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Air: Encyclopedia Arctica 9: Transportation and Communications
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Air

The Expansion of Aviation into Arctic and Sub-Arctic Canada

EA-Transportation and Communications
[J. A. Wilson]

THE EXPANSION OF AVIATION INTO ARCTIC AND SUB-ARCTIC CANADA

Page
Introduction 1
Early Trial Flights 2
First Flights in Mackenzie Basin – 1921 2
Arctic Reconnaissance – 1922 2
Pioneer Commercial Flying 3
Air Surveys 4
Air Mail Contracts 4
Steady Progress in Northern Expansion 4
The Hudson Straits Expedition - 1927-1928 5
Consolidation of Services 6
Aerodrome Construction in Arctic and Sub-Arctic 6
The North West Stagin Route 7
Construction During the War 7
The Canol Project 7
The Trans-Atlantic Ferry Route 7
The "Crimson" Route 8
Exercise 8
Summary 8
Bibliography 10
THE EXPANSION OF AVIATION INTO ARCTIC AND SUB-ARCTIC CANADA
BY J. A. WILSON, C.B.E., FORMER DIRECTOR OF AIR
SERVICES, CANADA.
INTRODUCTION
[: ] Should we cut out all headings?
Canadians responsible for the development of Northern
Canada had watched with increasing interest the constant and rapid
growth in efficiency of the Air Services during the first World
War. The greatest handicap to their work in the past had been lack
of adequate transportation. There were no roads or railways north
of the railway belt. There the historic means of transportation,
canoe in summer and snowshoe and dog-team in winter, still reigned
supreme. Men of vision saw in the aeroplane an answer to their
problems; given an aircraft with a reliable engine capable of
carrying a pay-load of a few hundred pounds, in addition to its
crew, and fuel for a few hundred miles, their problem was solved.
High speed was not essential but rugged construction and simplicity
of operation were essential.
At the time of the Armistice in November 1918 there
were no flying facilities in Canada except the two seaplane stations
at Dartmouth and Sydney, Nova Scotia, built in 1918 for anti–
submarine patrols off the Atlantic Coast and a few aerodromes built
by the Royal Flying Corps in Ontario for the flying training of the
hundreds of young Canadians who had volunteered for the Air Services
during the war. Aircraft were not lacking as the United Kingdom
after the Armistice had made a generous donation to Canada of more
than 100 planes of various types and much miscellaneous equipment
and spare parts. In addition, the U.S. Naval Air Service, who had
manned the seaplane bases on the Atlantic Coast, on their withdrawal
had left the stations more or less intact and with their full
complement of H.S.2L flying boats and equipment. These were found
to be invaluable and were used in the post war civil flying operations
for many years till they were gradually replaced by more efficient
types. Fortunately, Northern Canada abounds in lakes and rivers
which provide everywhere ready-made landing places for seaplanes and
flying boats in summer; their frozen surfaces made ready-made
aerodromes for aircraft on skis in winter. These factors made the
construction of airports throughout the North, economically impossible
in the pioneer stages, unnecessary. The only drawback to the use of
floats in summer and skis in winter were the annual periods of
"freeze-up" and "break-up" in autumn and spring when neither were
usable. This handicap was willingly accepted in the early years
before traffic was well established and it applied equally to all
forms of transportation. Canada was fortunate also in having at its
disposal hundreds of pilots and mechanics who had served their
apprenticeship during the war and who asked for nothing better than
to continue their careers in aviation.
A rapid survey during the winter of 1918-1919 of
possibilities for the development of flying in Northern Canada showed
that enthusiastic co-operation would be forthcoming from the Forest
and Survey Services, mining interests and all those engaged in Northern
development. The Air Board Act, providing for the establishment of
air services, civil and military, and for the regulation of civil
aviation in Canada, was passed in June 1919. The stage was then set
for the orderly development of aviation throughout the Dominion.
EARLY TRIAL FLIGHTS
The first experimental trials of flying over the
Northern forested regions were made from Grande Mere, Quebec,
in August and September 1919 under the auspices of the Dominion
Government which lent three H.S.2L flying boats, used during the
war for anti-submarine patrols off the Atlantic Coast. The
Provincial Government of Quebec made a substantial grant towards
the expenses of the experimental flights and the Laurentide Pulp
and Paper Company undertook responsibility for the organization
of the base facilities, the forest observers and other personnel.
Stuart Graham, now Superintendent of Air Regulations, Department
of Transport, was the pilot. The success of these experimental
flights lead to the establishment in 1920, with the co-operation
of the Forest and Survey Services, Dominion and Provincial, of
air bases at Vancouver, B.C., High River, Alberta, and Roberval,
P.Q., for further trials of forest fire patrols, survey work
and transportation in the more inaccessible parts of the country
adjacent to these bases. In 1921 the Province of Ontario assisted
in the establishment of a base at Sioux Lookout in Northern
Ontario for similar work and three further bases were established
in Manitoba for work in the forested areas surrounding Lakes
Winnipeg and Winnipegosis. These experimental flights served not
only as practical full scale demonstrations for the Forest and
Survey Services but also showed the possibilities of using aircraft
for the opening up of the remoter parts of Northern Canada. They
were necessary as the first steps towards the longer range
operations which followed and which were not confined to summer
work on floats but all year round operations on skis as well.
These were already beginning.
FIRST FLIGHTS IN MACKENZIE BASIN - 1921
In the fall of 1921 the Imperial Oil Company brought
in the first producing well in the now well in the now well known Norman Wells field.
Water transportation had ceased and it was urgently necessary to
provide some means of transportation between the new find, 1200 miles
from the railway and only a short distance south of the Arctic Circle,
and civilization. Junkers all-metal seaplanes were purchased and
operations were started from the railhead in the Peace River country.
In spite of innumerable difficulties with equipment, unknown and
unforeseen hazards, blizzards and low temperatures, after many
delays two of the aircraft made the trip and returned safely to
civilization. Fullerton Gorman, and May and Fullerton were the pilots. This
pioneer effort showed the impossibility of conducting regular air
services without adequate ground facilities, refuelling caches, spare
parts and marked runways on the ice.
ARCTIC RECONNAISSANCE - 1922
In the spring of 1922 the Canadian Government, recognizing
the need for effective occupation and development of the Arctic
Archipelago if they hoped to maintain their sovereignty over it,
decided to establish police posts in the far north as bases for the
further development of the country. The North West Territories
Branch of the Department of the Interior were placed in charge of the
project. Recognizing the importance of aerial observation in preliminary
exploration work and mapping, and the possibilities of intercommunication
by air between any posts established, they asked for the co-operation of the Air Board in the project. Before actual flying operations were
undertaken, it was decided as a first step to make a reconnaissance
of the climatic and physical conditions to be met with in these
areas of which little was known. This task was given to Squadron
Leader R. A. Logan who was specially well qualified for this work.
Before the war he had worked as a Dominion Land Surveyor in Northern
Canada and was familiar with Arctic conditions. He had also made
special studies of navigation, meteorology and radio.
Olive: We have logan’s report? If so, let’s
consider running it verbatim, as its
first official Gov’t rep [: ] feasibility if
[: ]
We will
not need
to pay
for this
The expedition was carried in the government steamer
"Arctic", a veteran in Arctic exploration under Captain J. E. Bernier.
The expedition left Quebec on July 18th and returned safely on
October 2nd after visiting Baffin, Bylot, North Devon and Ellesmere
Islands and establishing three posts in the far north. Logan
presented a comprehensive report dealing with aviation in the Arctic
generally, the uses of aircraft in the far north, the most suitable
types for use there and the ground facilities necessary. Questions
of transportation, fuel, food, clothing and other supplies were fully
covered. Much valuable information was obtained on ice and climatic
conditions in the districts visited. He recommended that should
the Government decide to proceed with a programme of further development
a small party consisting of two pilots and two mechanics with two
small specially equipped aircraft should accompany the next expedition;
establish an air base; conduct flying operations at all seasons of the
year and keep meteorological and other pertinent records. A comprehensive
knowledge of the actual conditions to be encountered could thus be
obtained so that operations on a larger scale might be inaugurated in
subsequent years should conditions be found suitable for flying during
a considerable proportion of the year as was confidently anticipated.
Unfortunately a change in the direction and policy in aviation
following on the absorption of the Air Board's work by the Department
of National Defence in 1923 prevented any further work on these lines
for twenty years when, under pressure of war, the expansion of aviation
in the far north became necessary once more.
PIONEER COMMERCIAL FLYING
The pioneer demonstrations of the Dominion Government
outlined above were now beginning to bear fruit and commercial companies
had been formed to undertake forest fire patrols, air surveys and
photography, the transportation of men and supplies from the railroad
to serve mining camps and prospectors working all through Northern
Canada. Aircraft soon penetrated into the interior of North Eastern
Quebec and Labrador as far as the Hamilton River, in Northern Ontario
as far as James Bay, from Lake Winnipeg north to the Churchill River
and Lac La Ronge, from Edmonton into the Peace River district and
down the MacKenzie River. Gradually a chain of bases and refueling
depots were built up all through the north to serve the new traffic.
By 1927 new types of aircraft based on northern experience
came on the market. Cabin, high wing, aircraft with aircooled radial
engines were particularly suitable for northern operations. They were
adaptable for either float or ski undercarriage. Fairchild and Fokker
types came into common use supplemented by the rugged all-metal Junkers
low wing seaplane, and Bellanca and Stinson single engined aircraft
followed later by smaller cabin types such as the Waco and Beechcraft.
By 1928 air services were available all through Northern Canada. Weather
and radio services were steadily improving and companies were establishing
their own facilities to supplement those of the Government where necessary.
AIR SURVEYS
Another factor of great importance was the mapping
programme of Federal authorities. In this the Air Force and the
survey services of the Department of the Interior and the
Geographical Section of the General Staff co-operated, the Air Force
doing the flying and photography while the Survey Services supplied
the ground control, plotted the information from the pictures and
produced the finished maps. Each year from 1921 saw an increasing
programme of photographic surveys undertaken. The resultant maps
facilitated air navigation and were invaluable not only to the
pilots but to the geologist, the prospector and the forester.
The early survey programmes in the far north were concentrated on
the production of reliable maps of the most travelled water routes
and of the areas most promising for mining development. So
successful was this programme and so essential the photographs and
maps to the work of northern development that within a decade no
geologist or prospector would examine any area without first having
photos and maps of the terrain.
AIR MAIL CONTRACTS
The Federal authorities also supported the new infant
industry by letting contracts for the regular and frequent carriage
of mails by air from the railway to the mining camps now being
established all through the north and to the older police and trading
posts which hitherto had been dependent on slow and infrequent mails
carried at great cost by water or dog-team, thus assuring a regular
and assured revenue to the pioneer companies.
? The story of this expansion from meager beginnings is
the tale of strenuous work by pilots and mechanics struggling with
determination against odds which would have daunted the hardiest
spirits. Their enthusiasm knew no bounds. Their belief in aviation
and its progress was the gospel which buoyed them up through blizzards
and strandings. Inconceivable hardships were met with a smile so long
as flights were completed successfully.
STEADY PROGRESS IN NORTHERN EXPANSION
Progress in the aviation and mining industries went
hand in hand in Northern Canada during the 1920's and 1930's. As
experience was gained of the difficult operating conditions and as
more efficient aircraft became available, the range of the prospector
and mining operator increased with the growing reliability of the
services, heavier pay-loads and longer ranges. From bases at
Roberval and Seven Islands H. S. Quigley and F. V. "Turk" Robinson
explored the country to the north of the shore of the Gulf of
St. Lawrence back into the valley of the Hamilton River and into the
regions of the great new iron ore finds of the Labrador, D. S. Bondurant
finally penetrating as far as Fort Chimo on the south shore of Ungava
Bay. Kenneth Saunders, pioneer photographic pilot in Canada, opened
up the country north of Lake St. John as far as Lakes Chibougamau
and Mistassini in North Eastern Quebec. J. Scott Williams, Roy Maxwell
and H. A. "Doc" Oakes pioneered regular air routes into Rouyn in 1924
and in 1925 the new Red Lake mining camp was discovered and immediately
became the centre of much flying activity based at Hudson and Sioux
Lookout on the railway in which J. V. Elliott, Oakes and Rob Starratt
played a leading part. In 1926 a winter expedition penetrated into
James Bay as far as Richmond Gulf under Doc Oakes and T. M. "Pat" Reid. 1927 saw Oakes freighting drilling equipment into the site of the
new harbour at Churchill in an emergency. Far to the west similar
operations were beginning in Northern British Columbia. Scott
Williams spent the summer of 1925 based on Lower Post on the Liard
River serving a prospecting party working in that then remote
area as far north as Frances Lake. G. A. Thompson was similarly
employed in the Cassiar district from a base at Hazelton, B.C.
In 1926 "Cy" Caldwell, who had been with Williams on the Liard the
previous year, took his Vickers Viking into the Slave Lake district
on mining exploration thus reviving activity in the MacKenzie Basin
dormant since 1922. Similarly in North Manitoba and Saskatchewan
prospecting was active and air transport services found a new
opportunity in the opening up of the Flin Flon area.
The mining community in Canada was now fully awake
to the advantages of air transport and willing to finance operations
by the purchase of better aircraft with longer range and greater
pay-load. Northern Aerial Minerals Exploration, Dominion Skyways,
the Nipissing Company and Cyril Knight led major air prospecting
ventures into the North West Territories including the Barren Lands Arctic Prairies
and Hudson Bay Coasts in 1928 and 1930. The Consolidated Mining
and Smelting Company maintained a fleet of aircraft to support their
prospecting parties in the North. By 1928 it could be confidently
stated that no spot on the mainland of Canada was inaccessible.
Aircraft had penetrated into the remotest districts of the Yukon,
Northern British Columbia and the barren grounds of beyond the treeline in the North West
Territories as far as the Boothia Peninsula and the shores of Hudson
Bay. In addition to the pioneer pilots mentioned above those most
active in opening up this vast hinterland, virtually inaccessible
till the advent of aviation, were Leigh Brintnell, W. R. May, "Punch"
Dickins, Jack McDonough, Bill Spence, Pat Reid, Bill Sutton,
Grant McConachie, Walter Gilbert, Mat Berry and many others.
THE HUDSON STRAITS EXPEDITION - 1927-1928
Following the decision of the Canadian Government to
complete the Hudson Bay Railway and the terminal on the Bay, it was
decided in January 1927 to send an expedition to Hudson Straits
"to obtain accurate information on ice conditions in the Straits
and study requirements necessary to insure safe navigation". The
co-operation of the R.C.A.F. was asked and it was decided to establish
three air bases in the Straits, one near each of the Straits and one
half way between these points, and to maintain, as far as weather
conditions would permit, daily patrols from each to observe ice conditions
over a period of sixteen months. It was decided to equip each base
with two Fokker Universal aircraft, each fitted with ski, float and
wheel undercarriages, a 30’ motor Launch, a Fordson tractor, seven
buildings including hangars and a radio station, and all stores and
equipment necessary for the maintenance of the base for the period of
occupation. Squadron Leader (now Air Vice-Marshal) T. A. Laurence
was given command of the expedition.
On July 17th the necessary gear having been assembled
and stowed on the freighter "Larch", amounting to 2,585 tons of general
cargo and 2,700 tons of coal for use by the freighter and her escort
the "Lady Stanley", one of the smaller Government icebreakers, the two
vessels left Halifax. The 39 members of the expedition were carried on
the "Lady Stanley" and the construction crews on the "Larch". A "Moth"
seaplane for reconnaissance purposes was carried on the "Lady Stanley". The three bases were successfully established during the summer
at Port Burwell, Wakeham Bay and Nottingham Island. Flying was
started at all three bases by the middle of October when the first
signs of ice appeared. Radio communications were efficient,
contact being maintained at all times with planes in the air, the
other bases and through relay stations with Headquarters in Ottawa
and the "Met" office in Toronto.
The expedition was successful and a vast amount of
information was gathered from the logs of the ships engaged and
the bases established on the movement of the ice in the Straits,
the incidence of fog and poor visibility due to snow, the opening
and closing of navigation and the aids to navigation which would
be required for safe navigation. Air Patrols were found possible
throughout the year with only occasional interruptions from weather.
The expedition returned to Quebec in November 1928 and a full report
was subsequently published by the Department of Marine giving full
details of the work.
CONSOLIDATION OF SERVICES
Active mining at Eldorado, the radium find on Great
Bear Lake and the Gold Camp at Yellowknife made new openings for
regular air services. The heyday of the pioneer pilot flying his
own ship gradually passed with the consolidation of services and
companies into larger commercial units doing away with cutthroat
competition and ensuring better service through stronger finances
and better aircraft. In 1937 Trans-Canada began their operations on
the trans-Continental route leaving the northern services to continue
their work as feeders. By 1941 these gradually were absorbed into
Canadian Pacific Air Lines who now control which, following World War II, controlled most of the regular
scheduled routes outside of the trans-Canada airway and its main
connections to points in the United States. Many independent operators
continue their work throughout the North on a charter basis.
Olive: Should we standardize on air drome? Like airplane AERODROME CONSTRUCTION IN ARCTIC AND SUB-ARCTIC
With the growth of population in the northern mining
camps the demand for more efficient air services became insistent.
[: ] On the main traffic routes to the far north the length of the "freeze-up"
and "break-up" periods was serious. On the shorter runs where there
was little difference in latitude these periods were short but as the
length of the air routes increased the stoppage of all flights from
this cause became intolerable. Ice disappeared at Edmonton early in
April but Bear Lake was still ice bound in July. The increase in
traffic called for more regular, efficient and less interrupted service.
In 1937-38 Canadian Airways advocated a chain of landing
strips from McMurray to the Arctic Coast along the MacKenzie Mack River and
Yukon Southern Airways had made surveys on their air mail route from
Grande Prairie to Whitehorse with strips at Fort St. John, Fort Nelson,
Watson Lake and Whitehorse where Pan American Airways, who had been
granted landing rights on their route between Juneau and Fairbanks,
Alaska, had already graded a strip with the assistance of the Territorial
Government of the Yukon and the Department of Transport to accommodate the
twin-engined transports. Similar work had also been done at Burwash
Landing, at Dawson, at Mayo Landing, and at several other points on the
train between Whitehorse and Dawson by the Territorial Government.
Yukon Southern Airways had cleared and graded strips at Fort St. John
and Fort Nelson while Canadian Airways had made some progress on the
clearing and grading of a strip at McMurray on the Mac k enzie River Route.
Progress was slow, however, owing to the lack of funds and difficulty of
moving heavy grading equipment into these remote districts.
THE NORTH WEST STAGING ROUTE
In 1939 the Department of Transport, recognizing the
future importance of the air route to Alaska from the commercial
and strategic points of view, obtained authority and funds for a
complete airway survey of the route from Edmonton to Whitehorse via
the valleys of the Peace, Liard and Yukon Rivers. It was the
? logical route to Alaska and the Orient and careful surveys had been
made of all the alternative routes during the preceding four years.
? It lay east of the Rocky Mountains, passed over relatively easy
terrain and was climatically preferable to any other route, having
a moderate snowfall and freedom from fog at all seasons.
CONSTRUCTION DURING THE WAR
Preoccupation with the construction of aerodromes for
the Empire Flying Training Plan during the first two years of the
war diverted attention from Northern development but with the entry
of the United States into the conflict in December 1941 the need
for action again became most urgent. Fortunately the Joint U.S. –
Canadian Defence Board appointed in 1940 had given early attention
to the need for better communication with Alaska and had urged the
immediate construction of the North West Staging Route from Edmonton
to Fairbanks on the plans of the Department of Transport. By
strenuous efforts the main fields on this route at Grande Prairie,
Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, Watson Lake and Whitehorse were completed
under contracts let by that Department by September 1st, 1941, and
a steady flow of reinforcements to the U.S. Air Forces in Alaska was
comparatively simple. During the next three years the route was
greatly enlarged, new intermediate fields and radio ranges were added
and the difficulties of transport solved by the completion of the
Alaska Highway which gave access to all aerodromes. The construction
and early completion of the highway was made possible by the existence
of the airway.
THE CANOL PROJECT
The decision to exploit to the full the Normal Walls
oil field caused a similar revolution on the Mac k River air route.
The demands of the traffic were far beyond the capacity of the
seaplanes previously used with such great advantage and the
construction of a chain of full scale air bases was rapidly undertaken
by the U.S. Forces with the approval and assistance of the Canadian
Government. [: At the conclusion the word traffic moved ] Nowadays traffic moves into Normal Wells and Yellowknife
in D.C.3s and from there is distributed by seaplane to outlying points.
THE TRANS-ATLANTIC FERRY ROUTE
On the Atlantic Coast similar action was being taken to
improve the communications by air across the Atlantic. The Department
of Transport was authorized to construct new bases at Montreal, Mont
Joli, the Saguenay and Seven Islands, Quebec; Moncton and Sydney, Nova
Scotia; Tor Bay, Newfoundland; and Goose Bay, Labrador, while Gander
airport was greatly enlarged. The United States Government were also
authorized to build airports for their own Services at Mingan, P.Q.,
Stevenville and Argentia, Newfoundland. These new bases added greatly
to the efficiency and safety of the trans-Atlantic ferry system and
the anti-submarine patrols off the Atlantic and Gulf of St. Lawrence
Coasts. In addition they served the important purpose of providing
staging aerodromes for the service of the aerodromes built in
Greenland and Iceland by the U.S. Forces.
THE "CRIMSON" ROUTE
Later in the war the United States Government was
given authority to construct with its own forces a further chain of
bases in Northern Canada known as the "Crimson" route, a staging
route to provide the shortest route from Los Angeles, California, to
Northern European points by short hops. At the time the proposal was
put forward the Canadian Government could not see its way to divert
men and supplies for this purpose from other projects more essential
then in hand. It considered that the prospect of opening, before
the close of the war, an efficient trans-Atlantic staging route
through the Arctic Islands was remote, but willingly gave authority
to the U.S. Forces to construct bases at Churchill, Manitoba,
Southampton Island and Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island and Chimo, Quebec,
as they pressed the matter. In the final settlement of the war
accounts between the two Governments Canada paid the United States
$76,000,000. for the work done on the "Crimson" route and resumed
control of all bases in Canadian territory. Though never used as a
staging route these bases have been invaluable in the post war period
as stepping stones for further development in the far North, as
meteorological stations, as bases for the air survey of the Arctic
Islands now in hand , and as staging bases to aerodromes at still more
remote meteorological and scientific stations now being established
to give efficient coverage all through the Arctic Archipelago and to
similar joint U.S. and Danish bases in Northern Greenland. the first L l anding
strips have already been to be built were at Baker Lake, Eureka Sound, and
Cornwallis Island ; and it is now proposed this being part of a plan to build a strip near all
meteorological stations established in Arctic Canada, there thus bringing to completion
the ideas originally put forward in 1922 when the Air Board sent
R. A. Logan to make a reconnaissance for this purpose.
EXERCISE "MUSK-OX"
During Exercise "Musk-Ox", a joint exercise by the
Canadian Army and the R.C.A.F. to test the possibilities of moving
men and motorized transport in the Canadian Arctic during the winter
and spring of 1945, the moving force was supplied by air during its
entire journey of 3000 miles from bases at Churchill, Yellowknife and
Norman Wells. Landings were made by "Dakota" aircraft at many of these
new bases and on the sea ice at various points on the route. On one
occasion 81/2 tons of supplies were dropped by parachute at Perry River
on the Arctic Coast in an hour by six Dakotas, four from Churchill
and two from Yellowknife. During the last two winters numerous mercy
flights to evacuate sick or injured persons have been made possible
by the use of the new bases and the construction and supply of
the remotest meteorological stations have been greatly facilitated.
SUMMARY
The above brief account shows the gradual expansion
from small beginnings of flying in Northern Canada. Progress has been
steady throughout the years. The foresters and surveyors were the
leaders in 1919 followed quickly by the prospector and mining operator.
Aviation and mining went hand in hand during the 1920's and 1930's.
With the increase in efficiency of the flying services the range of
prospecting and mining penetrated ever further into the North. The
war brought a revolution in methods and saw the aerodrome system
extended into the far North. Today it is possible to travel to the
Arctic Coast of Canada, to the Arctic Archipelago and to Alaska with equal safety and comfort in the same types of twin and four-engined
planes; with equally efficient radio aids to navigation and
meteorological services, and comparable ground facilities to those
in common use between Toronto and Montreal or New York and Chicago.
Journeys which previous to the advent of the aeroplane took months
and even years of arduous travel are now accomplished with ease and
comfort in a few hours. The isolation and solitude of the Arctic
are a thing of the past! With regular air mails, radio and supplies
of fresh provisions, life in the Arctic has assumed an entirely
different complexion. The effect on the change on the native
inhabitants is the subject of anxious concern in all interested in
the North. Steps must be taken to ensure to them the benefits these
changes have brought so that their lives and welfare are protected
and that they also may benefit by the advances which science has
brought to the Arctic.
BIBLIOGRAPHY

The Annual Reports on Civil Aviation 1919-30 –
The King's Printer, Ottawa, Canada.

The Report of the Hudson Straits Expedition 1927-28 –
The King's Printer, Ottawa, Canada.

"Aviation in Canada" by J. A. Wilson –
The Journal of the Engineering Institute of
Canada, March 1937.

"Air Transportation in Canada" by J. A. Wilson –
The Journal of the Engineering Institute of
Canada, May 1943.

"Gentlemen Adventurers of the Air" by J. A. Wilson –
National Geographical Journal, November 1929.

"North West Passage by Air" by J. A. Wilson –
Canadian Geographical Journal, March 1943.

Canadian Pacific Air Lines

EA-Transportation and Communications
[P. T. Cole]

CANADIAN PACIFIC AIR LINES

Canadian Pacific's first connection with flying dates back to 1918 when the
passing of the Canadian Air Board Act gave the railway company the right to own
and operate aircraft within and without Canada.
It was not until 1930, however, that the Canadian Pacific became actively
associated with air development, when in that year, it subscribed jointly with
the Canadian National in a stock inve s tment in Canadian Airways. In 1937, dis–
cussions were held with the government regarding a proposed jointly owned trans–
continental air route, but the Canadian Pacific declined to participate when the
government's offer indicated that the privately owned railway company would have
to subscribe one-half the capital but would receive only one-third voting power.
The actual development of Canadian Pacific Air Lines, with its widespread
north-south domestic routes which today total over 10,000 miles, commenced in 1939.
It was then that the late Sir Edward Beatty, president of the Canadian Pacific
Railway, delegated L. B. Unwin, vice-president of finance for the C.P.R., to
make a survey of the nation's privately owned air companies. As a result of these
findings, the Canadian Pacific pursued a progressive policy of purchasing these
lines resulting in the formation in 1942 of the present railway-controlled air
lines organization.
Altogether, 10 independent "bush" lines were taken over by the Canadian
Pacific. They were: Canadian Airways, Winnipeg; Yukon Southern Air Transport,
Vancouver and Edmonton; Quebec Airways, Montreal; Dominion Skyways, The Pas,

EA-Transp. & Comm. Cole: Canadian Pacific Air Lines

Manitoba; Prairie Airways, Moose Jaw; Ginger Coote Airways, Vancouver; Wings
Limited, Winnipeg; Starratt Airways, Hudson, Ontario, and Mackenzie Air Service,
Edmonton.
Canadian Pacific Air Lines and the component companies from which it was
formed have taken no small part in the development of northern Canada and have
materially aided the progress of the country and the welfare of its people.
Transportation and communication, practically unknown before, have been estab–
lished for most of the sparsely inhabited regions in northern Canada, prospect–
ing and the discovery of new mining fields, including radium and uranium and
development of rich but out of the way mining fields was made possible.
Some of the high lights of the development of Canadian Pacific Air Lines'
operations, which today are contributing so greatly to the welfare and progress
of Canada, were the pioneering of the inside route to Alaska, the choosing of
sites for a chain of airports on this route, the consequent development of these
airports, the part taken by the company in the building of the Alaska Highway
joining the airports, the part taken by the company in the tremendous Canol
project, which entailed the building of airports between Edmonton and Norman Wells,
and the building of a road and pipeline between Norman Wells and Whitehorse. These
were gigantic projects all, but in addition to them, Canadian Pacific Air Lines
has played an outstanding part in the development of the natural resources of
Canada from Labrador to Alaska.
C. P. A.'s northern routes now extend from Vancouver and Edmonton to the
northern terminals of Fairbanks, Alaska, Dawson and Whitehorse in the Yukon, and
Aklavik and Coppermine on the Arctic Sea; from Winnipeg to The Pas, Flin Flon,
and Churchill, Manitoba; and from Montreal to Seven Islands, Havre St. Pierre, and
Blanc Sablon on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Knob Lake in Labrador, and to Val d'Or

EA-Transp. & Comm. Cole: Canadian Pacific Air Lines

and Rouyn-Noranda in the northern Quebec mining territory. C.P.A.'s service to
Knob Lake has now been succeeded by an air service owned by The Labrador Mining
and Exploration Company.
Uranium and its particular properties were most essential to the development
of the atom bomb. The Eldorado Mine on Great Bear Lake, a regularly serviced
point on Canadian Pacific Air Lines' routes 1,100 miles north of Edmonton, up
until recently was the only known source of uranium. Prior to World War II, and
during the war, Canadian Pacific planes, or planes of composite companies, first
transported the original discoverers of this property. Just prior to the war
and during it many of the concentrates were flown to Edmonton and shipped by rail
to eastern Canada for further processing. During the war this remote but impor–
tant mining settlement was served on a scheduled basis by C.P.A.
Early in 1947, Canadian Pacific Air Lines began operations to Knob Lake in
Labrador, 350 air miles north of the Gulf of St. Lawrence village of Seven Islands,
to develop the huge iron deposits discovered in that area. A contract was signed
with [: ] The Labrador Mining and Exploration Company, a subsidiary of the Hollinger
Gold Mines, to fly in hundreds of tons of equipment to the "New Mesabi."
When the C.P.A. first contracted to fly in this equipment, heavy and continuous
snow storms held up operations for some weeks. Then it was found that a packed snow
runway of the type usually used by aircraft equipped with wheels in the winter
was unsafe when the temperature was above 15 degrees. To overcome this, a snow–
blower was flown in and a runway cleared on the lake surface to within an inch of the
ice. Then, three C.P.A. DC-3's, assisted by two other transports chartered by the
company, began to race against the spring breakup. Flying 1,600 to 2,000 miles
a day, the planes carried five tractors, two one-ton trucks, a roadscraper, and a
jeep, along with diamond drills and other mining equipment, oil, gasoline, dynamite,
and food supplies for [: ] the 150 men flown in to work on the project that

EA-Transp. & Comm. Cole: Canadian Pacific Air Lines

summer. More than 400 tons of supplies were flown in that winter.
In the late '20's and early '30's, composite companies of Canadian Pacific
Air Lines were struggling with inferior equipment of the single engine type,
on floats in the summer and skis in winter, to develop scheduled services to the
rich mining and fur areas of Yellowknife, the Lower Mackenzie River, northern
British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska. These services were originating in
Edmonton to a great degree and to a lesser extent from Vancouver. In 1937, a
regular air mail service was established between Edmonton and the Yukon to supple–
ment the regular air mail service between Edmonton and Mackenzie River points.
In 1938, the service was joined by a connection at Fort St. John, in the Peace
River country, by a service from Vancouver.
The importance of this route as an inside passage to Alaska and the Orient
was easily recognized, and in 1938 and 1939 the airstrips at Fort Nelson and
Watson Lake were surveyed and work commenced by the company. These airports
were by no means [: ] adequate but served the purpose. In 1940 the Canadian Gov–
ernment recognized the importance of this route and immediately commenced extensive work
which ultimately gave this northwest route to the Orient some of the first class
airports that we have today. Then on December 7, 1941, came Pearl Harbor.
The uncertainty of adequate shipping facilities in the North Pacific to ser–
vice Alaska became apparent, and in the spring of 1942, thousands upon thousands of
men and trainload after trainload of materials were forwarded through Edmonton to
the end of steel at Dawson Creek for the purpose of constructing an all-weather
highway, 1,500 miles long, to Alaska. Canadian Pacific Air Lines, their officers
and employees, were the only people who had any intimate knowledge of this route.
Surveys had to be made and Canadian Pacific pilots did the flying. Parties had
to be placed out on remote lakes and rivers and flown into unmapped territory.

EA-Transp. & Comm. Cole: Canadian Pacific Air Lines

Tons of material and men had to be flown in to Alaska and to points between
Edmonton and Alaska and this work was done almost entirely by C.P.A. Later on,
as the airports were enlarged and paved, navigation facilities had to be installed,
more men and materials had to be taken in, [: ] fuel had to be flown in —
all this work, in conjunction with the United States and the Royal Canadian Air
Force, to a great extent was handled by Canadian Pacific aircraft.
As mentioned before, the safety of the sea lanes in the North Pacific area
was questionable. It was useless to establish a chain of airports in order to
ferry the latest bombers and fighters to the American continent's last stronghold
if, on their arrival, they would have no fuel due to the inability of oil tankers
to reach Alaska because of enemy action.
The oil fields of Norman Wells, 1,400 miles north of Edmonton on the broad
Mackenzie River, had been producing oil for consumption in the Arctic [: ] for
years. It was decided to build a pipeline from Norman Wells to Whitehorse, a
distance of over 600 miles, most of which was unmapped and over 500 miles of which
was mountainous, and to construct a refinery at Whitehorse in order that the
needs of Alaska could be taken care of. In order to make the job a little more
interesting, it was decided to build an all-weather highway paralleling the
pipeline. Needless to say, the refinery at Whitehorse did produce gasoline and
the job was completed.
Canadian Pacific Air Lines was not long in recognizing the advantages of
airports where large, wheel-equipped aircraft could be used to improve the service
in the North and with this in mind, in the early spring of 1942, a survey was
commenced. Company officers and employees looked over Fort McMurray, the terminus
of the railway; Fort Smith the capital of the Northwest Territories; Fort Resolution
and Yellowknife. Work was commenced at Fort McMurray and Fort Smith immediately
the snow disappeared and by the middle of the summer both these fields were in use.

EA-Transp. & Comm. Cole: Canadian Pacific Air Lines

The same problems of accommodation, hangars, shops, communications, and training
again confronted the company and again the problems were solved in a similar
manner to those on the route to Alaska, with one exception — no highway para–
lleled the route to Norman Wells, but merely a network of rivers and lakes, navi–
gable approximately five months of the year. As a result, Canadian Pacific Air
Lines, which was by this time taxed almost to the limit in the movement of men
and supplies to the Canol project, was required to carry much of its own company
material as well; company material essential to carry on the business of supplying
adequate services to these important war projects.
Every type of equipment, from hospital supplies to "Mickey Mouse" movies was
flown by Canadian Pacific Air Lines to points between Edmonton and the oil fields
at Norman Wells. Again the Canadian Government and the U. S. Army Engineers
realized the importance of airports, and the original strips surveyed and constructed
by the company were improved to handle the large bombers and the transports.
Canadian Pacific Air Lines, since its consolidation of various air operators,
has endeavored to develop the North country tributary to its routes by (1) reduc–
tion in passenger and cargo rates and (2) improvements in equipment and frequency
of service. Throughout Canada the rates to the public have been consistently
lowered despite, approximately, [: ] a 60 percent increase in operating costs
between 1941 and the present time. Numerous examples could be quoted [: ] but
only a few will be mentioned to illustrate the many decreases [: ] put into effect.
In 1942 the passenger fare between Edmonton and Yellowknife was $110.00; by
1948 this figure had been reduced to $80.00 or approximately a 27% decrease. At
the same time, the goods rate per 100 pounds was $50. in 1942 and this had been re–
duced to $14.97 in 1948 or a reduction of approximately 74%. Similar percentage
reductions were effected throughout the Northwest Territories between 1942 and 1948.

EA-Transp. & Comm. Cole: Canadian Pacific Air Lines

These reductions were in an area in which Canadian Pacific Air Lines is theonly
scheduled air transportation medium and where ground transport is very slow and
inconvenient.
During the winter of 1948-49, in order to assist the standard of living of the
people of the Yukon, special winter goods rates of 15 cents per pound, Vancouver
to Whitehorse, and 17 cents per pound Fort St. John to Dawson City were instituted.
Such very low rates are a distinct advantage to the people of the north country,
enabling them to have fresh perishable goods within a few short hours.
Equipment used on various routes of Canadian Pacific Air Lines has been
constantly improved in the past six years. A substantial standardization in
equipment during this period has also been [: ] achieved. In 1942, after and
during the consolidation of the companies, equipment consisted of everything
from single-engine Beechcraft to twin-engine Barkley-Grows and Boeing 247's. The
aircraft were operated to a limited extent on wheels, but operations mainly were
conducted with floats in summer and skis during the winter.
By 1948 the multiplicity of equipment had been reduced to a few standard
types such as Lockheed Lodestars and Douglas DC-3's [: ] on the scheduled
routes, and Norsemen, Barkley Grows, Beechcraft, and Rapids in the smaller out–
lying operations. These types by 1949 had been mainly reduced to Lockheed
Lodestars and DC-3's for scheduled main line operations and single-engine Norse–
man aircraft for bush operations.
Schedule frequencies during the 1942-48 period had been augmented and improved
throughout C.P.A. operations. The Vancouver and Edmonton route to the Yukon,
which was operated three times a week in early 1942, was in 1948 operating on
a daily-excet-Sunday basis with 28-passenger DC-3's. Similarly, schedules between
Edmonton and Yellowknife increased from three times per week in early 1942 to
six times per week in 1948, and numerous second sections were in operation over
this route.

EA-Transp. & Comm. Cole: Canadian Pacific Air Lines

It was during this period that the improvements took place in the company's
operations through the provision of landing fields permitting all-year-round
operation of aircraft on wheels. This was most noticeable in the Northwest
Territories at such points as Fort McMurray, Fort Smith, Yellowknife, Hay River,
and down the Mackenzie River to Norman Wells. A similar development took place
through the interior of British Columbia to Fort St. John and on to Whitehorse
and Dawson City. Immediately all-year-round wheel operations were feasible,
Canadian Pacific Air Lines put into operation larger, faster, and more economical
aircraft to provide better and faster communication for the people of the north
country and to overcome the long break-up and freeze-up periods when flying had
to be suspended.
In 1946 and early 1947, with the advent of small operators to perform the
charter and small off-line services, Canadian Pacific Air Lines presented to the
Air Transport Board a proposal to withdraw from bush operations with small air–
craft where these could be economically performed in the interests of the public
by the smaller individual operators. This changed Canadian Pacific operations
throughout most of Canada to a wheeled airline service. Some charter operations
were retained at Yellowknife and on the north shore of the St. Lawrence where
no other operator was yet available to perform the service required.
During 1947, as the company withdrew from bush operations, new airline routes
were added, such as Winnipeg-Flin Flon on June 1, 1947; Vancouver-Prince Rupert
on June 15, 1947; Vancouver-Calgary on September 22, 1947; Montreal-Rouyn-Noranda,
May 16, 1949; and Winnipeg-Churchill, June 7, 1949.
In general, the aim of Canadian Pacific Air Lines has been to establish regular
airline services to all communities in its route pattern and to leave to those
operators capable of doing so the provision of service to small off-line points

EA-Transp. & Comm. Cole: Canadian Pacific Air Lines

where float and ski operations are required. This policy has made it possible to
develop the equipment and service frequency of mainline routes coincident with
decreases in passenger fares and goods rates throughout the country.
Spreading its wings into the field of international aviation, Canadian
Pacific Air Lines, operating more than 10,000 miles of domestic lines, has added
nearly 15,000 route miles to its services with scheduled flights to Australia
and the Orient. From Vancouver's International Airport, C.P.A. operates fort–
nightly trips to Australia via San Francisco, Honolulu, Canton Island, and Fiji
with Canadair-4's taking off from the field every second Wednesday, while
each Monday there are flights north via the Great Circle to Tokyo and Hong
kong with fueling stops at Anchorage, Alaska, and Shemya in the Aleutian Islands.
P. T. Cole

Northern Canadian “Bush" Flying

EA-Transportation and Communication
(Richard Finnie)

NORTHERN CANADIAN "BUSH" FLYING

The key that opened the doors of Northern Canada to mining and industrial
development was the airplane. Prior to its introduction, practically the whole
of the northerly third of the Cominion was difficult of access except areas
adjacent to the sea or along navigable rivers. Gold and a little silver and
lead were produced in the Yukon Territory during and after the rush of 1897-98,
but apart from a limited amount of whaling in arctic waters, the only other
business across the whole of Northern Canada was the fur trade, carried on much
as it had been since the first posts of the Hudson's Bay Company had been estab–
lished in the 17th century.
As early as 1915 far-sighted authorities envisaged the possibility that
aircraft might one day speed the exploration of the Canadian Subarctic, but it
was not until the end of World War I that serious consideration was given to it.
It remained for a number of young Canadians who had been military aviators to
make the practical tests. In a pair of low-winged monoplanes on skis, two of
them took off for the Mackenzie River in the spring of 1921 with a party of geo–
logists bound for Norman Wells, where an oil well had just been brought in. That
was the first aerial journey into Northern Canada.
In March the two pilots, G. W. Gorman and E. G. Fullerton, had established
a base at Peace River for their Junkers ships, which belonged to Imperial Oil
Limited. They got as far as Fort Simpson without difficulty, but there Gorman's
skis and propeller were damaged when the plane broke through the ice. Repairs

EA-Transp. & Comm. Finnie: Northern Canadian "Bush" Flying

were made, both ships returned to Peace River, and that summer Fullerton suc–
cessfully flew T. A. Link, chief of the geological party, as far as Fort Norman.
This time a pontoon sprang a leak and the plane settled in shallow water. It
was salvaged, reconditioned at Norman Wells, 52 miles downstream, and finally
was flown back to Peace River.
When or where the terms "bush flying" and "bush pilots" were first used
is obscure, but their meaning is well understood. Any flight of a ski or float
plane off the beaten track in the North, whether over wooded country or across
tundra, became known as a bush flight, especially if in connection with pros–
pecting or other business; and though the Mackenzie River was a well traveled
artery no airplanes had ever flown above it before, so Gorman and Fullerton
qualified for the distinction of being the first northern bush pilots; charter
members of an illustrious guild.
At the same time, airplanes were coming into use in the bushlands of North–
ern Ontario, where they were used first for forest inventory surveys and then
for forest fire detection as well; and in 1924 the Ontario government created
its own air service, recruiting pilots who were soon to become famous in the
Subarctic: H. A. (Doc) Oakes, Leigh Brintnell, G. A. (Tommy) Thompson, C. A.
(Duke) Schiller, and others. Meanwhile, the Royal Canadian Air Force had start–
ed serial surveys in northern Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. Mapping by ground
surveys had been approaching a practical limit and great northern spaces were
still blank. By means of oblique aerial photographs mapping was extended with
a completeness of detail hitherto impossible. All these activities proved that
aircraft could play an important part in transportation and exploration across
the outlying districts of Canada, as well as for forestry patrols and surveys.
Between 1924 and 1926 a Vickers Viking amphibian flying boat, built in

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England, set a remarkable series of Subarctic bush-flying records. In August
1924, piloted by R. S. Granby, the Viking flew to Moose Factory and Attawapis–
kat on the west coast of James Bay on a treaty-paying mission among the Indians.
The following year the machine was obtained by an American mining syndicate for
exploration in Northern British Columbia. With the late J. Scott Williams as
pilot and the late C. S. Caldwell as co-pilot, it was flown from Prince Rupert
via Wrangell, Alaska, to Telegraph Creek, B. C., and thence to Dease Lake, where
a base was established. Parties of prospectors were set down in remote areas,
picked up and moved to other locations, all through the summer — the first em–
ployment of a procedure in Northern Canada that was later to become standard
among prospectors, leading to rich mineral discoveries. Many trips were made
by the Viking to the Upper Liard River, and the longest was up the Dease and
Frances rivers to Frances Lake. The fliers crossed and recrossed the route of
the future Alaska Highway and the site of a great airport at Watson Lake, but
in those days it was all little-known wilderness. There were no mishaps and
after six weeks and a total of 95 flying hours for the plane the party was re–
layed back to the coast.
The next summer the Viking was bought from her original owners, Laurentide
Air Service Limited, by a mining syndicate for mineral exploration southeast of
Great Slave Lake, in the Mackenzie District of the Northwest Territories. This
time her pilot was C. S. Caldwell, with I. Vachon as engineer. The plane was
assembled at Lac LaBiche, 127 miles north of Edmonton, and flown to FortChipewyan,
Athabaska Lake, where it was based. A number of flights were made into the Barren
Lands as far north and west as the Arctic and Hudson Bay watershed. The expedi–
tion, which was wholly successful as far as flying was concerned, lasted from
mid-June until the latter part of August.

EA-Transp. & Comm. Finnie: Northern Canadian "Bush" Flying

In 1930 two Vickers Vedette flying boats of the Royal Canadian Air Force,
piloted by Group Captain Frederick J. Mawdesley and Wing Commander Harry Winny,
flew down the Mackenzie River to its delta, and to Great Bear Lake and Corona–
tion Gulf, covering some 12,000 miles in making the first serial oblique mapping
photographs of the Western Canadian Arctic and Subarctic. Thenceforward the
RCAF undertook a long-range program of Aerial mapping which has since paid for
itself many times over in resultant mineral discoveries.
In 1928 the mining industry was booming, with capital abundant and adven–
turous, and aerial mineral exploration was launched. J. E. (Jack) Hammell and
Colonel C. D. H. MacAlpine, both of Toronto, organized two separate and competi–
tive expeditions under the syndicate names of Northern Aerial Mineral Exploration
Limited and Dominion Explorers, respectively. Each expedition had its own vessel
to bring men and supplies to the west coast of Hudson Bay, while airplanes were
flown to the main bases. The Barren Lands west of the Bay were to be examined.
Geologists were to spot favorabl formations from the air, and then parties of
prospectors would be set down to cover them on foot.
Guy H. Blanchet, a veteran northern mining engineer who represented the
Department of the Interior with Dominion Explorers, afterwards reported that,
though there were accidents and machines were damaged or lost, there were no
casualties dueing a total of between fifty and a hundred thousand miles of
subarctic flying.
He told of some of the new problems that beset the fliers. One was the
compass, for the Dominion Explorers main base was at Baker Lake, within 600
miles of the Magnetic Pole. Navigation had to be carried on by the sun or land–
marks, or, on occasions, by the direction of the wind as shown on lake waves.
One flight from Baker Lake, aimed at Wager Bay, some 200 miles northeasterly on

EA-Transp. & Comm. Finnie: Northern Canadian "Bush" Flying

Hudson Bay, was thrown off course by clouds and ended up on the Arctic Coast.
Solar compasses were subsequently used.
Winter navigation over the Barrens was endangered by wind-driven snow,
atarting as a flowing tide, then lifting higher and higher into the air until
all landmarks were obliterated, making landing difficult on unknown terrain.
Further hazards were the small, hard, wave-like drifts or Gastrugi , forming in
the direction of the prevailing winds, they strained the undercarriage and every
now and then threw a plane onto a wing and wrecked it. Then there were the
hazards of hidden boulders on the snow-covered land, and rough or rafted ice
on the sea and lakes.
Air freighting around the Red Lake mining district of Northern Ontario
had been flourishing since 1926, and by 1928 commercial aviation was an establish–
ed institution, with several companies formed and extending their activities
from coast to coast. In August C. H. (Punch) Dickins of Western Canada Airways,
carrying a group of prospectors, made the first flight across the Barrens from
Baker Lake to Lake Athabaska.
On March 6, 1929, the first airplane crossed the Arctic Circle along the
Mackenzie River, flown by Dickins, and on the first of July he put his Fokker
monoplane down at Aklavik, in the Mackenzie Delta. Such flights were like the
first olives out of a bottle. Other arctic and subarctic records were broken
that year in quick succession: Snowdrift and Fort Reliance, east end of Great Slave
Lake, April 2; Fort Rae, North Arm of Great Slave Lake, April 10; Great Bear Lake,
July 29. It was Dickins who did most of this pioneering. Soon sharing honors
with him were A. M. (Matt) Berry, Walter Gilbert, W. R. (Wop) May, Con Farrel,
Leigh Brintnell, T. M. (Pat) Reid, Herbert Hollick-Kenyon, H. A. (Doc) Oakes,
Stanley MacMillan, the late William Spence, the late C. A. (Duke) Schiller, the

EA-Transp. & Comm. Finnie: Northern Canadian "Bush" Flying

late A. D. Cruickshank, and a number of others, not to mention their engineers
whose ingenuity was extraordinary in maintaining the airworthiness of machines
in all kinds of weather. Nearly all World War I veterans, several of these
pilots won the McKee Trophy, an annual award for outstanding contributions to
the cause of Canadian aviation.
While Dickins was breaking records during the summer of 1929, Leigh Brint–
nell was also doing some pioneering. In August, taking off from Winnipeg, Mani–
toba, with a prospector named Gilbert LaBine, he hopped to The Pas, thence to
Fort McMurray and down the Mackenzie River to Fort Norman and up the Great Bear
River to Great Bear Lake, where about fifteen local reconnaissance flights were
made. (It was the following spring that LaBine staked his Eldorado claims at
the site of the world's richest known source of uranium.) Brintnell proceeded
from Great Bear Lake to Aklavik, where he picked up a government party headed
by O.S. Finnie, Director of the Northwest Territories and Yukon Branch, and in
sir and a half hours completed a trail-blazing flight across the Mackenzie-Yukon
divide via the Bell, Porcupine and Yukon rivers to Dawson City. He then flew
south over Whitehorse and along the coast to Prince Rupert, and overland back to
Winnipeg.
Another noteworthy series of pioneer flights was made in September, by J. D.
Vance (later killed on Great Bear Lake) and T. M. (Pat) Reid, from Hudson Bay to
Edmonton via Coronomation Gulf, Great Bear Lake and the Mackenzie River.
That autumn the government awarded a Mackenzie District mail contract to
Commercial Airways, a company later absorbed kby Canadian Airways Limited; and
ever since that time all mail to the Arctic has been carried at no extra charge.
When Sir Hohn Franklin;s two ships and 105 men were swallowed up in the polar
geastnesses in the middle of the last century, the scores of expeditions that went

EA-Transp. & Comm. Finnie: Northern Canadian "Bush" Flying

out to search for them contributed vastly to knowledge of the Arctic. Analo–
gously, in the autumn of 1929 when Colonel MacAlpine of Dominion Explorers took
off from Baker Lake with several companions in a Fokker and vanished not far
from the scene of the Franklin tragedy, the ensuing fine-combing of the Barren
Lands by airplanes, climaxed by the party's return, produced a wealth of topo–
graphical information as well as subpolar flying experience. It also directed
attention to the mineral resources of the Far North and the feasibility of their
development through aerial exploration and transportation.
By the time Colonel MacAlpine and his companions, found safe at Cambridge
Bay, Victoria Island, had been flown south, the search and rescue operations
had extended from Winnipeg to Churchill, Chesterfield Inlet, the Arctic Coast,
and Victoria Island, Great Slave Lake, Lake Athabaska, The Pas, and across much
of the intermediate country.
A year later an airplane was chartered by the Department of the Interior
to map the Arctic Coast between Coronation Gulf and Boothia Peninsula and to
circumnavigate King William Island, the prime object being investigation of re–
ports of the existence of relics of the Franklin tragedy. A veteran arctic ex–
plorer, the late Major L. T. Burwash, headed the party, with Walter Gilbert as
pilot, Stanley Knight as engineer, and the writer as photographer and assistant.
The flight was the first ever made to the area of the North Magnetic Pole. It
virtually brought to a close the era of major aerial exploration in Northern
Canada — with the exception of the more northerly arctic islands — and left
only short gaps to be filled.
The airplane in which the Magnetic Pole flight was made had a history com–
parable to that of the Vickers Viking which preceded it into the Northwest Ter–
ritories. It was a Fokker monoplane with a 425 horsepower Pratt and Whitney

EA-Transp. & Comm. Finnie: Northern Canadian "Bush" Flying

Wasp engine, owned by Western Canada Airways. Its last mission had been with
the MacAlpine party, when it was abandoned on the Arctic Coast and left exposed
to the elements for nearly a year before being hastily reconditioned. In the
previous two years it had made the first flight across the Barrens from Hudson
Bay westward, had carried the first airmail in Canada west of Winnipeg, and
had been used by Leigh Brintnell on his 9,000-mile itinerary from Winnipeg to
Great Bear Lake, Aklavik, Dawson and Prince Rupert.
The airplanes that did the first bush flying in the Arctic and Subarctic
were single-engined Fokkers, Fairchilds, Junkers, and Bellancas. Not until a
few years later were other types introduced, including the popular Norseman.
In 1931 and 1932 the silver and pitchblende discoveries made previously by
Gilbert LaBine and others precipitated aerial stampedes to Great Bear Lake.
Canadian Airways and other companies were transporting men and supplies in a
dozen or more planes as against the two that had ventured there in 1929.
In 1932 Leigh Brintnell left Canadian Airways and formed his own company,
Mackenzie Air Service Limited. Until this time none of the arctic planes was
equipped with radio, nor did any of them regularly depend on weather reports
from the government wireless stations scattered along the Mackenzie and on the
Arctic Coast (a transmitting and receiving set especially provided for the Mag–
netic Pole flight was jettisoned to reduce weight); yet in all of the first ten
years of northern flying, while a few planes were cracked up and several pilots
were killed, no passengers were ever injured. Those were the days when it was
said that a bush pilot flew "by the seat of his pants."
Leigh Brintnell's was one of the first commercial companies to equip all
their planes with two-way voice and code transmitters and receivers, and the
Royal Canadian Corps of Signals' ground stations responded with voice transmitters.
Thereafter 15-minute schedules were kept on charter flights as well as on all

EA-Transp. & Comm. Finnie: Northern Canadian "Bush" Flying

regular runs.
By 1933, while flying was still regarded as adventurous by many people
in a more sourtherly clime, the airplane had already become a commonplace
factor in the life of the Arctic, along with boat and dog teams. It was quick–
ly adopted not only by prospectors but by trappers, traders, the Royal Canadian
Mounted Police, doctors, missionaries and scientists. In those days and after–
ward, when most of the basic exploratory flying had been done, prosaic routine
was occasionally interrupted by spectacular "mercy flights." Here a trapper
had fractured a leg,somewhere else a lonely prospector had become "bushed,"
out on the Arctic Coast somebody was lost or starving; and on each occasion a
plane would be sent to the rescue.
Just as bush flying had led to the discovery of the radium mine and other
properties on Great Bear Lake, so did it lead to the rise of Yellowknife, on
the North Arm of Great Slave Lake, in the vicinity of which thousands of claims
were staked between 1935 and 1938, when the first gold brick was poured there.
In the intervening years and afterward countless prospectors scoured the wilder–
ness between Great Bear Lake, using airplanes to move from
one location to another. Some of the planes were chartered; some belonged to
mining syndicates. One company had five of its own planes to keep prospectors
in the field from June until September. The technique of bush flying here attain–
ed a high degree of efficiency. When veins rich enough to warrant development
were found, men, machinery and miscellaneous supplies were flown to the sites.
While the R. C. M. P. continued to travel by boat and dog team on routine
northern patrols, airplanes proved of great value to them in emergencies. The
first arctic man hunt in which flying figured was that of "the mad trapper of
Rat River," in 1932. After shooting two constables, one of whom died instantly,

EA-Transp. & Comm. Finnie: Northern Canadian "Bush" Flying

the trapper, Albert Johnson, fled into the wilderness. A chartered plane
piloted by W. R. May moved supplies and members of a posse, helped track down
the killer, and rushed a wounded man to the nearest hospital. Eventually, in
1939, the R. C. M. P. acquired a plane of its own for northern inspection trips.
From the earliest days of northern flying, bush planes carried prodigious
quantities of miscellaneous freight as well as passengers — everything from
live chickens and cattle to lumber, dynamite and heavy mining machinery. Radium
and silver concentrates were dispatched from Great Bear Lake by plane as well
as by boat, and many bales of white fox pelts were annually flown from the Arc–
tic Coast. Before World War II more freight was carried by air in Canada than
in any other country (possibly exdepting the Soviet Union) and most of it went
to and from the North.
As pilots and engineers gained cold-weather experience they made many changes
and adjustments to render their machines more efficient. They redesigned their
engine installations to permit of a greater reception of hot air and equipped
them with extra cowlings to maintain normal operation at low temperatures. Profit–
ing by such devices and by the severe practical tests being made, Canadian man–
ufacturers began turning out planes especially constructed for northern bush
flying. Along with the aircraft companies were several firms specializing in the
construction of floats and skis. For instance, the airplane skis produced by
Elliott Brothers of Sioux Lookout, Ontario, became known wherever skis were used
These men were originally boat and tobaggan builders, but with the development
of the mining industry at their very door they began to study the requirements
for winter landing gear and became specialists in the field.
Aiding the pilots and engineers and manufacturers, the Air Research Committee
of the National Research Council carried on laboratory and practical experiments

EA-Transp. & Comm. Finnie: Northern Canadian "Bush" Flying

to improve flying under all conditions. Among the problems studied were winter
operation of airplane engines with special reference to starting, lubricating,
cooling; the effect of low temperatures on lubricating oils and on the strength
of materials such as spruce, plywood, streamline wire and rubber shock cord;
aerodynamic investigations on tapered wings, wind tunnel wall interference, and
stability of flying boats. But bush pilots discovered for themselves solutions
to many minor but perplexing problems. They found, for example, that if their
skis dragged on a snow furface under certain conditions and prevented taking off,
all they had to do was soak gunny sacks in kerosene and let the skis pass over
them.
Arctic pilots became accustomed to all sorts of extraordinary phenomena,
such as temperature inversions. In winter a plane may take off when the tem–
perature on the ground is far below zero, yet at an altitude of a thousand or
fifteen hundred feet encounter air so warm that hear frost accumulated in the
cabin melts and drenches the passengers.
Arctic air engineers must be familiar with ski construction; maintenance,
repair and rigging of pontoons and anticorrosion preparation of planes for float
work; preparation and maintenance of engines for cold-weather operation, and
an infinite variety of knowledge for the most part obtainable only by experience.
The engineers, and the pilots, too, must be able to service their own planes for
long periods when away from bases. Besides the filling of gas tanks and the
checking of oil, servicing in winter may entail blocking up the skis to keep them
from freezing to the snow or ice, draining the oil and removing the battery and
storing both in a warm place, putting on the nose hangar (a canvas cover), anchor–
ing the plane by means of ropes tied to gasoline drums or passed through holes
chopped in the sea, lake or river ice, and pumping gasoline into the tanks by

EA-Transp. & Comm. Finnie: Northern Canadian "Bush" Flying

hands; and standing by in the morning for an hour or two with a fire extinguish–
er handy while the motor is being heated up by a plumber's blowtorch, often with
the temperature 40 or 50 degrees below zero.
Virtually all bush flying has always been "contact , " , i.e., by reference
to landmarks as well as compass. This usually limits flying to daylight hours
and reasonably clear weather. Though night flying by bush pilots is contrary
to air regulations, it has often been practiced in emergencies. In midwinter
in the higher latitudes the sun remains above the horizon for only a few hours
(north of the Arctic Circle not at all), and if there is any mist it gives less
light than the moon. Therefore, on clear nights, when the moon is full, contact
flying is actually safer than in the daytime, according to oldtime pilots.
Aside from the ingenuity of the bush pilot in his principal work of flying,
he must always be prepared to care for himself and passengers in the event of
a forced landing. He must be cook, hunter, and all-round woodsman. Standard
emergency equipment always includes concentrated food rations and at least one
large-caliber rifle. On bush flights, however, there is seldom a group of pas–
sengers that does not include at least one veteran prospector or trapper to
lighten the pilot's responsibility.
Bush flying in the Yukon had its inception in 1927, when the late A. D.
(Andy) Cruickshank established a charter service out of Whitehorse. A year later
the late Livingstone Wernecke of the Treadwell Yukon Corporation (mining) ac–
quired a Fairchild plane for exploration and transportation in the Mayo area
In 1933 George Simmons, the son of an old Yukoner, formed Northern Airways at
Carcross in partnership with Everett Wasson, who had been flying for Wernecke
Their first plane was Wernecke's Fairchild, which they bought. They got a local
mail contract and did charter flying for sportsmen, trappers and others. In 1935

EA-Transp. & Comm. Finnie: Northern Canadian "Bush" Flying

Wasson sold out his interest to his partner and went to work for the newly
formed aviation branch of the British Yukon Navigation Company (White Pass &
Yukon Railway), which was short lived. Northern Airways prospered, however,
employing some of the best bush pilots in the country: Robert Randall, George
Dalziel, Pat Callison, Jimmy Symes, Herman Peterson, and the late Les Cook.
In 1934 a young bush pilot named Grant McConachie, who had been flying
frozen fish from Northern Alberta and Saskatchewan lakes to railroad sidings,
and Ted Field, a fellow pilot, made a charter trip in two Fokkers from Edmonton
to the Yukon via Prince George, Dease Lake, Teslin and Carcross. The next year
a more northerly route was tested by A. D. McLean, then superintendent of air–
ways for the Department of Transport, in a Fairchild 71 seaplane flown by Punch
Dickins. They flew to Whitehorse via Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, and Lower Post.
In 1937 McConachie obtained financial backing from A. J. Nesbitt of Montreal
and started an airline over this latter route. Soon the Dominion Post Office
gave him a contract to fly mail once a week to and from the Yukon — on pontoons
in summer, skis in winter. This was a bush operation that led to a revolution
in northern Canadian flying.
Planes equipped with skis or floats are at a disadvantage between seasons,
when the ice is forming or when it is breaking up, occasioning a suspension of
service of from six to eight weeks. Moreover, ski and pontoon undercarriages,
being heavy, allow for a proportionately smaller pay load than that carried by
a wheel-mounted plane. McConachie, a shrewd business man as well as an expert
pilot, began hacking out airfields. Soon the Department of Transport took the
work in hand and that was the genesis of the Alaska Highway route.
Starting in 1927 as Western Canada Airways with the backing of the late
James A. Richardson, the largest privately owned air carrier in the Dominion

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was now Canadian Airways Limited, which had taken that name in 1930 after ab–
sorbing a number of competitors. In 1942 the Canadian Pacific Railway Company
which had been a substantial stockholder, bought it out, along with Leigh Brint–
nell's Mackenzie Air Service and Grant McConachie's Yukon Southern, and formed
Canadian Pacific Air Lines. Whereas the government-owned Trans-Canada Air Lines
maintained a regular cross-country run, Canadian Pacific Air Lines now monopol–
ized virtually all of the northerly routes. The only remaining independent
operator in the North was George Simmons at Carcross.
AlthoughCPA put its pilots into uniform and even had stewardesses on some
of its lines, the era of bush flying was not yet over. The requirements of the
Alaska Highway and the Canol Project created an intensive demand for pilots and
planes of the old school. Reconnaissance for road location along the Alaska
Highway route was made with planes on skis and floats, which also carried relief
supplies and freight to isolated construction crews. When the U.S. Army Air
Transport Command flew the Alaska Highway route, and when Army pilots ferried
fighters and light bombers over it to the Soviet Union, there were inevitable
crackups. Experienced bush pilots comprised a Search and Rescue group within
the Alaskan Wing of the ATC, and to them many a transport or ferry pilot owes his life.
The first exploratory flight across the Mackenzie-Yukon divide from Norman
Wells to Whitehorse to determine an oil pipeline route in 1942 was essentially
a bush-plane operation; and many similar flights were subsequently made. These
called for experienced mountain pilots. George Dalziel, at that time employed
by CPA, was assigned the task of carrying road locators and supplies among the
8000-foot peaks of the Mackenzie Mountains from the east side, while the staff
of Northern Airways flew from the west side. Some of the planes they used were

EA-Transp. & Comm. Finnie: Northern Canadian "Bush" Flying

Fokkers, Bellancas and Fairchilds of 1928 vintage, but there was never a fatal
accident among them. Concurrently, airfields were needed in the Mackenzie Dis–
trict so that big transport planes could shuttle men and supplies back and forth
at all seasons, and it was one of the pioneer bush pilots, A. M. (Matt) Berry,
who marked them out and helped supervise their construction.
Prior to the was there were no airfields in the Northwest Territories and
only a scattered few in the Yukon; by the end of the war there were more than a
score of major airports and numerous intermediate strips. There was an airfield
on Baffin Island, and other islands in the Arctic Archipelago would eventually
have similar installations. The increasing use of wheel planes followed radio
beams from airfield to airfield on regular schedules will render northern flying
more and more commonplace. However, Northern Canada is abundantly endowed with
natural landing fields — its myriad lakes and rivers — and as long as out-of–
the-way areas are to be bisited by prospectors and scientists, as long as lost
parties have to be searched for and rescued, and as long as sportsmen and sight–
seers want to visit wilderness spots, there will be a need for bush pilots.
Richard Finnie

Canada's Northern Airports and Flying Routes

[: ] EA-Transportation and Communication
(Richard Finnie)

CANADA'S NORTHERN AIRPORTS AND FLYING ROUTES

The pioneers of commercial air transportation in northern Canada were bush
pilots, many of them World War I Air Force veterans, who started making forestry
patrols in Northern Ontario in 1922 and carried prospectors to outlying areas
in succeeding years. They found that conditions were favorable for flying al–
most everywhere in the North, where they could set their ski- and float-planes
down on a myriad lakes and rivers; they quickly grasped the possibilities for
mineral exploration, passenger traffic and freighting far from existing roads
and railways; and they communicated their enthusiasm to such men as James A.
Richardson, Winnipeg grain merchant, who in 1927 backed the first flying com–
pany to probe into the Far North. Within two years the whole of continental
Canada had been crisscrossed by government, commercial and private aircraft,
and regular mail and express runs from Edmonton to the Arctic had been inaugurated.
In Alaska, where commercial aviation had its inception in 1923 at Fairbanks,
about 75 airfields dotted the country by 1930. Except on the coast, where pon–
toons were used, planes were equipped with wheels in summer and skis in winter.
In northern Canada, where there were so many lakes and rivers, flying was on a
ski and pontoon basis from the start; and not until the late 1920's was there a
single airfield in the Yukon, while the Northwest Territories had none until 1942.
This does not imply, however, that Canada was backward in northern aviation.
It was simply that until large freight-carrying, wheel-mounted aircraft came into
general use prior to World War II, float and ski planes were adequate for all

EA-Transp. & Comn. Finnie: Canada's Northern Airports

northern operations. In Alaska there was already a white population of nearly
30,000 engaged in various industries when commercial aviation started there,
while in northern Canada there were only about 4,000 whites, and the chief business
was the fur trade. It was the airplane that led to large-scale mining develop–
ment in the Northwestern Territories (gold mining had been carried on in the
Yukon since the 1890's), and it was not until the beginning of World War II that
it had increased to a point where airports were needed to accommodate large
wheel-equipped transports flying on uninterrupted schedules.
Commercial aviation following established routes on regular schedules in
northern Canada grew, of course, out of bush flying, which is essentially charter
work off the beaten track. Apart from minor operations a year or two earlier
in the Yukon, it began in 1929 with the awarding of a government contract to
Commercial Airways to carry mail at regular intervals down the Mackenzie River
to Aklavik, in the Delta, and to Coppermine on Coronation Gulf. The next year
Commercial Airways was absorbed by Western Canada Airways, whose name was changed
to Canadian Airways Limited. When the Eldorado pitchblende and silver mine was
opened up at the east end of Great Bear Lake in 1931, and when in 1937 the gold–
mining community of Yellowknife was established 300 miles to the south, on Great
Slave Lake, mail, express, and passenger runs were made at regular intervals to
serve them. Canadian Airways, with operations extending from coast to coast,
had only one serious competitor in the North, Mackenzie Air Service Limited.
It was in the North that air freighting first assumed large proportions.
Where roads were lacking and boats could operate no longer than five months in
the year, nearly all white residents, but particularly mining men, welcomed the
air carrier for all freight, large or small, that was needed in a hurry. Thirty–
seven million pounds were delivered in 1937, but during the war, for which figures
are lacking, many times that total were taken to points in northern Canada by

EA-Transp. & Comn. Finnie: Canada's Northern Airports

civilian and military transport planes for use on construction projects. Be–
tween 1927 and 1941 Canadian Airways alone carried 80 million pounds of cargo,
eight million pounds of air mail, and 250,000 passengers.
Aviation in the Yukon remained largely on a charter-service and private
basis until 1937, when a government mail contract was given to Yukon Southern
Air Transport for a route between Edmonton, Alberta, and Whitehorse with an ex–
tension to Dawson, via Grande Prairie, Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, and Watson
Lake. This company began operations with airplanes on floats and skis, but
switched to wheels as soon as one or two intermediate landing strips had been
cleared. The Department of Transport, whose officials had flown and favored
the route in 1935, selected permanent airport sites in 1939 and work on them
was begun the following year. This became known as the Northwest Staging Route,
and it determined the course of the Alaska Highway.
In 1941-42 the Canadian Pacific Railway bought out Canadian Airways, along
with Yukon Southern, Mackenzie Air Service, and other smaller airlines, com–
bining them into Canadian Pacific Air Lines. Among the top officials, approx–
imately, were C. H. (Punch) Dickins, one of the pioneer northern pilots and the
first to have flown across the Barren Lands from Hudson Bay to Lake Athabaska,
in 1928; and G. W. G. McConachie, the founder of Yukon Southern, who later became
president of C.P.A.
The Department of Transport had meanwhile been pressing the construction
of the Northwest Staging Route, which was given priority after the outbreak of
war. In December 1940 funds were released for the project and contracts were
let, but it was not until February 1941 that final authorization was given for
action. A work train of cabooses and tractors with bulldozers at once set out
from Dawson Creek, pioneering a winter road where there had been only a trail
and delivering over 200 tons of freight to the airport site at Fort Nelson 300

EA-Transp. & Comn. Finnie: Canada's Northern Airports

miles northwestward. During the two preceding winters Yukon Southern had
cleared a landing strip, and with equipment already there gangs of workmen flown
in prior to the arrival of the tractor train began lengthening the existing run–
way while surveyors staked others. Grading was done as soon as the frost came
out of the ground, and gravel pits were opened up. Asphalt, extra fuel and
supplies were shipped in from Waterways, Alberta, via the Mackenzie and Liard
rivers. By September 1st one runway was being used by Canadian and American aircraft.
The next key airport was developed at Watson Lake, 340 miles northwest by
land from Fort Nelson. This site had been roughly cleared by Yukon Southern
in 1937. All equipment that could not be flown was shipped from Vancouver to
Wrangell, Alaska, in the spring of 1941, and thence moved by power boat and
barge up the Stikine River to Telegraph Creek, British Columbia, portaged over
a 75-mile road (which had to be improved for the purpose) to Dease Lake, where
prefabricated boats were assembled. On these the equipment went on its way
through Dease Lake and down the Dease River 200 miles to Lower Post on the Liard.
From here a 26-mile access road was built to the airport site, making a total
haul of over 400 miles from Wrangell. The first truckloads of freight were de–
livered before mid-July, and further consignments followed all through the summer.
One runway was ready for use by September 2, when the first wheel landing was
made on it.
For more than a decade there had been a modest landing field at Whitehorse,
on a bench above the town. It had been pioneered and gradually improved by the
Yukon Territorial Government, the British Yukon Navigation Company and Pan Ameri–
can Airways. (The latter had been running between Seattle and Fairbanks via Jun–
eau and Whitehorse since 1940, and since 1935 there had been service between
Juneau, Whitehorse and Fairbanks by Pacific Airways, an Alaskan operator absorbed

EA-Transp. & Comn. Finnie: Canada's Northern Airports

by Pan American.) Being at the end of a 110-mile rail line from Skagway, the
Whitehorse field presented no transportation problem for its conversion into
a major airport. It was regarded, surfaced with asphalt, lengthened and widen–
ed, and was ready to be tied in with Watson Lake and Fort Nelson by the beginning
of September.
Immediately after Pearl Harbor, Canada was able to offer the United States
the use of a ready-made airway, with good airports and radio ranges, from Edmon–
ton to the Alaskan Boundary. U. S. aircraft had, however, been quietly flying
the route for months. Further development of the main airports and the construc–
tion of intermediate emergency strips now became a joint effort. The U.S. War
Department's decision to build the Alaska Highway along this route was made in
February 1942. Meanwhile, the Canadian Department of Transport intensified its
efforts to enlarge the airports, augment navigation facilities, refuelling sys–
tems, and power and water supplies, besides preparing additional accommodations
for Royal Canadian Air Force personnel. By the end of February another 1500
tons of freight had been hauled over the winter road to Fort Nelson, and that
spring and summer the Stikine-Dease water route to Watson Lake was used again
for freighting, thus facilitating the holing through of the Alaska Highway as
a tote road as far as Whitehorse in October.
Just as the airway aided the construction of the road, so did the road aid
the consolidation and expansion of the airway. By the time the Alaska Highway
had been turned into an all-weather gravel-surfaced artery to Fairbanks in Octo–
ber 1943, there were five major airports along the Canadian section: Grande
Prairie, Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, Watson Lake, and Whitehorse. There were
also eight U.S. constructed flight strips: Dawson Creek, Sikanni chief River,
Prophet River, Liard River, Pine Lake, Squanga Lake, Pon Lake, and Burwash Land-

EA-Transp. & Comn. Finnie: Canada's Northern Airports

ing; and five Canadian-constructed strips: Beatton River, Smith River, Teslin,
Aishihik, and Snag.
Over the route there was a constant stream of U.S. and Canadian civilian
and military air traffic, including thousands of lend-lease fighters and light
bombers being ferried to the Soviet Union.
The advent of the Northwest Staging Route has been considered by some
authorities to be more far-reaching in its effects than the road it parallels,
not only providing fast transportation to Northwestern Canada and interior
Alaska but opening up a short route to Asia for express traffic between the
two continents.
The Northwest Staging Route, though suddenly brought to fruition under
stress of war, was the result of five years of careful planning and testing;
and its possibilities had been indicated long before that by Post and Gatty
and other long-distance fliers who roughly followed it from Fairbanks to Edmon–
ton. The Mackenzie Valley airfield chain originated under different circum–
stances.
Until the summer of 1942 there were no airfields in the Mackenzie District,
although Canadian Pacific Airlines was planning a wheel operation between Edmon–
ton and the gold-mining town of Yellowknife, 700 miles northward, and had begun
clearing a strip at Waterways, the end of steel 300 miles beyond Edmonton. At
the end of May the U.S. War Department's Canol Project began. The object was
to help fuel the Alaska Highway and its airway by stepping up production at the
Norman Wells oil field on the lower Mackenzie River and piping the crude to a
refinery to be erected at Whitehorse, 580 miles overland. At the outset it was
the expectation of the Corps of Engineers, under whose direction the project
was to be constructed, that all necessary freight could be sent down the river

EA-Transp. & Comn. Finnie: Canada's Northern Airports

by power boat and barge; but it soon became evident that existing local facil–
ities plus those being brought in by the Army would be inadequate to handle an
initial freight consignment of 50,000 tons that summer.
As northern consultant to the Canol constructors, the writer began urging
that a series of airfields be built between Edmonton and Norman Wells via Water–
ways and Fort Smith. This was on June 2, 1942, Colonel Theodore Wyman, Jr.,
who was the contracting officer, was soon convinced that the fields would be
necessary and a supplemental agreement was entered into with the constructors.
In concert with Corps of Engineer officers, sites were picked out by A. M. Berry,
a veteran bush pilot who had been supervising the clearing and grading of the
Waterways field. By August, bulldozers, graders, prefabricated housing and all
incidental supplies were being delivered to Embarras Portage (near the Athabaska
Delta), Fort Smith, Fort Resolution, Hay River, Fort Providence, Fort Simpson,
Fort Wrigley, Norman Wells and, later, Canol Camp on the opposite side of the
Mackenzie. On September 30 the first landing by an airplane on wheels was made
at Norman Wells. The other fields were built concurrently. Uninterrupted year–
round air transportation was thus established before freeze-up, when neither
floats nor skis could be used, and the following summer grading and gravel sur–
facing of the fields were completed, together with radio facilities. The run–
ways were each a mile in length and 500 feet wide. In addition, an existing
field at Peace River was enlarged and emergency strips were cleared at Motis,
Indian Cabins, and Upper Hay Post along the Grimshaw Road to Great Slave Lake,
where they tied in with the Mackenzie fields.
Although the Mackenzie Valley airfields were built solely to expedite the
movement of freight and personnel for the Canol Project, they automatically open–
ed up an alternative low-altitude air route to Alaska and Asia. In view of that

EA-Trans. & Comn. Finnie: Canada's Northern Airports

fact, in 1943 the Canadian Department of Transport proceeded to survey airfield
sites beyond Norman Wells — at Fort Good Hope, Arctic Red River, Fort McPherson,
and Old Crow — which would connect with Alaskan fields. Wartime need for them
did not arise, however, so their construction was held in abeyance. On the pipe–
line route between Norman Wells and Whitehorse an emergency field was cleared
near Sheldon Lake, the halfway point, providing a safety factor for wheel-equipped
aircraft making the direct run between the two centers.
The United States government was reimbursed by the Canadian government for
all expenditures on the Mackenzie Valley fields as well as on the Northwest Stag–
ing Route; and Commercial Aircraft used them after the war for regular service
between Edmonton and Norman Wells. Canadian government airports were constructed
at Yellowknife and at Great Bear Lake, near Port Radium, rounding out the network.
Thus all population centers in the Mackenzie District, with the single exception
of Aklavik, in the Delta, were given uninterrupted year-round airplane service.
Only the small outposts were still dependent on bush planes.
Oddly, the one center without an airfield was that where the first wheel
landing had been made. It was in 1935 that Harold Gillam, one of the best of
the Alaskan bush pilots, flew from Fairbanks to Aklavik to pick up charter pas–
sengers. His plane was on wheels and he effected a successful landing on a rough
clearing back of the settlement.
The history of aviation in the Eastern Arctic goes back to 1922, albeit in
a somewhat negative way. That summer the Department of the Interior, through
its Northwest Territories and Yukon Branch, dispatched its final annual expedi–
tion to establish and reprovision posts of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, see
to the welfare of the Eskimos, and uphold Canadian sovereignty. (Previous govern–
ment expeditions had been carried out at irregular intervals.) Transportation
was provided by the C. G. S. Arctic , and among the officials on board was Major

EA-Transp. & Comn. Finnie: Canada's Northern Airports

Robert A. Logan, of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who had instructions to in–
vestigate conditions affecting aircraft operations in the northern part of the
Northwest Territories. Besides being a qualified aviator he was a Dominion
Lands Surveyor, and had taken a course in meteorology with particular reference
to aviation. An airplane was to have been carried on the ship for trial flights
in the Arctic, but this plan was abandoned for lack of funds.
An R. C. M. P. post was established at Craig Harbor on Jones Sound, Elles–
more Island, latitude 76° 10’ E., longitude 81° 20’ W., in a low, flat valley
two and a half miles from the foot of a receding glacier. Here Logan laid out
an airstrip. From Craig Harbor the vessel proceeded to Dundas Harbor, Devon
Island, where Logan examined the terrain from the aviation standpoint. Later,
at Pond Inlet, Baffin Island, he located ample space for a large airfield a few
miles west of the settlement, and several short runways just south of it; all
were surveyed and staked. He recommended that an experimental air station be
set up and maintained for a year at some central point such as Pond Inlet, with
two machines, pilots and mechanics.
His recommendation did not bear fruit for several years. Meanwhile, the
first flights over any of the Canadian Arctic Islands were made by R. E. Byrd,
who in the summer of 1925 was based at Etah, North Greenland, with an expedi–
tion headed by Donald B. MacMillan. Byrd made several non-stop reconnaissance
flights over Ellesmere Island. In 1927 the Department of Marine and Fisheries
outfitted an expedition to Hudson Strait in cooperation with the Royal Canadian
Air Force, and for 16 months several Fokkers operating on skis or floats flew
over the Strait, the northeastern corner of Hudson Bay and the southern coast
of Baffin Island observing ice conditions.
It was the exigencies of World War II that finally led to the construction

EA-Transp. & Comn. Finnie: Canada's Northern Airports

of the first airfields in the Eastern Canadian Arctic and the creation of
operable trans-oceanic flying routes across Hudson Bay, Davis Strait and the
North Atlantic via Greenland and Iceland. In June 1941 Elliott Roosevelt, then
a captain in the U.S. Army Air Forces, was sent to Ottawa to meet with Canadian
authorities and formulate preliminary plans before flying into the Eastern Arctic him
himself on a reconnaissance mission. He was given the assistance of R. A. Logan,
who now had the rank of Wing Commander as Director of Intelligence, Royal Can–
adian Air Force; and Dr. Diamond Jenness, the anthropologist, who was serving
as Logan's deputy. The object was to map out a series of fields that could be
used both as bases for submarine patrols and as servicing stops for the ferry–
ing of fighter planes to the British Isles. On the strength of available data
locations at Fort Churchill, Southampton Island, Ungava Bay, and Frobisher Bay
were suggested; and these were eventually decided upon with local modifications.
In September, following Roosevelt's reconnaissance mission, a ship-borne
expedition outfitted in New York proceeded via Halifax and Port Burwell to Un–
gava Bay and Frobisher Bay with Army personnel, tractors and bulldozers, radio
equipment and prefabricated housing. Three stations were set up, known by the
code names of Crystal 1, 2 and 3. Crystal 1 was at Fort 1 was at Fort Chimo, Ungava Bay;
Crystal 2 was at the head of Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island; and Crystal 3 was
at Padloping Island, just off Cumberland Peninsula, Baffin Island, a short dis–
tance north of the Arctic Circle. Winter landing strips were cleared at each
station, and the following summer permanent construction was undertaken by civil–
ian contractors at Fort Chimo, while the Padloping location was abandoned. At
the same time work was begun at Fort Churchill, the Hudson Bay rail terminal,
and at Coral Harbor, Southampton Island. These three fields were in service by
the fall of 1942, the Frobisher Bay base being built the following year. Cir-

EA-Trans. & Comn. Finnie: Canada's Northern Airports

cumstances did not necessitate a great deal of traffic at any of them for the
balance of the war. Goose Bay airport, Labrador, had meanwhile mushroomed into
one of the world's biggest and busiest airports, sharing with Newfoundland bases
the bulk of military air traffic along the North Atlantic route to and from the
United Kingdom.
The fields at Churchill, Coral Harbor, Fort Chimo and Frebisher Bay com–
prised the Northeast Staging Route (code name: Crimson). Coral Harbor had but
one runway, 6,000 by 200 feet, while the other three stations had two runways
apiece, of standard dimensions of from 150 to 200 feet in width and up to 6,000
feet in length. They were constructed entirely by the U.S. Army and American
civilian contractors, but the Canadian government reimbursed the United States
government for them. After the war, U.S. Army Air Force personnel continued to
operate the Fort Chimo and Frebisher Bay fields, and at the latter further es–
tensions were eventually made by Corps of Engineers troops. Coral Harbor was
placed in caretaker status under the supervision of the Canadian Department of
Transport. The Fort Churchill base had Canadian meteorological service from
the outset. The control and maintenance of the field were taken over from the
U.S. Army by the Department of Transport, a responsibility later transferred to
the Department of National Defense. A small postwar supplement to this string
of airfields was an emergency landing strip bulldozed out on a gravel bench at
Baker Lake for the use of aircraft supplying Exercise Musk Oxk.
The construction of the Goose Bay airport, a purely Canadian undertaking,
was considered a triumph under northern wilderness conditions. Location, in–
spection, surveying and final construction were all carried out within a year.
The location was made by Eric Fry, a Department of Mines and Resources surveyor,
in August 1941. Supplies and equipment began moving to the site by ship in

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September, and before the navigation season had closed in November, 17,000 tons
of freight had been delivered, and docks and storage sheds had been built. In
November, one month after work began, three winter runways were completed and
an additional runway was prepared to accommodate heavy bombers and transports
during the spring thaw. Operations were carried on the clock around, the job
being floodlighted at night. Through the winter heavy rollers developed a well–
compacted snow surface on the runways, which were then kept clear by plows and
blowers.
The extra runway was covered with brush, and snow was allowed to drift
over it as double protection against frost until the early spring. The brush
and snow were then swept away and the surface was graveled. In this way the
delays common to northern airports during periods of thaw were avoided, and the
spare runway continued in use while the permanent runways were being completed.
As soon as the frost was out of the ground, paving of the permanent run–
ways was undertaken. This involved the placing of 623,000 square yards of con–
crete, the equivalent of over 53 miles of standard-width roadway. Record runs
of as many as 13,000 square yards or 11,500 lineal feet of ten-foot strip were
completed in single 12-hour shifts. The equipment operators were held back
only by the amount of cement that could be delivered to the job site in a given
period.
The contractor (McNamara Construction Co., Toronto) employed 2,500 men at
the peak, and brought in by ship more than 100,000 tons of freight all told,
including road-building machinery, saw mills, stone-crushers, cement mixers
and forms for casting drainage pipes, power plants, water-works and sewerage
systems, and material for machine shops, storage depots, hangars, mess halls
and dwellings. The saw mills produced six million board feet of lumber from

EA-Transp. & Comn. Finnie: Canada's Northern Airports

native timber, and dockage for several freighters at a time was constructed,
with harbor rail lines.
Before the winter of 1942-43 set in the airport was finished according to
the original specifications, and was a self-contained community with all nec–
essary facilities. Thereafter it was used and operated jointly by the United
States Army Air Forces and the Royal Canadian Air Force until war's end. Sub–
sequently its operation reverted exclusively to the R.C.A.F.
Whereas prior to World War II the only airfields in Canada north of the
thickly settled areas were a few rudimentary ones in the Yukon and along the
fledgling airway from Edmonton to Whitehorse, by the close of 1943 there were
more than two score of them, some of major proportions, others having the status
of emergency or intermediate flight strips, but nearly all capable of accommo–
dating large transport planes.
After the war, with military traffic in the air largely replaced by civil–
ian traffic, most of those airfields continued in use as stepping stones for
commercial planes on regularly scheduled runs, connecting all population centers
in Canada and other countries. With meteorological stations on a number of the
Arctic Islands as well as on the mainland, commercial flying throughout the
Dominion - - clear to the North Pole - - will become as safe as anywhere else, its
scope limited only by the pace of domestic industrial expansion and the growth
of intercontinental trade.
Canadian Pacific Air Lines soon after its formation was operating eighty
planes on 12,000 miles of north-south scheduled routes. In its first year (1942)
it carried ten million pounds of air cargo, 60,000 passengers and 1,750,000 pounds
of airmail, and covered more than five million air miles. The routes it flies
are all links in the global air chain pioneered by such men as Wilkins, Post,

EA-Transp. & Comn. Finnie: Canada's Northern Airports

and Lindbergh.
While extraordinarily accelerated by the pressure of war, the building
of Canada's northern airfields and the development of its air routes stem from
the pioneering of the bush pilots and the airborne explorers of the 1920's and
1930's.
Richard Finnie
HomeAir : Encyclopedia Arctica 9: Transportation and Communications
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