This year will mark the 50th anniversary of lives lost forever to the deadliest aviation disaster in Ontario and the 4th deadliest in Canada. Mostly forgotten, it seems every year our local news outlets remind us of the Mississauga train derailment, Hurricane Hazel and the Sunrise Propane explosion but we rarely hear about this event.
On July 5, 1970 Air Canada flight 621 crashed into a Brampton, Ontario farmer’s field killing all 109 souls aboard. Surviving mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters continue living with difficult memories. They were instantly left without the future they expected and now a future of roller coaster emotions lay ahead. There would be gaps in new family photos, incomplete family stories to share and for some, no guidance from loved parents. We can only imagine how meaningful each victim would have been to the surviving family members.
After departure from Montreal, Air Canada Flight 621 was landing at Toronto’s Pearson Airport for a brief stop before continuing to Los Angeles California. A crew error during landing preparations caused the airplane to descend the last 20 meters quickly. This resulted in the outer engine on the right wing breaking off after impact with the runway. The pilot pulled up hard, with the tail section also damaged and began circling for another landing attempt. Fuel was leaking from the damaged wing and it soon caught fire. Three explosions to the right wing followed, each one making it more difficult to keep the plane in the air.
This video simulation of the flight and crash may not be suitable for all viewers.
“There were flames on the bottom rear of the plane,” ground level I (sic) witness Michael Matyas told the newspaper at the time. “Then lots of smoke and something, fell off. It looked like a wing. Then the plane just nose dived right down.”From the Brampton Guardian newspaper
“There was no fire,” Sytze Burgsma told reporters at the time. “Everything was silent except for a hissing sound coming out of that big hole.”From the Brampton Guardian newspaper
The severity of the crash pulverized almost everything instantly. On July 30th, 1970 Air Canada made arrangements for five caskets containing 49 identified and 3 unidentified victims to be interred at Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery. In May 1971 Air Canada erected a monument inscribed with the names of the 109 victims and then in 1979 added a memorial to the victims. Sadly, many more victims’ partial remains were not recovered and left behind at the crash site.
Following the crash, scattered human remains continued to surface in farmer’s field for years. Remarkably, no institution or system seemed to be in place to answers questions or take significant action to gather these remains and provide a place of final rest. Families lacked a relevant place of remembrance or a place to pray for all loved ones. Instead they were left alone with their grief, always reminded their deceased loved ones were forgotten.
Finally, in 2010 a Memorial Garden and Cemetery was conceptualized and made possible when 7 developers constructing new residential neighbourhoods around the crash site sought input from the victim’s family members.
“The landowners from the start wanted to right a wrong, according to Highcastle Homes President Domenic Tassone.” “It was really amazing how there was no actual resolution at the time by Air Canada,” Tassone said.From the Brampton Guardian newspaper
The landowner’s empathy and compassion for the families made this project possible. In 2013, forty-three years after the crash a final resting place was realized.
At the crash site, the soil containing victim remains has been excavated and gathered at the Memorial Garden and Cemetery. A black granite plaque with the names of the 109 victims is mounted on a large granite boulder. 109 light pink granite stones, representing each life lost are randomly placed within black stones laid on the garden grounds. Purple lilacs, a common planting in many farmers fields at the time of the crash, and a favourite of many families involved, delineates the garden area.
Sitting benches surrounding the stone garden give visitors a place to rest, listen to the peaceful sound of the trees rustling in the wind and take in the fragrant smell of purple lilacs.
10 upright granite stones denote the outer boundaries of the Memorial Garden and Cemetery.
The grass pathway lined with small fruit trees adjacent to the interlocked stone garden is the site of the airliner’s fall from the sky. This is the epicenter of the crash site; the place lives changed forever.
The Brampton Guardian Newspaper
The Brampton Guardian Newspaper
The Toronto Star Newspaper