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Canada's Flying Heritage

Canada's Flying Heritage

Frank H. Ellis
Copyright Date: 1954
Pages: 398
  • Book Info
    Canada's Flying Heritage
    Book Description:

    This book not only records the significant events of Canadian aviation but also pays tribute to the 'forgotten flyers who flew by guess and by God or with calculating caution - for the sheer love of flying - in the early days.'

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7170-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-xii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  3. 1 PIONEERS OF THE AIR, 1907-1914

    • 1. Wings rise in the East
      (pp. 1-15)

      One of these days the owner of a lot in suburban Calgary digging in his back yard on a sunny spring day is going to turn up on his spade a rusty length of wire. When he reaches down to yank it out of the ground he will marvel at its toughness. Perhaps he will find attached to the end that he finally unearths an even rustier turnbuckle or strut fitting. There will be no label to inform him that he has stumbled on a tiny fragment of the history of Canadian aviation.

      Perhaps, as a boy forty years ago,...

    • 2. Alberta’s flying saucer, 1907
      (pp. 16-21)

      It is not too surprising that the world’s first flights were made in eastern North America. From the 1850’s on, one invention after another appeared in the region between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Coast. It is small wonder that the Canadian Maritime Provinces which were adjacent to this hive of inventive activity should have become involved in the first experiments at flight.

      In 1908, when Baldwin became the first Canadian to fly a heavier-than-air machine, Alberta and Saskatchewan had been provinces for only three years, with a population of barely half a million between them. British Columbia, although...

    • 3. Gibson’s twin and multi-planes, 1910-1911
      (pp. 22-31)

      On a day in 1883, a small boy from a farm near the Cree Indian Reserve of Piapot, 25 miles northeast of Regina, in what was then the Northwest Territories, found himself face to face with the great Chief Piapot in person. What was more, the great man (with whose grandson he often played) actually condescended to address him. “You, too,” he said, “will one day become a great chief.” Sixty-five years later the prophecy was literally fulfilled when W. W. Gibson, a San Francisco manufacturer of mining machinery, became the fifth white man to be adopted chief of the...

    • 4. More wings in the West, 1909-1918
      (pp. 32-37)

      In theColonist,the daily newspaper of Victoria, B.C., there appeared on September 24, 1910, an item which any air-minded reader must have read with attention. It stated that the Western Motor and Supply Company of Victoria had received an order to supply an engine for an airplane under construction in Vancouver. The news note went on to state that the engine desired was a three-cylinder, air-cooled, English-made Humber motor, of the Anzani type, especially designed for use in aircraft, and that the order had already gone forward to the British firm for shipping and delivery as quickly as possible....

    • 5. A close-up of two early birds
      (pp. 38-47)

      It would be a simple matter, and more in accord with my ordinary way of thinking, to dispose of my partnership with Tom Blakely in Calgary and our brief Alberta adventures in a page or two. And yet, in a way, I would feel that something had been left out of the total story of Canadian flying, something that ought to be told. There aren’t too many of us left from the pioneer flying days; each year there are fewer, and our memories, perhaps, are not as keen. Some of the best are gone, and have taken with them the...

    • 6. Brisk youths, 1907-1915
      (pp. 48-52)

      Flying in those days was obviously a pretty risky business, and for those concerned, a deadly serious one. And yet, looking back from this distance there is something just a bit on the comical side about the combination of an overwhelming urge to get up with an utter disregard of the manner in which one got down again. In the course of reading everything I could lay my hands on that had anything to do with flying I ran across an old rhymed couplet from a poem with the quaint title ofScribleriad,written by Richard Cambridge and published in...

  4. 2 THE BARNSTORMERS, 1906-1914

    • 7. Balloons and airships, 1906-1914
      (pp. 55-60)

      A majority of the flights, or attempts at flight, that I have described up to this point were basically private and experimental. In some instances the machine was exhibited at a fair, where frequently there was a good crowd around to watch proceedings, and some tests were even publicly announced and witnessed by crowds; but essentially the experimenter was wrapped up in his own efforts and probably expected to lose money rather than earn it.

      The barnstormers, on the other hand, were men—and women too, as we shall see—who had achieved flight either through their own experiments or...

    • 8. Airplane barnstorming begins, 1909-1910
      (pp. 61-67)

      It will be quite as surprising to Canadians as to their neighbours in the United States to learn that the first of a long line of American barnstormers who flew heavier-than-air craft made his début not in the United States but in Canada—at Toronto—in the year 1909.

      As a matter of fact nothing was of less consequence to the early flyers than the imaginary line that separated one country from the other. It is true that there were regulations on both sides respecting the entry of persons and goods, but there was no practical way of applying them...

    • 9. The air meets of 1910
      (pp. 68-74)

      The sudden surge of public interest in flying that took place at the end of the first decade of this century came as a delayed reaction to the early achievements of the Wright brothers in 1903 and after. Earlier, the public had built its hopes on a more immediate and spectacular conquest of the air, hopes that were thoroughly dampened by the plunge of Langley’s “aerodrome” into the Potomac. The simple, unspectacular first flights at Kitty Hawk, even when they became recognized, hardly compared in lay eyes with the long-distance flights of drifting balloons and the impressive bulk of gasoline-powered...

    • 10. Exhibition flying, 1911
      (pp. 75-82)

      The glowing press reports about the 1910 air-meets at Montreal and Toronto, together with items of flying news from American and European points, caused a great stir of interest throughout Canada. People everywhere now wanted to be able to say they had seen an airplane fly. Promoters and committees of fairs and exhibitions vied with each other in trying to obtain the best pilots available. As a consequence some very fine flying was accomplished, as well as a few fiascos.

      And it was not only the youngsters who caught the enthusiasm. For instance, in England, theDaily Mailoffered a...

    • 11. Billy Stark, Canadian barnstormer, 1912-1915
      (pp. 83-87)

      Exhibition flying in the unstable “flying machines” of the early days was, at its best, a risky business. In spite of this, many pioneer men and women aviators survived that dangerous period, though few did so unscathed.

      Pilots were often obliged to take off and land in areas which were little better than large back lots, because such places were chosen by some promoter or exhibition group. Rather than disappoint hundreds of spectators who had come from miles around to see a man fly—and perhaps break his neck—pilots invariably did their best, often in winds which made flying...

    • 12. Noteworthy flights, 1912
      (pp. 88-97)

      In the year 1912 three pilots who had been seen in Canadian skies met their death; two by crashing, one by pneumonia which was indirectly the result of too frequent exposure to the elements. In the same year another pilot who had flown in Canada collided in the air with a second machine whose pilot died in the resulting crash. A fifth fatality occurred when an American pilot smashed into a grandstand at an exhibition, killing one spectator and injuring 21 others, shortly after he had completed a Canadian flying tour. All of these accidents took place at American points....

    • 13. The friendly invasion wanes, 1913-1914
      (pp. 98-106)

      The flying seasons of 1913 and 1914 brought to a close the era of American barnstorming pilots in Canada. Nine made exhibition flights. It is significant of the increasing safety of the machines and of the frequency with which two persons were being carried aloft that it is quite impossible today to secure the exact number of passengers who flew during that period. The fact is that in the larger Canadian centres a passenger flightper sewas no longer news; and the tendency in press reports of those years was to drop specific names of passengers unless they were...

  5. 3 THE WAR YEARS, 1914-1918

    • 14. The war birds learn to fly
      (pp. 109-118)

      When the shot was fired at Sarajevo in 1914 that sparked World War I, the Royal Flying Corps of Great Britain was already an established organization, and a few weeks after Britain’s declaration of war, British airmen were employed in reconnaissance operations on the Western Front.

      Like hundreds of other young Canadians across the country Tom Blakely and I in Alberta were all for getting into the thick of the fight. But it was easier said than done. Throughout the winter of 1915-1916 we kept making applications and hoping for favourable replies, but it soon became clear that there were...

    • 15. The Royal Flying Corps in Canada, 1917-1918
      (pp. 119-129)

      In the spring of 1914 Jean Marie Landry of the Province of Quebec was so determined to fly that he packed up his belongings, and accompanied by Mme Landry, journeyed across the Atlantic to France. He at once enrolled in the Blériot Flying School at Buc, and was taught to fly in a Blériot monoplane under the supervision of the famous Louis Blériot himself. He passed his tests in a few weeks and received a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Licence, No. 1659, issued by the French Aero Club, and dated June 20, 1914.

      The outbreak of World War I caught M....

    • 16. Other aviation highlights during World War I
      (pp. 130-140)

      Two stories remain to be told of the war years in Canada, both of which had their origins in the pre-war years and are woven into the texture of the post-war period. In spite of the gigantic struggle that went on overseas and the heavy drain on air-minded personnel, there was still some private and exhibition flying. The fact that so much of the latter was done by airwomen was symptomatic of the change being wrought in the status of women by the war-created dearth of men in all walks of civilian life. That the friendly invasion of American barnstormers...

  6. 4 THE DOLLAR-A-MINUTE DAYS, 1919-1920

    • 17. Dollar-a-minute days in the East
      (pp. 143-151)

      Never again can there be flying times like the two years following the end of World War I.

      The boom in aviation was world-wide and Canada had her fair share. Canadians everywhere had read and heard about the doings of their fighting airmen but surprisingly few civilians had seen an airplane close up. Even thousands of soldiers who had watched military aircraft in full flight overhead had never been any closer to an airplane than that.

      On May 17, 1919, the first shipload of airmen returning from overseas disembarked at Montreal where they were royally welcomed by the Aerial League...

    • 18. Farmstorming days out West
      (pp. 152-160)

      In Winnipeg, Man., two flying companies were established in 1919, one as keen as the other to serve the public and anxious to relieve each eager passenger of $10 for a ten-minute hop, or go bust in the attempt. By the end of the 1920 season one of the two achieved the last alternative, but not before a great deal of interesting flying had been done by both, and additional barnstorming history written. The one outfit, flying from headquarters south of the city, was headed by Lieutenant Mel Dover. The other concern was the British Canadian Aircraft Co. Ltd., with...

    • 19. Through the doldrums, 1921-1923
      (pp. 161-166)

      The flying boom which developed in Canada following World War I had passed its peak by the end of 1920. Joy-riding and exhibition stunting had lost their novelty and financial returns were so small that many of the new companies went out of existence.

      Thus the flying doldrums set in. From the end of 1920 until 1924, the only flying of importance was done by the government, a few companies that had been able to carry on, and a handful of ambitious individuals who had sufficient financial backing to do some commercial flying. Although there were a number of notable...


    • 20. Conquest of the Atlantic, 1919
      (pp. 169-177)

      Jutting eastward out into the Atlantic, now swept by the off-continent westerlies, now shrouded in fog, are the rugged rock-bound shores of Newfoundland, pock-marked with brief harbours, bristling with reefs and bold headlands. Here for more than four centuries have come the fishermen of the British Isles, of Brittany and Portugal. This was the land that Lief Ericson sighted on his voyage to Vinland: the island discovered by Cabot, searching for a western route to the Indies. And here again, in the twentieth century, a drama of daring was enacted, worthy of that heroic past.

      Nothing is more indicative of...

    • 21. Spanning the continent
      (pp. 178-186)

      The conquest of the Atlantic by Alcock and Brown stirred imagination wherever men flew. In Canada, more than in any other air-minded country, perhaps, the urge to conquer space was confronted with its greatest challenge. Between the populated regions of the East and the prairies lay the rugged tongue of the Canadian Shield, virtually uninhabited. This was obstacle enough. But a second barrier rivalled in ruggedness and treachery the great Atlantic Ocean; this, too, an ocean—not of water, but of rock.

      As we recline at ease in the deep soft padded seats of the huge shining metal cabin of...

    • 22. Alaska, and round the world
      (pp. 187-194)

      Today a chain of airfields extends along the Northwest Staging Route, which traverses the wilds of northern British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska. These airfields were built during the later years of World War II as part of a scheme to defend Alaska, to assist in the driving of the Japanese from the Aleutians, and to open up a practical, direct air route for lend-lease aid to Russia. Reams of paper have been used in writing about it since it went into operation—and it cost well over $58,000,000 to establish–but few people know that it really had its...


    • 23. Bush and arctic flights, 1919-1929
      (pp. 197-202)

      The word “bush”, like most popular terms, is used loosely by Canadian flyers and public alike. Fundamentally it refers to the areas of Canada covered with softwood forests, particularly the untamed areas of the Canadian Shield extending in a horseshoe around Hudson Bay, bounded on the west by the prairies and the Rocky Mountains, on the south by the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence system, on the east by the Atlantic, and on the north by the Barren Lands. But the word is also used to include all the more rugged features of all the Canadian provinces from Newfoundland to British...

    • 24. Rene and Vic: and the Viking
      (pp. 203-214)

      Occasionally, even today, when chatting with a young airman, I detect a note of pride, even affection, in his voice when he refers to his machine. And yet, compared with the days before the thirties there is something lacking that we once knew: a kind of personal affinity—you might even call it love—between an airman and the craft to which he entrusted his life. For all I know it might have worked both ways: certainly there were some machines in the early days that seemed to have a personality and even a soul of their own.

      I was...

    • 25. Over the icefields
      (pp. 215-227)

      Since the middle of the seventeenth century the sealing industry has been one of the primary assets of Newfoundland, but for close to two hundred years the methods used in the search and capture of seals underwent only minor changes.

      Sealing is a hardy business. Men from all parts of the island gather at St. John’s in the late spring, trekking in from outlying points by any means of transport available to them. They are all well aware of the dangers ahead.

      As a matter of fact, the actual capture and killing of a hooded seal is not a risky...

    • 26. The bush pilot–and his engineer
      (pp. 228-234)

      It would be only too easy to grow sentimental in describing the exploits of the Canadian bush pilots of the late twenties, for in what other country has a like story been written in the sky and on the ground? Elsewhere individuals have made more historic single flights, and certainly no Lindberghs nor Mollisons nor Earharts, no Costes nor de Pinedos, have emerged from the Canadian bush. Yet, wherever snow falls or water freezes, flyers the world over are indebted to our airmen; and their total contribution, in terms of aggregate hours of flying and accumulated variety of experience, has...

    • 27. Commercial flying hits its stride, 1924-1929
      (pp. 235-250)

      The year 1924 might be designated as the date when commercial flying into the rugged interior began to look like a paying proposition to the more imaginative, yet hard-headed, type of business man. Bush pilots were logging long hours in the air, and newly formed air transport companies began to pile up impressive totals of passengers, parcels, and freight deliveries. As their reputation for reliability and resourcefulness grew, more and more was demanded of them, until by the end of the twenties there were pilots who were ready to fly anywhere, and customers sufficiently confident in their ability to ask...

    • 28. Planes to the rescue
      (pp. 251-262)

      Nothing in the history of Canadian aviation has justified the introduction of the airplane more than the possibilities it opened up for alleviation of human distress in isolated areas, some of which were almost inaccessible by other means of travel. Such “mercy flights” were far from uncommon, although many of them were never reported in the pages of the daily press: in one year alone Canadian Airways Limited flew a total of 120. East, west, north, and beyond to the Arctic rim, the bush pilot and his versatile mechanic flew on missions of mercy with a singleness of purpose and...

  9. 7 FOR FAME AND FUN, 1927-

    • 29. The death or glory road
      (pp. 265-284)

      After the first conquest of the Atlantic in 1919 by the non-stop flight of the British airmen, Alcock and Brown, an interval of eight years passed without any further Atlantic exploits. The hazards were still too great to face without sufficient incentive. Then suddenly, in May 1927, Charles Lindbergh made his magnificent non-stop solo flight from New York to Paris. The tremendous publicity given to this event by press and radio stimulated anew the interest in trans-Atlantic flight.

      The years that followed were packed with thrills, achievement, and tragedy—a period such as will not be known again. The passing...

    • 30. A continent shrinks
      (pp. 285-289)

      That so few Canadians attempted the Atlantic crossings in the “death or glory” days was probably due to the relative lack of money to spend on what was not only a dangerous but an expensive venture. Perhaps, too, Canadians were influenced by proximity to the pioneer days when the grim task of wrestling a living from the newly broken soil left little time or inclination for less practical things. Certainly, the course of Canadian aviation is seldom starred with flights for fame. From the end of the twenties, and through the thirties, there were scarcely a dozen flights that were...

    • 31. Flying for fun
      (pp. 290-304)

      By the middle twenties, as the demand for pilots became more pressing, it was realized that a source of supply other than the pool of former war pilots must be found to fill the need. In 1927, the Department of National Defence decided on a programme of assistance in the formation of flying clubs which would help to stimulate aviation and provide training facilities for prospective pilots.

      Conditions for the organization and entry of members to clubs were covered by Order-in-Council. The government offered to provide two light aircraft of two-seater type to any community, on condition that the community...

    • 32. Youth at the controls
      (pp. 305-310)

      Sometimes I look at the youngsters today playing with their accurately modelled plastic toy airplanes, or see the older boys absorbed in the delicate work of constructing out of balsa wood flying models in which they will later install miniature gasoline engines; and I feel a little envious. In my boyhood there were no airplane kits with detailed plans and instructions. My own room as a teen-ager in Nottingham in 1910-1912 was filled with models constructed for the most part from pictures of full-sized aircraft—most of them very poor illustrations of the pioneer machines.

      All envious feelings aside, I...

  10. 8 WINGS AT WORK, 1927-

    • 33. The air-mail story
      (pp. 313-326)

      At this point we return to the adult world, where the hard facts of life were making more and more practical demands of the airman as the twenties moved into the thirties and flying became an established branch of commercial enterprise. Business and government initiative had shown by the middle twenties that passengers, parcels, and mail could be carried by air far more speedily than by any other means, particularly over certain routes. By the thirties both passenger and air-mail service moved out of the experimental stage. Particularly was this true of air mail. In every part of Canada, sooner...

    • 34. Wings on many missions
      (pp. 327-344)

      The golden age of bush flying is, perhaps, already fading into the past, to make way for new ages whose nature we may only guess. And yet through the thirties and into the forties—and even today—the number of actual flights into the roughest and most isolated areas has kept increasing, long past the point where it would be possible to tell their story in any kind of detail. Here, as in many other instances, we may only select a few stories that must stand for all the varied experiences and achievements by air in Canada’s hinterland from the...

    • 35. Retrospect and prospect
      (pp. 345-356)

      Looking back over these pages I have written I don’t know whether to be glad or sorry. Certain misgivings still disturb me. Have I, by using the details of my own story from time to time, thrown out of perspective the parts played by the chief actors on the stage of Canadian aviation? Surely, though, it was the only way I could tell the story of all of those minor actors whose bit parts, played only once, have been all but forgotten. For, after all, I was fortunate enough to be there: and I owe it to those who were...


      (pp. 359-363)
      (pp. 364-365)
    • Appendix C McKEE TROPHY AWARDS
      (pp. 366-371)
      (pp. 372-374)
      (pp. 375-376)
      (pp. 377-377)
      (pp. 378-378)
      (pp. 379-379)
    • Appendix I MUSEUMS
      (pp. 380-381)
      (pp. 382-386)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 389-398)