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Meet the Jewish operator of the little-known Markham Airport

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Allan Rubin in front of a vintage RCAF jet
Allan Rubin in front of a vintage RCAF jet

The operator/partner of the little-known Markham Airport north-east of Toronto, developed his lifelong passion for airplanes and photography as a child.

Under Allan Rubin’s watch over three decades, the small, private sector airport on 300 acres of land has accumulated a collection of vintage aircraft and memorabilia, as well as military photographic equipment. It also has a flight school and runs a high school co-op program. Rubin’s goal now is to expand the airport.

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The Thornhill, Ont., resident, now in his mid-70s, grew up in Toronto and spent much of his youth around privately owned Barker Airfield, which was located at the current intersection of Dufferin Street and Lawrence Avenue West.

“A school friend’s father… took me flying in a World War II Tiger Moth plane he owned, which began my affection for aviation,” Rubin said.

He received his first camera just before his bar mitzvah, and was a member of the Vaughan Road Collegiate camera club. “I had a chance to go to New York or Los Angeles to learn about photography, but my mother insisted I stay in Toronto and attend school.”

At 18, Rubin enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). “At CFB Borden, they had a special photography school, and I began photo reconnaissance training.”

At a Western Canada base, Rubin trained in operations as part of the photo intelligence corps. During the Cold War, he accompanied pilots and took aerial photographs on top secret NATO missions in various parts of the world.

“In 1957, I flew in an aircraft based out of England that reached an altitude of approximately 60,000 to 65,000 feet, entering Soviet Union airspace.”

He became a member of Roadrunners Internationale, an elite group of pilots and technicians stationed at a base in the Nevada desert in the 1950s and ’60s, during the Cold War. “The CIA was developing an aircraft that had a great speed of 24,000 miles per hour and could climb to 90,000 feet,” he said. “The U.S. was so advanced in aeronautics during the late 1950s, that people thought aliens were operating those aircrafts.”

In 1962, Rubin left the RCAF and returned to Canada. His wife, Lorraine, was pregnant, and they wanted to settle down. He quickly got a job as director of the photo engineering department at the Ontario Research Foundation (ORF).

“My job involved seeing what was occurring with high-speed motion picture and time lapse photography,” he said.

Today, his focus is on his attempt to expand the Markham Airport so that it “functions as a regional airport providing aeronautic services to replace Buttonville Airport,” which is slated to close in the fall of 2016.

The expansion would not affect the proposed Pickering Airport, he said. “This would result in no conflicts between air traffic at Pickering Airport and Markham Airport. Markham… would come within the control zone of Pickering’s air traffic control.”

Rubin is president of Jewish Veterans Association and of the Canadian Air Land Sea Museum and founder of the Jewish Canadian Military Museum.

“I have the largest military photographic equipment collection that I know of,” he said. “Someday when we have a major museum, I hope to contribute wartime intelligence, photography and equipment.”

He has also devoted 65 airport acres to agriculture “where we’ve produced soybeans growing 16 to 24 inches high, have two beehives and a cornfield.”

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Rubin is proud of his co-op education program on aircraft maintenance and mechanics at York Region secondary schools. “I’m hoping more Jewish kids become interested in aeronautics and aviation. Universities have opportunities to have their aerospace programs at our aviation facility instead of a classroom setting.”

He is a 25-year-plus member of General Wingate Branch No. 256 of the Royal Canadian Legion, and president of the Jewish Canadian War Veterans Memorial Park Cemetery at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Memorial Park.