Toronto’s Brief Affair With The Dirigible

In mid-September some of you might recall the nice piece Derek Flack did for BlogTO  on Toronto’s skyline throughout history. Now, those of you who know me will understand why one image in particular grabbed my attention:

Item 10016 - R101 dirigible over downtown Toronto - 1930

Click for larger image

Dirigibles – who doesn’t love ‘em. Based on the handwritten note at the top of the photograph, this was apparently a picture of the R101, a British airship built in 1929. When it was completed it was the largest dirigible to date, only surpassed by the Hindenburg five years later.  R101′s time as a dirigible was short lived, however, ending with a crash in France on October 5, 1930

But what’s this? The date on the photograph is 1930, a year after R101 crashed. Had the photographer gotten the date wrong? Was this the ghost of R101 haunting the skies of 1930s Toronto?

As it turns out, the truth is more logical than my imagination – but thankfully just as interesting.

A contrast  in public/private partnerships, the British government built two similar dirigibles – the ill-fated R101 and the slightly more successful R100. The 101 was designed and built by the British Air Ministry, while the 100 was designed and built by a private company. In this case, it would seem the private option was a success – don’t tell RoFo and DoFo (Actually, do, maybe we can have dirigibles on the waterfront by 2014).

So, it’s actually the grand R100 floating over Toronto, just mislabelled in the photo (as well as others). The Canadian leg of its journey was a major event in the country, and it’s not surprising there are several more pictures in the Toronto Archives of R100:

Item 10046 - Dirigible R101 over downtown (composite) - [ca. 1930]

Click for larger image

Blimp [Airship R100] flying over Toronto, [1930]

Click for larger image

The 100 docked in St. Hubert, Quebec for 12 days in early August 1930. During this time hundreds of thousands visited the site where the specialized mooring station had been built (coincidentally making St. Hubert Canada’s first international airport). An amusing little videoat the Virtual Museum of Canada highlights some of the excitement around the arrival of 100 in St. Hubert. The 100 visited Toronto only briefly as part of a 24 hour trip from St. Hubert.

Alas, R100′s life was ALSO short lived. As a result of the R101 crash, the 100 was quickly decommissioned and scrapped, with the metal frame selling for less that £600, essentially ending British forays into dirigible travel.

The R100 lives on, however, and you can take one home for under £100. Sold!

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6 responses to “Toronto’s Brief Affair With The Dirigible”

  1. jimsey says :

    I would never blog or comment here.

  2. Dave says :

    It’s too bad that dirigibles got such a bad rap after the R-101 and the Hindenburg. Canada has picked the ball up again, though, and Discovery Air Innovations is looking at airships as a more efficient means of shipping in the far north. Who doesn’t love airships?

  3. Ben says :

    Seriously! And then we keep getting teased with the Discovery Airship stuff you mentioned:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/story/2011/08/26/nwt-discovery-airship.html

  4. jimsey says :

    In the alternate dimension on the TV show Fringe, there’s plenty of dirigibles. So, you just have to work on some type of device to let you cross over and other science related stuff for all your dirigible needs.

  5. Lachlan says :

    I’ve actually flown in an airship! It was the Australian equivalent of the good year blimp, and it was part of a cub scout activity. I think we all paid $100 to ride in this thing. I swear to god, the pilot was a Cliff Clayvin clone…the amount of bullshit he could spew about the history of the City of Brisbane. It could only take 10 passengers at a time, so while the extra 30 people were waiting for their turn, we built dirigible’s out of Papier Mache. It was every bit as awesome as it sounds!

  6. Ben says :

    Lachlan! I knew if anything could get you going again, it would be dirigibles. And might I add that I am insanely jealous of your experience. Insanely.

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