Empire Building by Air

“Keeping open the lines of communication between The Country-That-Is and The Country-That-Is-To-Be: such is the airplane’s role in Canada”

LESLIE ROBERTS February 15 1930

Empire Building by Air

“Keeping open the lines of communication between The Country-That-Is and The Country-That-Is-To-Be: such is the airplane’s role in Canada”

LESLIE ROBERTS February 15 1930

Empire Building by Air

“Keeping open the lines of communication between The Country-That-Is and The Country-That-Is-To-Be: such is the airplane’s role in Canada”


PUT the subject of this rumination into the new aerialese, and the title ought to read: “Are we becoming air conscious?” Whereupon half a dozen young gentlemen who at present are transport pilots, would cut my name off their visiting lists and take no more sundowners in my company. So we will dispense with the jargon, cut the cackle and straightway come to our hosses, the hosses in question being air progress in Canada, principally during the year of grace 1929, that being the season which seems to correspond in aviation circles with the Big Flood or the Ark’s threepoint landing on the slopes of Ararat.

Commercial flying has been booming in other countries for the past few years. But it is during the past two, or at most three, years that the Canadian public has manifested any great interest in man’s newest and most rapid fashion of transporting himself from point to point. Today, south of the international boundary, a slump has set in. Here in Canada we appear to be riding the crest of the wave. In pilot’s lingo we are “on the step,” and the question before us is whether we are going to be able to take off with the load, or have to turn back and take another run at it.

That is the important item which the thinking executives of every air-transport company in the Dominion are facing as the} turn the corner into 1930. Glancing back over the records of 1929, they see a picture of rapid advance, an advance in which flying activities for commercial and development purposes have practically doubled. On the other side of the page, however, looms the spectacle of the large operators in the United States, pruning and slashing at personnel and equipment in an effort to get commercial aviation out of the red and make it commercial in fact as well as name.

In the more thickly populated countries, or in the United States at least, man has faced and still faces a superhuman task when he tries to make air lines pay dividends. Despite the immense network of air mail routes, the wide publicity given to flying, and the entrance of big business into the realm of the air, only one of the large United States operating companies, Western Air Express, is reported as on a profit-distributing basis with its shareholders. Larbe companies, which five or six months ago were announcing ambitious plans for Pullman transportation of passengers, are drawing in their horns. Statements from sound sources have declared that the right types of ships for intercity freight and express transport have not yet appeared, and that they cannot be expected for some time to come. In the face of this picture of gloom and pruning hooks, therefore, how can we who live in a huge country, possessing only a thin band of well-populated territory along our southern boundary, hope to draw dividends from ventures in this same direction?

As it happens, this hope is an eminently reasonable one for this reason: Aviation in Canada occupies a niche entirely different from that which it occupies in any other country, unless it is Australia, like our own land, still an empire in the making.

A Special Problem

COMMERCIAL aviation is forging ahead in Canada, because the flying man and his airplane fulfill a rôle entirely different to that played by the same sort of man and machine across the boundary. In the United States the airplane is a means of carrying men and things from one city to another, always in competition with the railways and other carriers. Speed in delivery is the only advantage offered by the airplane which is not already possessed by its competitors on the ground— against which the railway gives not only certainty of arrival, but certainty of departure. Trains run in any weather. Planes do not. Setting aside altogether the overdrawn picture of risk, that question of regularity of service is a major item.

But our Canadian air lines, or most of them, are playing an entirely different rôle. The present effort in Canada is not to develop Pullman air services between Montreal and Toronto, or Toronto and Winnipeg, in competition with the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways. Here, we are utilizing the airplane to bring men and supplies into the out-of-the-way places where the railway doesn’t run; to the mining camps of the new north; to the surveying of our vastly rich, unpopulated hinterland; to the protection of our great forest reserves from fire hazard; to the transportation of prospectors to jumping-off places far beyond the beaten tracks, to rationing them and keeping touch with them while they are there, and to flying them back at the end of the season’s work; to exploring tremendous areas on which the hand of civilization has not yet set its mark, so that we may acquire the facts essential to our future development—in short, to the building of our country. That is the big job which the aviator has undertaken in Canada. And that is why aviation is going ahead in Canada by leaps and bounds, when it has reached stalemate in the neighboring and densely populated republic to the south. Paucity of population is the keynote to aviation’s progress in Canada.

The United States flyer is trying to compete with modes of transportation long accepted by the man in the street. In time he will win his battle, in all probability, and build up a dividend-paying industry. But here we are doing the job that is not yet ready for the railroad; helping to make the country, so that there may be new towns to call to the railways for service, in the days to come, while the planes reach out again for new wildernesses to conquer. That is aviation’s progress in Canada. That is the reason why there was twice as much flying in 1929 as there was in 1928. That is the reason why commercial flying is feasible in this country today, and will continue to be feasible until the unhappy day arrives when too many ambitious young men succumb to the urge to wear goggles and the market is glutted with pilots, mechanics and machines.

Why Flying Pays in Canada

TN THE United States the transport company executive has been forced to confine his efforts to educating people to fly from Boston to Chicago, when they could do it by train more comfortably and in a shorter period of time. His other job has been to urge the shipper to route his goods by air. And that will remain a task for any man, just so long as flying remains a stunt in the eyes of the average voter. Here it is different. A lot of flying is being done by Canadians. I do not mean by Canadian pilots, but by Canadian voters, engineers, company executives, by the organizers of new industries which base their operations on some outpost of civilization, and by the sort of people who have to go into the bush in the course of the day’s work. These are the people who fly as passengers in Canada. They are the healthiest sort of passenger traffic any transport industry can have, the passengers who utilize planes because the plane is beyond a peradventure the easiest and most comfortable way—often the cheapest way as well—to reach a given destination. It may cost you anywhere from seventy-five to a hundred dollars to travel from the end of steel to some mining-camp-inthe-making more than a hundred miles into the wilderness. But compare this cost with a dozen days of travel by sled or canoe! Then think of the comfort. And there is your answer to the feasibility of commercial flying in the Dominion of Canada in 1930.

Of course it will be remarked, and rightly, that a great percentage of the flying done in Canada is not strictly commercial in character. In other words, much of our forestry patrol work, photography and exploratory effort has been done by government-owned planes, or by machines operating under government contracts. Nevertheless this is, in the broad sense, commercial aviation, in that it has for its purpose the development of territory, or the protection of our country’s natural resources. While it may not be flying-for-money as the freighting company sees it, nor flying-for-money as the barnstorming pilot giving five dollar joy-hops at country fairs sees it, nevertheless it is commercial at heart, just as the building of the Hudson Bay Railway and the fashioning of Churchill have commerce and the broadening of our national wealth for their purpose. Practically all our flying in Canada is done with the view to bringing some natural resource into production, or for the protection of resources at present fallow. That is why there is a profitable job for airplanes in Canada that cannot be found in other lands. That is why we are forging ahead.

Rapid Growth

TET US look at the facts of this progress as seen in a -*-1 comparison of flying figures for 1928 and for the first three-quarters of 1929. At the close of 1928 there were 264 commercial aircraft under license in Canada. On September 30, 1929, 430 were in service, while officials of the Civil Aviation Branch of the Department of National Defense estimated that the turn of the year would see the 500 mark passed. There were less than 200 commercial pilots in Canada on January 1, 1929—men ticketed to fly freight and passengers, experienced navigators. Fifty per cent was the increase during the first nine months of the year. The number of private pilots—owners, airplane club members, people who fly for amusement or to get about the country in their own planes—was more than doubled. Fortyfour government-licensed air-harbors grew to sixty-one during this period. Search where you will in the records and you will find the story of growth—growth by leaps and bounds.

A consideration of private operations tells a similar story. Here are figures culled from the reports furnished to the Government by one company, Western Canada Airways. Officials state that it is a fair example:

In 1928 this company’s machines flew for 6,870 hours, covering 545,000 miles, carrying 9,467 passengers, 1,192,000 pounds of freight and 122,170 pounds of mail. From January 1 to September 30 in 1929, 7,218 hours were spent in the air, and 618,376 miles were flown. The planes carried sïffely 10,788 passengers, 1,319,391 pounds of freight not including 209,668 pounds of mail.

Where did all these people and rations and letters go?

From Sioux Lookout on the Cana lian National’s Transcontinental lint into Red Lake, Woma;Lake, Narrow Lake, Confederation Lake and the other outposts of the Patricia mining district. From Allanwater into the Pickle Lake and Crow River country. From Lac du Bonnet into the gold, copper and tin properties of south-eastern Manitoba. From The Pas, and later from Cranberry Portage as steel was pushed on, into Flin Flon. From the end of steel at Fort McMurray, north of Edmonton, up the Slave River, across Great Slave Lake and north along the Mackenzie River to Fort Simpson, Wrigley, Norman, Good Hope, Arctic Red River and Aklavik, giving regular transport and mail service to the trappers, prospectors, traders and other inhabitants of that vast country which, to the average Canadian, is still only a romantic wilderness that he has read about, inaccurately, in his geography books as a boy. At Prince George in Central British Columbia other planes owned by this company were engaged in photographic work for the government of the Pacific Province, also giving service as required to mining men working into the northern regions of the province. From bases at Prince Rupert, Quathiaski Cove, Queen Charlotte, Beaver Bay and Swanson Bay other planes were flying in conjunction with the Fisheries Department. Practically all those 10,788 passengers were carried from steel’s end into the north, or were brought back to the tracks and civilization. Practically all those letters went in to the miner, the fur trader, the trapper and the prospector in Red Lake, Cold Lake and similar outposts along the far-flung battle line of this new commercial empire that we are building in the north.

All in the Day’s Work

ZITHER stories, too, are writ in the luminous pages of the commercial aviator in this Dominion of ours. Here is a typical one, culled from the bone-dry pages of a government report, laconic in style, but resplendent in the man’s job that it represents. Here is Canadian history, written in the clouds:

“On August 5, 1929, W. L. Brintnell left Winnipeg on a tour of inspection and reconnaissance covering the Mackenzie River area, the Yukon, and the littoral of British Columbia.

“The first stage of the flight was to Cranberry Portage —a distance of 450 miles—into the heart of Northern Manitoba, thence across Saskatchewan and, on the same day, to Fort McMurray on the Athabaska River, making 920 miles in nine hours flying time.

“On August 6 the flight was continued to Fitzgerald and to Simpson on the Mackenzie River—a distance of 750 miles.

“On the seventh the machine was flown to Norman and in to Great Bear Lake.

“From the eighth until the sixteenth fifteen flights were made for the purpose of reconnaissance over Great Bear Lake in the Norman Area. 2480 miles were covered during this period and visits were paid to Boland’s Camp, Long Point, Dease Bay, Dease River, east of Great Bear Lake, and McTavish Bay.

“On August 17 Norman was left for Good Hope, Arctic Red River, and Aklavik, a distance of 435 miles.

“On the twenty-fourth the machine set forth on the second main stage of the flight from Aklavik. . south along the Husky River, west along the Rat River, over MacDougall Pass, 1150 feet, and west along the Bell River; still west along the Porcupine River into Alaska, to Fort Yukon. South along the Yukon River, back again into the Yukon Territory, and on to Dawson, a course of 742 miles from Aklavik. This was the first flight from Aklavik to Dawson, the time taken being six hours and thirty minutes.

“Dawson was left early on August 25. The flight was continued south, following the course of the Yukon and Lewes Rivers, via Carmacks, Little Salmon, Big Salmon, along Lake Laberge and White Horse to Carcross, a distance of 450 miles.

“On August 26, Carcross via White Pass, Skagway, Juneau and along the inland water channels to Prince Rupert—a distance of 500 miles.

‘Trom Prince Rupert on August ¿7, inland, following the line of the Canadian National Railways to Prince George and on east to Edmonton, a distance of 980 air miles.

“On August 28, Edmonton was left for Emma Lake, north of Prince Albert, and on the twenty-ninth, onward east to Cranberry and thence to Winnipeg— 1225 miles.

“The flight occupied ninety-five hours of flying time during which 9,000 miles were flown—a distance equal to a flight from Ireland over the Atlantic Ocean, across Canada and over the Pacific Ocean to Japan. Fog was encountered on the White River, low clouds and rain at Carcross. Clouds and fog were also encountered at White Pass. With the exception of haze and smoke from forest fires at the end of the journey, no serious weather conditions were experienced, although 1,000 miles were flown inside the Arctic Circle.”

There is one story. Laconic, terse; fact, fact, fact. But every paragraph a saga of the new north. They are flying the mail, now, up the Mackenzie to Aklavik. Look up the map of your country in that discarded geography book and trace the route—it will amaze you. Yet that is the sort of work that airplanes are doing almost everywhere in Canada, helping to build a country, driving in the stakes where the milestones of next year’s progress will be tramped down. Not commercial aviation this, perhaps, yet aviation which blazes the trails for commerce.

Much publicity has been given to the story of the mineral exploration party which was lost in the Hudson Bay wilderness for weeks on end, of their toilsome march to the Eskimo village, of their flight back and its perils. Commercial aviation? Perhaps not in the general interpretation of the word commercial. But progress, nevertheless, the progress that comes every time the curtain is rolled away from another corner of the map. That is the work of the airplane and its pilot in Canada, a work that differs vastly from the job of operating an inter-city Pullman-plane service, but a job that has national utility for its background and human courage for capital.

The Forestry Patrol

(CONSIDER for a moment the forestry patrols, taking Ontario as an example of the class of work that the plane is doing in the great task of beating down the fire scourge. Here are more laconic words culled from Ottawa’s statistics.

“This service had twenty-seven aircraft in operation, chiefly on fire-protection patrols in Northern Ontario. Thirty-one pilots and thirty-seven air engineers are employed. From May 1 to September 30, 1929, a total of 11,500 hours has been flown by pilots of the service, over an approximate distance of 850,000 air miles. All records have been broken by this great amount of flying done this year, which has been due to the worst fire-hazard season in the history of the Department of Lands and Forests. It is worthy of note that this record has been established without injury to a single member of the service personnel or to a single passenger.”

Turn to British Columbia, the Prairies, Quebec. Look where you will and you will read the same story. Planes are flying the length and breadth of the untrod paths of the New Canada.

There remains another phase of our aerial progress which has not been dealt with in these paragraphs; air mail. Here again the story is one of service rendered to those who dwell on the fringes of the world, the pioneers. Mail-planes today are skimming the lakes of half a hundred mining camps, far beyond the penetration of steel. Others are skirting the shores of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in winter to serve tiny communities, cut off from all outside contacts once the last ship has gone in the autumn. Others again are winging across open water to the Magdalens or across the gap which separates Prince Edward Island from the rest of Canada. Other mail services, of course, are in operation between the principal urban settlements, and plans are now under way for the establishment of an all-Canadian cross-continent route.

But it is in the service of those who dwell beyond the edges of things that the aerial postman has fulfilled his greatest service.

Again we see the picture of the airplane breaking down the barriers of silence. That, over and above everything, has been and will continue to be the airplane’s job in Canada. It is the line of communication between the country-to-be and the country-that-is. That is the difference between flying in Canada and flying across the border. And that is the principal reason why the flying game is enjoying an era of progress in this country while operators in the more closely settled regions to the south are finding that not every winging goose lays eggs of gold. We have found a job for the airplane in Canada and the airplane is making good on that job.