’Tis the season of busy travel. Rushed commuters and travellers passing through Billy Bishop Airport on Toronto Island may miss the many tributes to the man for whom the airport is named. A sculpture in the lobby of the mainland entrance pavilion (near the elevators to the tunnel) marks the first meeting of Billy Bishop and William Barker – two Canadian flying aces.
From the plaque next to the statue:
William (Billy) Avery Bishop, VC, CB, DSO & Bar, MC, DFC, Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, Croix de guerre avec palmes (2) and William George Barker, VC, DSO & Bar, MC & Two Bars, Italian Silver Medal for Valour (2), Croix de guerre were two of the greatest Fighter Pilots of the First World War.
Bishop was credited with 72 victories, with only three other men in the British Empire having received more medals for bravery. Barker’s 50 victories make him the fourth ranking ace in Canada (seventh in the Empire), and his awards for gallantry make him the most decorated serviceman in the history of Canada, the British Empire and the Commonwealth of Nations.
This bronze tribute represents the historic first meeting between these two Canadian heroes. Although the exact date of the meeting is unknown, it is said to have taken place in early 1919 when Barker was recovering in a London hospital from the serious injuries sustained in his historic aerial battle of October 27, 1918, just days before the end of hostilities on November 11, 1918.
Bishop and Barker became steadfast friends. They moved to Toronto after the Great War where they began one of North America’s first aviation charters called Bishop-Barker Aeroplanes Ltd, operating a fleet of flying boats from Toronto Harbour. The airline faded three years later but each continued to enjoy successful careers in aviation.
Barker went on to become the acting Director of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) at its formation in 1924. In 1926 he became the first president of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was vice-president of Fairchild Aircraft when, in 1930, while demonstrating one of the firm’s planes, he lost control and was killed when the plane crashed. He was 35.
Bishop continued his career in aviation. In 1936 he was made Honourary Air Vice Marshal, and in 1940 Director of Recruiting for the RCAF. He authored “Winged Warfare” in 1917 and “Winged Peace” in 1944 and was appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1944. He died in his sleep in 1956 at age 62.
The sculpture, by George Batholomew Boileau, was installed in 2015.
Head down the elevator and through the tunnel to the terminal, to see a replica of Bishop’s Nieuport 17 plane and an exhibit of other photos, artifacts and memorabilia. All in the public areas of the airport, so access is free.