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Play on the Runway 2022

On Sunday, June 26th, 2022, the gates to the Downsview runway swung open. It was the first time in decades the public could stand, ride, run, jump, dance, and soak up the beautifully open tarmac. The last opportunity people had to stand on the runway was as paying customers at SARSStock in 2003 and before that, as worshippers at Pope John Paul’s Papal Mass in 2002.

The promise of free ice cream and two kilometres of blissfully empty airport runway drew just shy of 2,000 people, most of them from the adjacent neighbourhoods in and around North York. During an afternoon of free play in celebration of North York’s 100th birthday, the runway was temporarily repurposed as a spontaneous celebration of human-powered propulsion.

From newborns to seniors, there were people in strollers, on skateboards, on bikes, on scooters, and on trikes. There were roller bladers, roller skaters and roller dancers – bopping along to an irresistible soundtrack of funk, hip hop, and soul provided by DJ Jason. It was a sight to be seen!

One young woman in a long flowing skirt rode a longboard while towing her son on a scooter; another guy paddled up the runway on a skateboard using a barge pole with a rubber tip; the four leggeds were well represented with beagles, schnauzers, labs, basset hounds, and mutts all strutting their stuff; kids dragged wagons, push toys, and toy tractors; a senior woman in a sari piloted an e-scooter down the runway, her bright silks billowing in the breeze; someone ski-skated their way up and down the runway, beating the heat with a hydration pack on their back; and no one missed the white streak – the two wheeled rocket designed and pedalled by U of T’s engineering students zooming down the runway hitting speeds of 45 km an hour.

The roller dancers brought the party, free-styling on the taxiway and busting choreographed moves to the delight of the crowd. Those without skates got into the action dancing and swaying to the grooves – and some getting airplane rides from the skaters.

The event captured the very spirit of Downsview – people of all ages reveling in the outdoors, on a beautiful blue sky day, sharing spontaneous fun, with no limit to the imaginative ways they could play and move around.

It’s yet another milestone in Downsview’s history – the day the people played on the runway, in anticipation of new and exciting ways this space will be used in the decades to come.

Did you join the Play on the Runway event? Share your story.