilland Aircraft of Canada have taken on producing Next Generation versions of some of these classic airliners. These are also built at Downsview.
Flying in Canada’s North
The vast expanse of Canada’s north has always necessitated the use of rugged aircraft to reach remote communities and use unprepared airstrips.
Airlines like Buffalo Airways have become famous for operating classic old piston airliners like the Douglas DC-3, Curtiss-Wright C-46 and Lockheed Electra. They are based at Yellowknife Airport, and have become a major attraction to enthusiasts thanks to their strong social media presence and being the stars of the Ice Pilots TV series, and Plane Savers YouTube channel.
Other airlines like First Air and Nolinor also use older aircraft like the Boeing 737-200 to transport workers and supplies to these remote areas out of airports like Edmonton and Montreal.
If you do venture to these remote areas you may see plenty of older types like the DHC-2 Beaver and DHC-5 Caribou still in operation.
Seaplanes in Canada
Seaplanes are a part of life in parts of Canada, so if you’re interested in seeing these types there are a few places where you will find them.
Aside from the many remote lakes up north, the easiest place to see seaplanes in Canada is at Vancouver where a busy seaplane base exists in Vancouver Harbor. Here you’ll find airlines like Harbour Air and Kenmore Air flying in and out regularly.
Canada’s Best Spotting Locations
While there are spotting opportunities at most Canadian airports, allowing you the chance to see and photograph aircraft movements, some airports have dedicated viewing areas. Try these:
There are a couple of official viewing locations at the end of runway 35L. You will need a car to get there. Head for McKnight Blvd NE, which passes the southern end of the airport. The spot is called Edward H LaBorde Viewing Area and is on Aviation Pl. It has a large car park and you’ll see aircraft approaching the runway at close quarters. Other movements and the terminals are quite distant.
An official viewing area is at the Chamber of Commerce car park off 50 St to the south east of the airport. This is directly underneath the approach to runway 30, and quite distant from the rest of the airport, but nevertheless good for photography.
Halifax Stanfield International
The passenger terminal has an Observation Room on the third floor which overlooks the central gates and the runways beyond. The room is free to enter, but photography is through glass. There is also a large window with views of aircraft on the main level.
Montreal Pierre Elliott Trudeau
The only official spotting location at the airport is Jacques-de-Lesseps Park along the south eastern boundary, off Avenue Jenkins (postcode H9P 2W6). It looks out over runway 06R/24L and across to the terminal in the distance. You should be able to see all movements from here, and can take photographs from the grandstand seating.
Toronto Pearson International
To the north east of the airport is the Park ‘n’ Fly parking lot. It is located off Carlingview Rd. This is a good place to watch and photograph arrivals onto runway 24R. You can walk up and down this road to find the best angle and position.
Vancouver Harbour Flight CentreA busy sea plane base on the edge of Vancouver Harbour in downtown, close to the port and cruise ship terminal. You can watch the action from the neighbouring Harbour Green Park, and it is within walking distance of downtown.
Larry Berg Flight Path Park is an official location, on the corner of Russ Baker Way and Airport Road, around half a mile from the end of runway 26L. There are information boards and seats provided, and a small car park. It is a good location for photography of aircraft landing on this runway.
Driving or walking along Bristol Avenue from the terminal area will lead past the different ramps and hangars where you will see some of the stored and active Buffalo aircraft, plus other based operators. Buffalo Airways are used to enthusiasts coming to see their aircraft and are usually accommodating, but try to arrange something in advance to avoid disappointment.
Canada’s Best Spotting Hotels
There are some great airport spotting hotels around Canada to help you continue spotting aircraft from the comfort of your room, at night, or away from the cold.
Some of the best that we would recommend are:
Montreal Airport Marriott In-Terminal Hotel
800 Pl Leigh-Capreol, Dorval, QC H4Y 0A4 | +1 514 636 6700 | www.marriott.com
Built over the terminal building, this hotel has rooms with views over the gates and taxiways. Photography is possible of nearer aircraft.
Hilton Garden Inn Ottawa Airport
2400 Alert Rd, Ottawa, ON K1V 1S1 | +1 613 288 9001 | www.hilton.com
Set near the FedEx cargo area. High level rooms facing the airport look over the First Air and FedEx aprons, and runway 25’s threshold beyond. The main runway is in the distance, but movements can be seen and tied up with a flight tracker.
Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Toronto Airport
Terminal 3, Toronto Airport, On L5P 1C4 | +1 905 672 7000 | www.marriott.com
A good hotel connected to the terminals with excellent views across the ramp and some of the runways. Terminal 1 is not visible, however most aircraft will taxi into view. Ask for a high level (floors 6, 7 or 8) odd-numbered room facing the airport.
Fairmont Vancouver Airport
3111 Grant McConachie Way, Richmond, BC V7B 0A6 | +1 604 207 5200 | www.fairmont.com
Located in the northern side of the terminal. Ask for a higher room facing the airport and you’ll have views of some of the parking gates and movements. Some rooms even have telescopes! The bar and restaurant areas also have good views.
The Grand Winnipeg Airport Hotel
1979 Wellington Ave, Winnipeg, MB R3H 1H5 | +1 204 505 0145 | www.lakeviewgrand.com
Even more convenient for the terminal. The Grand is a similar size to the Four Points, and has views a little closer to the commuter aircraft side of the terminal. It has similar views of the runways beyond. Photography is possible of nearer aircraft.
Canada’s Best Aviation Museums
Probably the most famous aviation museum in Canada is the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. This is home to one of only two airworthy Lancaster aircraft in the world, as well as many other historic and interesting aircraft.
The museum is located at Hamilton International Airport in Ontario.
Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, https://www.warplane.com/
The Canadian Aviation and Space Museum https://ingeniumcanada.org/aviation at the former Ottawa Rockcliffe Airport. It is the country’s national aviation museum and has many interesting aircraft exhibits and displays. Civilian aircraft include many de Havilland Canada types, plus a Vickers Viscount and Douglas DC-9.
The Canadian Museum of Flight is another great collection, located at Langley City, British Columbia. Many of the aircraft are active and regularly flying. Find out more http://www.canadianflight.org/
Another good Canadian aviation museum is the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada at Winnipeg. It has various transport and civilian types among its many exhibits. Find out more at www.royalaviationmuseum.com
Our guide book is essential reading for plane spotters and aviation enthusiasts. Covering over 400 airports worldwide, you’ll find out where to spot, with handy maps and descriptions. It also lists aviation attractions, spotting hotels and details of what you’ll see.