Developing Air and Land Control at Toronto’s Airport, 1958-1972

Authors: Nick Lombardo*, University of Toronto
Topics: Urban Geography, Transportation Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: governance, infrastructure, regional governance
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 18
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 1958 and 1968, Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, owned and managed by Canada’s federal Department of Transport, underwent two large-scale expansion projects, putting it at odds with the local governments that surrounded it in Toronto, Brampton, and Mississauga. During each of these projects, officials from local municipal governments, provincial ministries, and the federal ministry of transport fought, negotiated, and eventually cooperated over the shape and size of the airport and acceptable land uses around it. In the end, a cohesive, yet largely informal, regional governance structure was developed to oversee the successful expansion of air traffic from Toronto’s airport, and the complimentary growth of surrounding communities. Indeed, today, the airport, the busiest in Canada for cargo and passenger traffic, anchors the second largest employment zone in the country.

This paper explores the tensions between federal, provincial and municipal governments and the role of the airport in catalyzing informal regional governance and planning processes for the Toronto area. It uncovers how bottom-up, informal approaches to regional governance and multi-jurisdictional cooperation led to more permanent institutional changes over time. I argue that this is a result of airports position within networks of urban governance. Their location, which in most major cities makes them the most significant transportation facility and employment zone in a suburban area, and the way they function within a nexus of multiple jurisdictions, from the local to the global and everything in between, is key to the development of multi-jurisdictional, multi-scalar urban governance.

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