The next time you’re taking off from Pearson International Airport look down at the small houses that hug the northern boundary because this is where one of Canada’s biggest national projects began. 

Picture this: it’s 1942 and the Second World War is raging in Europe, Africa and the Pacific. 

Thousands of Canadians are overseas, fighting in the conflict on land, at sea and in the air but victory is far from certain. France had fallen in June 1940 and Londoners were living with the reality of regular nighttime bombings. 

The exhausted Allied countries needed more support – and the small farming community of Malton stepped up to deliver.

An employee of Victory Aircraft in Malton at work building a Lancaster bomber, March 1945. (Photo credit: Norman James/Toronto Star)
Civilian employees test a parachute in Malton before it is packed and shipped for the war effort, March 1945. (Photo credit: Toronto Star archives)

Malton, located in the northeast part of Toronto Township (later Mississauga) was already in the midst of change. In the late 1930s the Toronto Harbour Commission had purchased 13 local farms to create ‘a million-dollar, world class airport’ with the former Chapman farmhouse converted into the first airport terminal. 

The Malton Airport officially opened on August 29, 1939, just days before the outbreak of the Second World War. It immediately became a base for the Royal Canadian Air Force, providing training for air crews from Canada and Great Britain. 

Land was also set aside for National Steel Car’s factory, which began to build bombers. The plant needed a lot of workers, however there was no place for them to live. Malton wasn’t the only community with this problem. Canada’s wartime manufacturing and training surge had caused a nation-wide housing shortage. 

Enter the Canadian government, which in 1941 used the War Measures Act to create Wartime Housing Limited, a Crown agency. It was led by Hamilton construction giant Joseph Pigott, the man behind the building of the Royal Ontario Museum, Hamilton’s McMaster University, the Bank of Canada in Ottawa, the Crown Life Insurance Company building in Toronto – and wartime housing in Malton. 

An architect’s design for a Wartime Housing Limited home in Victory Village. (Photo credit: Region of Peel Archives)

Architects quickly designed small homes for workers and their families, which they named Victory Houses, and the federal government contracted builders across the country to construct the homes near training and manufacturing sites. 

In Malton, the government expropriated the Codlin farm in 1942 to create Victory Village, a subdivision of 200 homes.  

The blueprints were for single storey or storey-and-a-half houses between 600 and 1,200 square feet that could be built quickly and efficiently with prefabricated materials and clapboard siding exteriors. In addition to the houses, surveyors designed and laid out streets, a community hall and a park – all of it near the airport to make it easy for workers to travel back and forth. 

The construction sites worked like assembly lines to accelerate the build. 

A blueprint layout of a Wartime Housing Limited home in Victory Village. (Photo credit: Region of Peel Archives)

By 1942 Victory Village was welcoming families, just in time for a new boost in manufacturing output. That year the Federal government expropriated National Steel Car, renamed it Victory Aircraft and became a major producer of the Avro Lancaster bomber – the most famous of the Allies’ night bombers 

The Malton plant built 430 ‘Lancs’ between 1942 and 1945, and most of the assembly line workers were women, who worked as welders, riveters and testers.  

In the evenings, workers, locals and servicemen training at the airport would gather at the Victory Community Hall for dances, many of them fundraisers for the war effort. 

Today the neighbourhood, located at the northern corner of Pearson International Airport, remembers its past glory in the remaining small wartime homes that sit on Victory Crescent, Churchill Avenue and Lancaster Avenue, and in Victory Park where past generations of workers looked skyward to see what they could build. 

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