First in frontier flying, a laggard in interurban flying, Canada now plans for flight from sea to sea

SANDY MACDONALD August 15 1936


First in frontier flying, a laggard in interurban flying, Canada now plans for flight from sea to sea

SANDY MACDONALD August 15 1936







CANADA is twenty-five years behind the rest of the world in air development,” states an aviation authority; “Canada leads the world in flying records,” contradicts another—and really they are both right!

How can this be? asks the average Canadian, hopelessly confused by such conflicting statements.

In the operation of organized airways, of mail and passenger services between centres of population, Canada is twenty-five years behind. In fact, our development along these lines is as yet unborn.

On the other hand, in the development of flying services into the remote and inaccessible hinterland of the North, our Northern fliers last year transported more than twenty-six million pounds of freight and express by air. While returns from other countries are not yet available, the writer offers the prediction that this record will surpass that of Great Britain, the United States, France and Germany combined.

The mining camps, the fish, fur and timber activities of our great Northland last year, accounted for 128,672 commercial passengers flown. Compare this with Britain’s total of 135,100 passengers in the preceding year. Yet there is not in the whole of Canada a single air terminal handling a volume of traffic to compare with airports such as Croydon in England, Templehofer in Germany, or Newark in the United States. Air travel in Canada has been almost entirely confined to pioneer activities in the North. When one thinks of those vast, lonely territories, thinly populated if at all, our record for passengers flown becomes remarkable.

Air mail in Canada in 1935 reached a total volume of more than a million pounds. Yet it is safe to say that not two j>er cent of Canada’s citizens saw a mail plane in the air during that period. Here again development in this important field of the airplane’s utility has taken place beyond the borders of civilization. Our mail planes operate into lonely outposts in the Arctic, mining camps remote from steel, and such isolated communities as those scattered along the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Magdalen Islands, etc.

The first flight in the British Empire was made in Canada by a Canadian, J. A. D. McCurdy, of Baddeck. N.S. On a per capita basis, Canada has for the past ten years surpassed every country in the world in freight, passengers and air mail flown. In aerial survey the Dominion has made more advancement than any other nation. Yet this country could not put a solitary modern fighting plane in the air in defense of her own shores. Even though Canada possesses today, completed and partially completed, a 3,000-mile chain of flying fields, under construction since 1929, not a single airliner operates within our borders over an “all weather” radio-beam-controlled scheduled service, such as has become so common in other parts of the world.

From the very beginning, aviation in Canada has been forced to fly on its own wings, to seek a natural field for expansion, and to sustain itself, without Government subsidy, by rendering a service for which private enterprise would pay.

The pulp and paper companies were the first to realize the possibilities of the airplane in the North. Timbercruising air fleets organized in 1922 were the first to set those vast abodes of solitude echoing and re-echoing to the drone of the new, swift, powerful presence in the skies. Later, in 1924, the Ontario Provincial Air Service was brought into existence. This service was the first forest fire air patrol to be organized in the world. The Ontario Provincial Air Service was the cradle of Canada’s “bush pilot brood.” Here it was, in those early pioneer days, that many of the North’s greatest fliers, whose names are known throughout Canada today, learned their extraordinarycraft in the rugged school of practical experience.

In the first year of its existence the Ontario Provincial Air Service was called upon to play a part in mining development. J. E. Hammell, moving a party of men into a camp in Red Lake late in the fall of 1924, employed the planes of the lYovincial Air Service to rush the party in ahead of freeze-up. The camp later became the Howey Mine.

Then, in August, 1927, R. J. Jowsey, who was developing the Sherritt-Gordon Mine in Northern Manitoba, offered Canadian Airways a contract to move thirty tons of freight to his property by air. The contract was undertaken by the late Fred Stevenson, one of the greatest NorthCountry pilots of all time, after whom Stevenson Field. Winnipeg’s municipal air[x>rt. has been fittingly named. The job was routine, nothing spectacular happened, yet thi operation was one of the most momentous in the history of aviation. It was the dawn of a new era in which Canada’s Northern airmen have established the airplane in a new sphere of usefulness—the transportation of heavy freight cargoes by air.

Since the day Captain Stevenson flew the first shipment of mine equipment to Sherritt-Gordon, the impressive total of sixty million pounds of freight has been moved into the mining camps of the North. Whole mining plants have been included in the cargoes. Not long ago the press of the entire continent marvelled at the feat of transporting an automobile by plane over New York City, yet tractors, compressors. hoists and heavy mine machinery have been commonplace loads for aircraft operating in Northern Canada for the past six or seven years. Canadian Airways recently accepted a contract for the freighting of 500 tons of equipment to the Argosy Mine, the largest single air-freight contract ever awarded. Week in and week out from Fort McMurray, the Eldorado Silver Radium Express, operated by MacKenzie Air Service, makes its regular 1,800mile round trip to Great Bear Lake. hauling 2}4 tons of

pay load — supplies northward, concentrates southward.

All the air transport companies now operating in the North have grown from small beginnings. Leigh Brintnell, President of MacKenzie Air Service, who has to his credit some of the most outstanding flights recorded in the North, started his present enterprise with one ship. Canadian Airways, which now operates a fleet of forty-four planes and in this respect is one of the largest companies in existence, commenced operations in 1926 with a single Fokker airplane. Captain Roy Brown of General Airways started his air-transportation business with one Bellanca seaplane ojxïrating out of Amos, Quebec. R. D. Starratt, President of Starratt Airways, which last year handled over two million pounds of freight, commenced his transportation activities with a canoe and forty dollars! No pampered fledgling is aviation in the Far North. From these humble beginnings, it is the achievement of men with courage, determination and business brains.

Mines Served by Air

TO SAY that aviation has grown and expanded along the lines of least resistance is true only in a business sense. Canada’s Northern pilots operate under extremes of climate encountered in few other countries in the world. Summer smoke haze, fog and rain, blinding blizzards, the icy chill of the Arctic’s breath—hazards, countless difficulties—


First in frontier flying, a laggard in interurban flying, Canada now plans for flight from sea to sea


these are the constant companions of the men who fly the sky trails of the North. And yet passenger fatalities over the past four years have averaged less than one for every million miles flown—surely a striking tribute to the pilots who man the aerial fleets of the North.

A concrete instance of the airplane’s value as an economic factor is the present movement of fur from Cambridge Bay and the Arctic Posts isolated north of the Copj)ermine River. An average plane load of fur weighs about 1,500 pounds and has a market value of approximately $69,000. When shipped by plane, furs caught during the winter months reach New York by April 1. The actual time from Cambridge Bay to Edmonton is about five days. By boat, winter fur is shipped on July 10 and arrives at Oakland. California, around September 30. It reaches New York about October 5 and is sold twelve months after it is caught. The approximate cost, including insurance, of shipping one white fox from Cambridge Bay to New York by the plane route is around $1.25. By the boat route, which means around the north of Alaska, it is approximately $3.

Were one to total the production of mines isolated from steel and whose existence, though they could bí' served by slow, tedious water routes, is largely dependent upon air transportation, and add to that the forest wealth annuallyconserved by aerial forestry patrols, the airplane’s contribution to the economic progress of the Dominion can be measured only in many millions of dollars.

This is the positive aspect of our aerial transport development. It’s a romande, even thrilling, story: a typically Canadian story of advance on the frontier. When it comes to regular-schedule, all-weather flying between ixjpulation centres, though, the story is lamentably otherwise.

A Coast to Coast Airway

GLANCE NOW at the map of North America. The 49th Parallel of Latitude appears as an imaginary boundary line separating two countries. North of that imaginary line the shortest distance from Coast to Coast is 4H days. South of it, the distance is seventeen hours. Geographically, the city of Vancouver lies within the boundaries of the country north of the border. Geographically. that is, in the meaning of the term before the world took wings. Vancouver is served by a branch line of United Airlines, and a division of Canadian Airways which connects with Northwest Airlines at Seattle. Which means that, while our progressive Western metropolis is 3]/¿ days removed from Montreal, it is less than twenty-four hours distant from New York by air. In other words, a New York business man may reach Vancouver, complete his business, and be back in New York before his Montreal rival has got across the prairies! Similarly. Winnipeg, served by the Pembina feeder line, and Montreal, linked with the Uniteil States airway network by the Montreal-

Albany run, are actually closer in point of time to the industrial centres of the United States than to their sister Canadian cities of similar distance removed in railway miles.

The effect on Canadian economic independence of feeder lines connecting with the great United States airway system was visualized by Government officials in 1928. Then it was that a trans-Canada, coast to coast airway system was planned, and preliminary survey work for its construction commenced. Actual construction began in May, 1929. The Prairie Air Mail Section between Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg was put into operation in March, 1930. While the service did not operate on the radio beam, the airway was lighted, and later a teletype service for weather bulletins was installed. Regular nightly schedules were maintained.

At the time that the Prairie Air Mail Section of the airway was put into operation, the question as to whether the control of flying was to be vested in Dominion or Provincial hands was before the Supreme Court of Canada. In October, 1930, a judgment was handed down that placed the administration of aviation primarily in the hands of the provinces. This situation, together with the extreme financial uncertainties of the times, decided the Bennett Government to stay its hand. In 1932 the Prairie Air Mail was cancelled, and work on the construction of the national airway completely suspended.

During the two years that the Prairie Air Mail was in operation, the acceleration in the volume of mail carried was rapidly approaching the |X)int where it could have carried its own costs. In the beginning, air-mail revenue provided approximately fifteen jx:r cent of the costs of operating the service. During the latter months of operation, revenue had increased to a point where it was providing sixty per cent of the costs. (By “costs” is meant the cost to the Post Office Department of contract mail runs. This is generally based on the approximate flying costs. The airmail operator must therefore develop additional revenue from passenger traffic to make his operation profitable.)

By 1933 a decision of the Privy Council had reverseil the ruling of the Supreme Court, and the control of aviation was once more placed in the hands of the Dominion Government. Construction of the airway lent itself very well to the need for finding work for Canada’s unemployed,

Continued on page 36

Wings for Tomorrow

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and in the summer of 1933 the project was revived. While the construction of intermediate landing fields is providing work for an army of 6,000 men, to classify the Trans-Canada Airway as an unemployment relief scheme, as is so often being done, is absurd. A national airway system is a need as vital to the interests of this country today as was the transcontinental railway in an earlier era, and would have to be proceeded with, regardless of costs, whether times were good or bad. When communication between the cities of Canada becomes dependent on the transjxjrtation facilities of another nation, then remedial action becomes imperative.

1 Ience the present effort to complete the Trans-Canada Airway.

There has been some conjecture in the press coupling the Trans-Canada Airway with schemes of National Defense, transatlantic air mail. Imperial communications and such. The fact is that Canada’s national airway was originally planned and eventually will be placed in operation as a purely domestic commercial transportation project. The defense value of such a Coast to Coast airway, with its facilities for the quick movement of military aircraft, is obvious. Our national airway, when completed, will be available for use of military aircraft.

Canada’s strategic location, situated as we are on the world’s most important Great Circle air routes of the future, connecting the old world with the new and the new world with the Orient, places this country in a position of first importance as world air commerce develops. There is not the slightest doubt that, with the Atlantic and Pacific oceans spanned by air, a very large proportion of the total volume of traffic carried by the TransCanada Airway will be world trade. Yet neither national defense, nor Imperial, nor foreign relations have, as is commonly supposed, dictated the construction of the Trans-Canada Airway. Under three different administrations, work on the project lias been proceeded with as a purely commercial and national undertaking.

Prospective Trans-Canada Service

WHAT IS the Trans-Canada Airway, you may ask; and if planes can go anywhere in the North, why is an airway required to fly from East to West?

Planes in the North are not required to maintain established schedules. They can afford to sit and wait for favorable weather. Innumerable lakes in Northern Canada afford safe landing facilities for seaplanes in summer and skiplanes in winter. The freeze-up and break-up periods, however, cause an interruption of these services of from two to three weeks in the spring and fall. The regular movement of passengers, mail and express between centres of population requires scheduled operations, night and day, in any and every kind of weather. This can only be accomplished by ships equipped with radio compass and two-way wireless communication, flying a radio beam. Year round service can only be provided by land planes. For the safe operation of this type of aircraft, emergency landing fields must

be provided at regular intervals. Which means that on the Trans-Canada Airway between Vancouver and Halifax, 114 aerodromes will be required. Of these, twenty will be public airports and the remainder intermediate landing fields.

The finest and most modern air terminal in Canada fixlay, Vancouver’s new municipal airport, will provide the western terminus of the Trans-Canada Airway. The route eastward over the Rockies will pass over Princeton, jog southeast to Grand Forks, thence northeasterly through Trail, across the south arm of Kootenay Lake toCranbrook, east to Fernie, Macleod and Lethbridge. This Pacific section is in an advanced stage of construction.

The old Prairie Air Mail Section from Edmonton to Winnipeg that passes through Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, M(X)se Jaw, Regina and Brandon, is practically completed and ready to be put in operation. All of the cities mentioned jxjssess municipal airjxxts. Along this route intermediate landing fields are prepared, beacon lights and radio-beam transmitting stations are in place, and the teletype is ready to commence ticking off its weather bulletin service to the captains who soon will pilot the big ships of a new trans-Canada service.

Across the great Northern Ontario barrier between East and West, fifteen landing fields are serviceable and, using these, landplanes have actually negotiated this difficult terrain. The rocky, precipitous north shore of Lake Superior proved impossible for the safe operation of aircraft. As a result, the airway after leaving Kenora Ixnvs out in a northeasterly direction, passing through Sioux Lookout, Nakina, I learst, Kapuskasing and Cochrane, from which jxnnt it swings southerly through Kirkland Lake, Cobalt, North Bay and I luntsville to Gravenhurst, thence due south to Toronto.

From Toronto southwest through Hamilton, Brantford, London and Chatham, another section of the airway will operate to Windsor. This section, lighted and completely equipped, is regularly flown at the present time from Windsor west to Brantford by United States airlines operating between Detroit and Buffalo.

From Scotia Junction, approximately 140 miles north of Toronto, the airway follows a line almost due east through Renfrew to Ottawa, thence to Montreal, Continuing on the same straight easterly course, it passes through Megantic, and approximately twenty miles south of Fredericton swings northeast to Moncton. Here it turns sharply southeast across the Bay of Fundy to Halifax, the Atlantic terminus.

What Has Been Done

EXCEPTING the Prairie Section, which is completed, and the Western Ontario Section, which is in operation, the balance of the airway’s 3.000-mile chain of aerodromes in various stages of construction may be said to be roughly fifty jx;r cent completed at the present time. Construction work on the landing fields will in all probability be completed this year.

There still remains the great task of installing lighting equipment across the

balance of an entire continent, the organization and construction of radio-beam transmitting stations, short wave two-way wireless communications, the completion by the various municipalities along the route of suitable air terminals, the preparation of a huge ground organization, meteorological services, and the training of Canadian pilots in instrument flying and the handling of the big ships that will ply the air lanes. Much has been accomplished but there still remains a herculean task.

In all probability 1938 will be well advanced before the entire national airway system will be fully in operation from Coast to Coast. Government plans for the nauguration of the Prairie Section between Winnipeg and Edmonton, possibly in January next year, have been announced. Since the section across the Rockies from Edmonton to Vancouver will be a day-flying operation only, it is expected that this will be the next link to be forged in the chain. The other sections will follow as funds are made available, the equipment can be installed, and cities, such as Toronto which has no adequate airport facilities, awaken to the necessity of putting themselves on the airway map.

Mail service will in all probability precede passenger services. Plans for a Coast to Coast air-mail service are well advanced.

Stories of huge subsidies for air mail in the United States and elsewhere prompt the citizen who pays taxes to ask, “What’s all this going to cost?” The rate for contract carriage of air mail has been tentatively estimated at 40 cents a mile. Assuming seven to ten stops over the TransCanada route, the Post Office Department would require in the neighborhood of 100 pounds of mail daily each way between

each of t hese points to meet expenses. That means approximately 5.000 letters. Over the entire Coast to Coast system as a whole. 500 pounds would be required dailyeach way, or approximately 25.000 pieces of mail. These figures are based on the 6-cent rate that will apply when the airmail system is placed in operation. The ultimate aim of the postal authorities is to reduce the rate to 3 cents, as Australia has done. On our present 5,000 miles of airmail routes, operating for the most part into remote and isolated territories, mail is being carried at the regular 3-cent rate.

The scene is now being set for a new chapter of Canadian achievement on a mighty 3,000-mile-wide stage. No other country in the world has greater need for the extension of flying services than Canada. No other country is more favorably situated astride the world’s commercial air roads. The Canadian people are becoming air-minded, are becoming conscious of the fact that the development of air routes is a factor vitally important, commercially and politically.

The administration of commercial aviation is being taken out of the hands of the Department of National Defense, where it has stagnated for years, and placed under the Minister of Transportation. This is the most progressive move any Government has yet made in the interest of the promotion of aviation in Canada. Those who make a close study of air development see in the immediate future a tremendous expansion of flying activities in this broad Dominion. This will create new opportunities for our youth, quicken the pulse of business interchange, and hasten the development of our vast unpopulated territories and our unexploited resources.