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How the aeroplane has brought speedy travel and transport facilities to this northern Dominion


AIRCRAFT AT OSNABURGH HOUSE, HUDSON BAY. In making treaty payments to the Indians, who were the original inhabitants of large territories, Government agents sometimes use aeroplanes. One treaty party covered 4,000 miles in seaplanes of the Royal Canadian Air Force in six weeks. It used to take twice the time to cover half the distance by canoe. At one point, even when conditions were good, eleven days were spent in reaching a certain post. The same journey by seaplane takes two hours.

CANADA leads the world in the transport of freight and express matter by air. She averages three times as much as the United States and claims six-sevenths of the total air-borne freight of the British Empire. In six years her goods traffic has increased tenfold.

This is a natural development, unsubsidized and little assisted by the Government. During the past few years the great Dominion has proved that the aeroplane can “fly itself”. Certain conditions peculiar to Canada have given the aeroplane the chance to prove its value.

Oil and radium were discovered near the Arctic Circle; gold, silver and copper were found in wildernesses which were often remote from roads or railways; settlements of Eskimos, Indians, farmers and trappers had regularly to be supplied with the necessities of life.

To serve these settlements the aeroplane was used experimentally. At first obsolete military aircraft were used; then the first passenger craft, built after the war of 1914-18; then freighters that could fly huge payloads; and finally aircraft designed, developed and built in Canada for Canadian conditions. The experiment proved a great success. Northern natives who had never seen a railway train became familiar with the “Thunder Bird” that supplied the post at which they traded their furs. As a common carrier of goods the Canadian aviator took first rank.

In the realm of forestry and aerial survey the aeroplane in Canada has performed valuable work. Only ten years after the war the chief aerial survey engineer of the time was able to claim for Canada “a record of photographing, in five years, over 200,000 square miles of hitherto almost inaccessible country richly endowed with natural resources - the equivalent in distance flying of eight flights completely round the world, bringing back a photograph every foot of the way,” and “the protection from fire by aircraft of approximately two hundred million acres of forested lands”. In one season air surveys had mapped over 30,000 square miles of country previously almost completely unmapped, and geological surveys had been revolutionized.

The Canadian’s temperament makes him a flier. He wants to do things on his own, and has a bent for exploration and experiment. He had little to do with flying until the war, but then he took quickly to the air, fighting his machine with the vigour and independence of an Elizabethan privateer. When peace returned he longed to continue to fly. For a few this was possible ; and thus it was, with the use of old British and American military aircraft, that Canada’s leadership in freight, forestry and aerial survey work in the hinterlands was founded.


CANADIAN AIRWAYS AIRCRAFT at Gold Pines, Ontario. Machines of these types are used in connexion with a contract for carrying freight and machinery for the Argosy Gold Mine. Gold silver and copper are found in Canada in places remote from roads and railways, and the aeroplane has made possible the establishment of mining centres where these minerals abound. In the opinion of one authority, a former president of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, the aeroplane has advanced mining in the north by a hundred years.

CONTRASTING MODES OF ARCTIC TRANSPORT are illustrated in this picture. A dog sledge one of the oldest methods of moving goods in Canada, is shown alongside an aeroplane fitted with skis to permit it to land on snow or ice Flying on extremely cold days presents few difficulties; the cold makes the air much heavier than usual and the lifting power of the machine is thus improved.

A FAIRCHILD 51 CABIN MONOPLANE on one of the lakes of north Canada

A FAIRCHILD 51 CABIN MONOPLANE on one of the lakes of north Canada. This machine is aptly named The Prospector. The pilot in north Canada flies with one eye on the waterways, which act as a guide and also provide him with a landing place in the event of trouble. He cannot take any undue risks because, in the event of a forced landing, help may be hundreds or even a thousand miles away.

MAIL AEROPLANE AT HERSCHEL ISLAND which is near the most westerly part of the Arctic coast of Canada. The Canadian Post Office makes considerable use of regular airlines operating to the various mining camps. Outposts that formerly received their mails once a year now get them once a week, and mail distribution generally is being revolutionized by the aeroplane.

CONTRASTING MODES OF ARCTIC TRANSPORT are illustrated in this picture. A dog sledge one of the oldest methods of moving goods in Canada, is shown alongside an aeroplane fitted with skis to permit it to land on snow or ice Flying on extremely cold days presents few difficulties; the cold makes the air much heavier than usual and the lifting power of the machine is thus improved.

The beginning of commercial flying in Canada, as it exists today, dates from about 1919. In that year Ellwood Wilson, chief forester of the Laurentide Company at Grand Mere, Quebec, experimented with two flying boats for forest protection and forest survey work, and their successful operation had wide-spread influence. The seaplane and flying boat have been found best suited to forest and freight service, for the Canadian north country is dotted with lakes. These lakes provide excellent alighting places in summer, and when the aircraft are fitted with skis, in winter also. Although landplanes have been adopted for flying club and interurban work, seaplanes remain best suited to Canadian conditions. Winter now presents few difficulties for flying in the north. Modern machines are more comfortable and their engines more efficient in cold weather than those of a few years ago. Moreover, in the north conditions are often better for flying on extremely cold days than on some days of intermediate temperatures. The perils of sleet are confined to the narrow range of temperatures where the fogs are most obnoxious, the gap between about 10° and 34° Fahr; and the greater part of the Arctic is free from this danger for most of the six coldest months. Another important advantage is that cold makes the air much heavier and the lifting power of a machine is thus improved. A drop of 100 degrees in temperature increases the lifting power of an aeroplane by 22 per cent.

Little was known of winter flying when air transport first came to the far north in the late autumn of 1921. Crude oil was discovered at Norman, in the North-West Territories, and the Imperial Oil Company bought two all-metal Junkers to establish more efficient communication from Edmonton, Alberta.

The pioneer pilots succeeded in the face of apparently insuperable obstacles and hazards; once at a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost a new propeller was improvised from pieces of an oak dog sled glued together with moose hide.

Aviation's Aid to Mining

Radium was found in the neighbourhood, as well as oil. A pipe line eight and a half miles long is now a link in the system of transport that moves fuel oil from the oil-fields down the Great Bear river and across the Great Bear Lake to Eldorado Mine. The aeroplane has made this and much else possible. In the opinion of a president of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce it has advanced mining in the north by a hundred years.

The pilot in the Canadian north is given a strange variety of tasks to perform. He runs regularly to the Arctic Ocean, carrying freight and passengers. He takes mining machinery piecemeal, furs, patients requiring hospital treatment, missionaries, doctors, and constables of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with their prisoners. He flies efficiently and well, and he has a fine record of performance and of safety to his credit.

His work is spectacular, but methodical, and his accident record small. He does little or no night flying; he goes with one eye on the waterways which act as a guide and always provide him with a landing place; and he takes no risks if radio reports from his destination indicate bad weather. When help may be hundreds and even thousands of miles away, it is unwise to take risks.


CANADA’S AIR COMMUNICATIONS extend throughout the Dominion from east to west and from the United States border to the northern coasts. Supplementing the main air routes are the charter services, which sometimes end in remote districts where there are no named settlements.

Each autumn before the freeze-up the machines that serve the north gather at their various bases. The aircraft come for overhaul and repair, and to have floats replaced by skis for winter service. For instance, there may be fifty or more aeroplanes at one time at Cooking Lake, near Edmonton. The mileage of the two chief companies operating in the North-West in one summer alone equals 150 flights back and forth across Canada, and the freight carried would pile as high as a small sky-scraper. From the long list of pioneer northern pilots the name of the late Captain Frederick Joseph Stevenson was recently selected for the posthumous award of the Harmon Trophy for outstanding achievements in flying. This trophy was given by the International League of Aviators on behalf of the donor, Clifford B. Harmon, of the United States. Stevenson, who was the first Canadian to win the honour, achieved his fame through successfully transporting by air heavy freight into otherwise inaccessible areas, thus aiding the development of Canadian mining resources.

About 1928 Stevenson contracted to move 23 tons of machinery to mining claims in northern Manitoba. He covered 12,542 miles in twenty-eight days in doing so, used a machine not designed for such heavy service, and made possible the opening of a mine that in one year produced 4,000 ounces of gold, some silver, and 16,000,000 lb of copper.

That was at the beginning of freighting. By 1931, 2,000,000 lb were flown; in 1936, 23,000,000 lb. In 1935 one company alone claimed to have carried over 20,000,000 lb of mining machinery for prospectors and promoters. In such work Canadian Airways have been one of the biggest operators, and with forty-two aircraft averaged every day during 1937 about 6,000 miles of flying with fifty passengers, 1¾ tons of air mail and 10½ tons of freight.

Policemen as Pilots

The forty-two aircraft, British, Canadian, American, German and Dutch, comprise two Lockheed Electras, one Lockheed Vega; two Fairchild 82, one Super 71, seven 21 and FC2W2, one 51; two De Havilland Dragon Rapides, two Dragons, two Fox Moths; two Stinson Reliants; one Noorduyn Norseman; one Junkers Ju52, seven W34; three Stearman Mail 4 EM, one J5; two Laird LCB 200; one Boeing flying boat, one Totem flying boat; two Fokker Supers and one Standard Universal.

The aeroplane has contributed almost as much to pioneer development as the railway; it now serves as another unifying transcontinental link from east to west as well as from north to south; and its task is yet unfinished. Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor General of Canada, after a tour of the Dominion that embraced the Arctic regions, stated his belief that the main form of transport in the North-West would be the air. He found that the work of the Signals in providing meteorological information was excellent and forecast that, with proper meteorological advice, flying in the north could probably be made safer and more regular than anywhere else in the world.

Not only the Governor General, but also many Government officials use the aeroplane in Canada regularly. They are often glad to cover speedily territory they have traversed earlier in their lives slowly, and at times painfully, by canoe or dog sled. The Bishop of the Arctic, who has established at Aklavik, near the mouth of the Mackenzie River, the world’s most northerly cathedral, regularly uses the air services in covering his vast diocese.


FREIGHT BEING TAKEN ABOARD A FAIRCHILD SUPER 71 MONOPLANE. Wheels or skis, in place of floats, may be fitted to this type of machine. Seats for eight passengers can be fitted in the cabin when required. The engine is a 520 horse power Pratt and Whitney Wasp, which has nine cylinders. A heating system is provided for the cockpit and for the cabin, and is efficient at a temperature of sixty degrees below zero.

Treaty payments to the Indians are sometimes undertaken by aeroplane. One party covers 4,000 miles in two seaplanes of the Royal Canadian Air Force in six weeks, whereas it used to take twice the time to cover half the distance by canoe. At one point, even when conditions were good, eleven days were spent to reach a certain post; the seaplanes take two hours. Supplies and fuel are cached in advance for this trip. The party flies with a doctor, the Indian agent, and 17,000 dollars in notes.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police use aircraft regularly, and members of the force are being trained as pilots. The men have used machines for fishery and customs patrols on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

The Post Office uses regular air lines operating to the various mining camps and through the north country as far up as Aklavik. Outposts that formerly received their mails once a year now get them once a week, and mail distribution generally is being revolutionized.

Miscellaneous uses peculiar to Canada are innumerable. About 1,000,000 lb of fish were flown to Edmonton one winter. Eleven hundred speckled trout fingerlings (young fish no longer than a finger) were “planted” in a lake from a height of 1,000 feet; they survived with only the normal loss of 5 per cent. A well known “flying trapper”, owner of a 54,000-acres fur farm, uses an aeroplane in his own business. Emergency northern flights range from bringing medical help in a hurry to persons in need of it to searching for lost explorers. Sir Hubert Wilkins in a giant Russian machine led the search from Coppermine on the Arctic Ocean for the lost Soviet polar fliers in 1937.

One of the most dramatic rescues of recent years was on New Year’s Day, 1938, near Moosonee, Northern Ontario. A Government survey party had been caught in the bush without food for thirty-nine days and were on the verge of starvation. They had failed to find a cache of supplies left for them and had to wait for help to come, unable at that stage to make a dash through the snows to the nearest settlement.

Rescued from Starvation

When a patrolling aeroplane discovered that their cache was untouched they were immediately sought, and were found camped in the forest they had been surveying. The machine landed on the ice of a lake, and in two trips the lives of fifteen men were saved. A few days later rescue would have been too late.

Canada is a hard proving ground for aircraft. Temperatures may range from fifty degrees below zero, Fahrenheit, to a hundred degrees above. Heavy and awkward loads often have to be carried, landings made on ice, water or rough ground, and take-offs made from small lakes and clearings. Pilots must be resourceful and versatile. Engines and machines fulfilling the varied demands made on them for freighting, fire patrol, mapping and passenger services must be able to stand intensive use.

Many types of aircraft are used in Canada, and certain special designs have been evolved for construction and use in Canada.

A recent machine, typical of the design required for operations in the Canadian bush, and designed and built for that purpose, is the twin-engined Fairchild Sekani, built at Longueuil, Quebec. The fuselage is of chrome-molybdenum steel tubing throughout, strong and designed to withstand excess loads. Two large doors facilitate loading. There are dual controls for the two Pratt and Whitney Wasp-Junior engines.

Another new serviceable Canadian machine is the Norseman Mark IV, manufactured by Noorduyn Aircraft, Montreal. It has a Pratt and Whitney Wasp engine, a cruising speed of 150 miles an hour as a landplane, and a freight space of 190 cubic feet. If used for passenger service, it has room for eight passengers and two pilots.

Fairchild 82-B monoplane of Dominion Skyways Limited

MANY OF THE AIRCRAFT USED IN NORTHERN CANADA can be fitted with floats, wheels or skis. The wheels shown on this Fairchild 82-B monoplane of Dominion Skyways Limited are temporarily attached to the floats for the purpose of moving the machine over land. A 550 horse power Pratt and Whitney Wasp engine is used, and the maximum speed of the aircraft as a landplane is 155 miles an hour. As a seaplane the maximum speed is only three miles an hour less. Freight or passengers up to a maximum number of ten may be carried.

You can read more on “Air Routes Across America”,  “American and Canadian Pioneers” and “Winter Flying in Canada” on this website.

Air Transport in Canada