Gold! Word came south in 1934 that Tom Box and Gus Nyman had struck gold on the north shore of Lake Athabasca. The mining fraternity suddenly sprang to life. Wildcat staking spread in every direction from the strike. The Depression had gripped men long enough, and gold was, if nothing else, an exciting escape from economic darkness.
The Athabasca gold rush of 1934 was followed by the Prince Albert aviation rush of 1935. As long as these mines were in remote areas, airplanes were needed. Company men needed to get to and from the mines, and everyone wanted to mail and fresh food supplies. Equipment breakdowns could not wait until the first barge in spring.
Three companies - Canadian Airways, Wings, and M&C - were contending for the increasing amount of money being spent on airplanes transportation in northern Saskatchewan. Canadian Airways, which absorbed Western Canada Airways, was the first to offer flights from Prince Albert to the Lake Athabasca gold deposits in April 1935. Wings and M&C soon followed with flights from their new Prince Albert bases. With each companies' pilots in Prince Albert - Walter Gilbert, Bill Windrum, and Angus Campbell - the stage was set for a good deal of flying in Saskatchewan's north that summer.
M&C Aviation's Fairchild FC-2 at the company dock on the river at Prince Albert in 1938.
Photograph courtesy of Ray Crone.
Canadian Airways hired Walter E. Gilbert as superintendent of the base in Prince Albert. Gilbert had a great deal of flying experience and was not new to northern Saskatchewan. He had flown with the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War. In the 1920s, he had flown RCAF aerial photography flights over Saskatchewan's north. He went on to make exploratory flights into more northern areas of Canada and had flown to the Beaufort Sea coast off the Yukon. He had been awarded the Trans-Canada (McKee) Trophy for his contribution to Canadian aviation. During much of his flying career, though, Gilbert had been working just across the Saskatchewan-Alberta line at Fort McMurray.
The entry of Canadian Airways into Prince Albert was good news for Saskatchewan. The Prince Albert Daily Herald said, "Although there has been. great development both in the northeast and northwest sections of the hinterland, the economic drainage has been through Manitoba and Alberta." Saskatchewan's eastern mines were oriented toward Flin Flon and the western mines toward Edmonton. Canadian Airways' base in Prince Albert offered a cheaper and faster alternative to these established freighting routes. It cost less to fly from Prince Albert to Lake Athabasca than to pay the rail fare around to Fort McMurray and then the barge costs to the mine site.
Canadian Airways wasted no time in bringing its business expertise to town. It opened an office in downtown Prince Albert on. Central Avenue in the Gloeckler Piano House building. By the end of May, it had acquired the old Brooks Airways airmail contracts to Lac La Ronge and Ile a la Crosse. Pilot Walter Gilbert and Mickey Sutherland, a Canadian Airways aircraft engineer, made a quick tour of Saskatchewan's near north. Gilbert observed that the north had changed since his RCAF days and that the people were more air-minded than ever before.
Much of the credit for that air-mindedness goes to M&C's Angus Campbell. During the 1920s, the RCAF airplanes had come to northern Saskatchewan to do photography and fire suppression. Now airplanes were busy flying for mining operations, but most of the airplanes came from large companies based in far-off cities. Angus Campbell, however, made the airplanes a part of the average northerner's daily life. He took time to be with the people. This is what Gilbert and Sutherland saw as they toured the very area M&C had been working in.
Canadian Airways demonstrated that there was plenty of business in northern Saskatchewan. During July 1935, its airplanes flew 23,000 kilometres, carrying passengers, mail, and freight. Flights had gone to Brochet, Manitoba, on the east, to Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, on the west, and north to Selwyn Lake, Northwest Territories.
Wings was busy as well. Like M&C, it established itself in the Avenue Hotel on Central Avenue in Prince Albert. It brought in a Waco and sent Brooks' two airplanes into northern Manitoba. Wings completed the mail contract it inherited from Brooks and then turned its attention to the mining industry. The gold deposits on Lake Athabasca's north shore were still being explored, and Wings flew there bi-weekly from Prince Albert. It also contracted to fly government geological survey parties around northern. Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
In the fall of 1935, Wings pulled back from its Saskatchewan flying. Its real business base was in Manitoba and Ontario, and operating in Saskatchewan was putting too much pressure on its aircraft. There were heavy backorders at the aircraft manufacturers, and Wings found it impossible to get additional airplanes. Besides, neither the Buhl nor the Fairchild it had leased from Brooks was flying. The Buhl had been completely wrecked in a crash and the Fairchild was not airworthy.
The six-passenger Bellanca Pacemaker was used by several companies in
northern Sahatchewan. This one, CF-AMO owned by Wings Ltd.,
was on a flight back to Saskatchewan in the early 1940s.
Photograph courtesy of Ray Crone.
Now there were just two operators in Prince Albert: Canadian Airways and M&C Aviation. Canadian Airways assumed all flying commitments that had been made by Wings. Perhaps more important, Canadian Airways' real prize was Wings' Bill Windrum, the knowledgeable and competent northern pilot. Besides Windrum, the Canadian Airways pilot team included manager Walter Gilbert and Al Parker, who was transferred from Sioux Lookout, Ontario.
Canadian Airways now had a very strong presence in. Prince Albert and the north. It had an office, two airplanes (and more if they needed them), three pilots, and an air engineer. And it had two-way radio
communication between the base and the aircraft. Flying business executives had the privilege of being able to communicate with their own offices at any time by radio.
Most of M&C's flying was now in the north. Its two Fairchilds, CF-ATG and G-CARA, were well known across the north. Although M&C had an office in Prince Albert, it's head office was still in Saskatoon, along with the overhaul shop and the famous Stinson Detroiter, Lady Wildfire. In November, Dick Mayson announced that M&C was moving the entire operation to Prince Albert. The headquarters would now be on River Street, very near the present-day MacIntosh building. Charlie Banting, the well-respected air engineer for Brooks, joined the M&C staff. He was one of the few engineers in Canada to hold all four engineering certificates of the day. The pilots were Angus Campbell, who was also the manager, and Cec McNeal. Banting also held a pilot's licence and flew occasionally.
Each company had its segment of the air market, and their overlapping area of competition was not large. In simple terms, Canadian Airways served the large mining companies, while M&C served the prospectors, traders, and trappers.
Richmond Mayson and his wife in Saskatoon in 1930 beside M&C Aviation's
"Lady Wildfire," a Stinson SM-2AA Junior also known as a Detroiter.
Photograph courtesy of Ray Crone.
Trappers and fur traders used aircraft extensively over the years. Here, M&C pilot Allan Burton,
flying Stinson Reliant SR7-A, CF-AUS, stands beside a pile of 500 fox furs at Stanley
Mission in 1941. Photograph courtesy of Allan Burton, Ray Crone Collection.
Sydney Keighley was a fur buyer for the Hudson's Bay Company in northern Saskatchewan in the 1930s. In his book Trader, Tripper, Trapper, he said, "I had dog teams for certain areas, but a lot of our travel was now done by air." Keighley chartered M&C Aviation, which gave the Hudson's Bay fur buyer a very good rate. Keighley found that the cost of air travel in the winter was not much higher than travel by land. Because flying was so much faster, he was able to expand his territory. "We made monthly trips into Foster Lake, for instance, and during the trading made arrangements with the trappers to meet on a certain date next month," Keighley explained. "By taking the trade to the trappers, we gained a loyal following who refused to deal anywhere else," Keighley noted, however, that travelling by airplanes was just as tiring as travelling by dog team because the trappers insisted on all-night card games before trading!
John McKay's brother-in-law, Chris Olsen, also chartered M&C to collect furs from the trappers' camps. McKay would go along to help and to translate between Cree and English, and he would sometimes make the trip alone. He explained:
I used to go with Angus Campbell in the Fairchild. My brother-in-law had a store here, and he used to go around and buy fur. We had to have a whole plane loaded with supplies.
One time he sent me with Angus to Foster Lake, Geikie River and places like that. There would be six or seven trappers in one place. That trip would take one day; sometimes we would have to camp two nights.
McKay would talk to the trappers and give a rough estimate of the value of their furs. Angus Campbell would lend a hand by taking notes of each transaction and giving each trapper a slip of paper with the estimate of his furs. Then they loaded the airplanes with the furs and returned to La Ronge. Back at the store, Chris Olsen would do the final grading of the pelts.
The airplanes had now been in the north slightly more than ten years and had proven its usefulness in exploration, fur trading, and other ventures. For those in desperate need, however, the airplanes meant survival.
Charlie Ortloff and his wife had left the south for a new life as trappers in the Wollaston Lake area. They moved into an old trading post and began trapping. In October the Ortloffs had a baby. By early December they had suffered setbacks and were running out of food, and the baby was suffering from malnutrition. With only a one-week supply of food remaining, they decided to leave for Souris River and the south.
When he learned that the Ortloffs were in trouble, Angus Campbell decided to drop in to see if he could help. However, the Ortloffs had already left by dog team. Campbell followed their trail from the air but had to give up the search because his fuel was getting low.
Soon Campbell was back in the area, this time with more fuel. He was able to pick up their trail again and find them. Their progress had been slow because Ortloff had to transport their goods ahead and set up a campsite, then return for his wife and child. Campbell was able to bring Mrs Ortloff and the baby out to Prince Albert by airplanes. Charlie Ortloff mushed on to the Souris River post.
Advertisement for the ski pedestal developed and manufactured in Prince Albert
by Aircraft Skis Limited, a subsidiary of M&C Aviation.
Photograph courtesy of Ray Crone.
M&C flew many emergency flights to bring the sick and injured to safety and medical attention. Their flights, in great part, were responsible for the expansion of medical services in northern Saskatchewan. Before aircraft in the north, the hospital at Ile a la Crosse was isolated and was open only during the summer months. With aircraft, especially M&C's, operating in the north, the Ile-a la-Crosse hospital was able to stay open year-round to care for the northern people.
Cec McNeal flew for M&C out of Big River, serving the western half of northern Saskatchewan. In the early summer of 1937, he decided to form his own company, based in Big River, using a smaller, more economical, and newer airplanes. Late in the summer, he was joined by Sam McKnight and pilot Ernie Boffa. McKnight had begun his aviation career while still in school, helping McNeal at M&C's base at Big River. Boffa, from Kindersley, brought in a fairly new Stinson SR-7, CF-AUS, which he had bought from pilot Tom Lamb of Lamb Airways at The Pas. The new company then acquired the Fox Moth CF-APO from Waite Fisheries, which had bought it from M&C. McNeal Air Service would last for two years.
McKnight remembered the fledgeling air service's operations. "There wasn't a regularly scheduled service. They did it to suit themselves. If on Tuesday you were going to be in Ile a la Crosse, then you would do charter work out of there." McNeal and company also serviced Dore Lake, Beauval, Buffalo Narrows, La Loche, and Patuanak. They flew for trappers at Dipper Lake and did charter business out of Patuanak. The company also serviced old settlements along the Churchill River and on Pinehouse Lake and the Souris River, which have now virtually disappeared. There were trips to the unmapped area around what is now known as Wollaston Lake. The company did not have a hangar, and the only time the airplanes were in one was in the spring, when they were flown down to Prairie Airways at Moose Jaw.
The reason the small outfit went out of business was not financial, according to McKnight, but because of federal regulations. The transport ministry under C.D. Howe was trying to impose some order and control on aviation. Up until that time, there were few regulations. Then the government gave "grandfather rights" to operators. That is, if a company was first in an area, they got preference in contracts. In McNeal's area, Canadian Airways had been flying the longer hauls, and M&C was there before McNeal Air Service. Thus M&C received the local grandfather rights. As a result, McNeal Air Service had to shut down.
Angus Campbell's Ski Invention
Angus Campbell of Mayson and Campbell Aviation was a pilot, an air engineer, and an inventor. One of his inventions was a shock-absorbing aircraft ski pedestal, which expanded aviation across northern Canada and found sales in several other countries.
Aircraft skis take a tremendous amount of abuse. Pilots often cannot see small, hard drifts of packed snow, especially at mid-day and on cloudy days when there are no shadows on. the packed surface. If the ski is rigidly attached to the landing gear, all the shock of the rough surface is transferred to the landing gear and then to the airframe. At some point, the landing gear or airframe will break.
Angus Campbell had this problem in mind when he began designing his shock-absorbing ski pedestal. He considered two factors as he developed the pedestal: it had to withstand the sub-zero temperatures of northern Saskatchewan, and it had to be constructed with few moving parts which could easily be repaired in the field with a minimum of tools.
Several methods of absorbing the shocks had been tried earlier, which depended on hydraulics, bungee cords, or springs. Other designs transferred the shocks to one strong structure, such as the main bulkhead. Campbell's idea was to absorb the shock between the ski and the landing gear axle. It was simple and it worked. John Pool, the chief engineer for Saskatchewan Government Airways, recalled the construction of the shock-absorbing ski: "The pedestal consisted of three components - a sheet-metal streamlined housing, a metal-fabricated shoe assembly, and a cylindrical rubber-fabricated airbag."
The aircraft's under-carriage axle was mounted onto the upper part of the shoe assembly, which bore down on the airbag, which in. turn. rested on the ski and absorbed the shocks. The air pressure in the bag could be varied depending on the weight of the aircraft.
The people who worked with Campbell showed great resourcefulness in designing equipment to manufacture the pedestals. "The airbag took a great deal of ingenuity to fabricate," Pool said. "Moulds were constructed, the raw rubber-fabricated bag was placed in the mould, submerged in heated glycol solution, and kept at a set temperature to cure the rubber."
The manufacturing equipment was locally made and incorporated components such as a Dodge car transmission, Fordson Tractor gears, truck axle shafts, a discarded laundry mangle, and rollers made from the main shaft of a North Saskatchewan riverboat called The Marquis. The local foundry in Prince Albert made castings for the airbag moulds. After much trial and error, the first pedestals were manufactured, tested, approved by the Department of Transport, and patented. Production began in 1936, and over the years 237 sets of pedestals were built for aircraft ranging from 1,270 to 3,000 kilograms gross weight. They were sold to operators across Canada and to other countries including the United States and Norway.
The distinctive half-moon shaped pedestal is seen in many pictures of ski-equipped aircraft from the late 1930s through to the 1950s. Some familiar names that used the pedestal on their aircraft were the provincial Air Ambulance Service, the flying division of the Department of Natural Resources, Waite Fisheries, and Canadian Pacific Airlines.
They sold the machines to M&C, and later Ernie Boffa acquired the Fox Moth CF-APO from them. McKnight went to Canadian Airways; Cec McNeal went back to M&C and then to Canadian Airways. Boffa went to M&C as well and then served as an instructor for war-time pilots at the Flying Training School in Prince Albert.
M&C Aviation's Stinson SR-7A Reliant, CF-AUS,
in front of the company hangar in Saskatoon, 1940.
Photograph courtesy of Ray Crone.
As the grip of winter loosened at the end of March 1936, Canadian Airways increased its service to Goldfields from one to two flights per week. Bill Windrum would leave Prince Albert on the 1,600 kilometre trip in the Bellanca CF-AKI at 5:30 a.m. He stopped briefly in Beauval and then pressed on to Goldfields. He rested there long enough for residents to check their mail, write a quick response, and post it. Then Windrum headed south, touching down in Prince Albert just before 5:30 p.m.
Goldfields was becoming the new jumping-off point for trappers. Canadian Airways was more than glad to help these hardy souls to their trap lines. Trappers with their dogs, toboggans, canoes, and supplies were part of Bill Windrum's load sheet as he headed north from Goldfields into prime trapping territory. The frontier town of Goldfields was indeed the new centre of the Lake Athabasca region. Communities like Stony Rapids, Fond du Lac, and Camsell Portage were no longer major aviation stops. For several years, Canadian Airways had annually shipped a hundred or more barrels of aviation fuel to Stony Rapids. But a fuel cache of only eight barrels was needed at Stony Rapids for the winter of 1936.
Canadian Airways had to bring in an extra airplanes from Edmonton to handle the pre-freeze-up traffic, expanding their Prince Albert fleet to four aircraft. Ninety per cent of the mail going to Goldfields was passing through the Prince Albert post office, increasing the demand for flights north. A ticket to Goldfields cost $75 one way, $135 return. That was a heavy price in those days.
The city of Prince Albert welcomed aviation activity. Canadian Airways' seven permanent employees in. Prince Albert had an annual total payroll of over $14,000. Besides the addition in wages to the local economy, the company also purchased large amounts of fuel, oil, and general supplies, and contracted from freighting and construction companies.
While Prince Albert remained an obvious centre for northern aviation, it still lacked adequate landing facilities. North-bound fliers, confined to using floats in the summer, were limited to using the North Saskatchewan River for their operations. Winter operations could be carried out on land, but company offices and equipment had to be located along the river for summer floatplane operations.
To stabilize the river level for the floatplane operators, a rock dam was built downstream from the operators' docks. The $100,000 dam, built across the river at the east end of the city, provided a safer landing area for floatplanes and reduced water fluctuations for safer, smoother ice in the winter. The project also helped relieve the unemployment problem in Prince Albert.
Windrum's Freeze-Up Adventure
In mid-October of 1936, Bill Windrum and Mickey Sutherland, flying a Canadian Airways Fairchild, CF-AOP, left Prince Albert for Goldfields with a load of mail, diamond drill parts, and perishable goods. They ran into bad weather at Ile a la Crosse and stayed there overnight. What they did not know was that it would be their last night in a warm bunk for quite a while.
They headed north the next day, expecting to eat lunch at Goldfields. The weather was marginal but they pressed on. Finally, they could go no further and were forced down on an uncharted lake.
The next day they started out again. Although they were uncertain of their position, they knew any northerly heading would bring them to the southern shore of Lake Athabasca. They continued northward through more bad weather until they had to land again. At least this time they knew where they were, on Archibald Lake, 65 kilometres straight south of Goldfields. The weather worsened, the temperature plunged, and the rain turned to snow. The two men worked to keep the airplanes free of snow and ice. But before the blizzard subsided, the lake froze over.
Realizing they had lost the battle with nature, they dug in to wait out the storm. On the fourth day after leaving Prince Albert, the weather improved, and they were able to set up a radio antenna on a hill and contact Goldfields. However, the only airplanes there, Jim Warren's plane from Borealis Syndicate, was still on floats.
Three days later, Jim Warren was able to change to skis and reach Windrum and Sutherland. Their Fairchild was frozen into the ice by then, so Warren took them back to his camp on frozen Neeley Lake, just north of Goldfields.
They returned with chisels and ropes and managed to pry the tips of the floats up onto the ice. Windrum would gun the airplanes's engine and inch his way up on to the ice while Sutherland kept the ropes tight to keep the airplanes from slipping back into the water. Once out of the water, they quickly cleared the floats of ice, taxied across the frozen lake on the floats, turned into the wind and made what they thought was Canada's first float takeoff from ice.
They finally made it to Goldfields, where the water was still open, and spent the day relaxing.
On their return trip, they planned to land at Canadian Airways' base at Emma Lake, but the lake was frozen over with smooth, transparent ice. Windrum was prepared to land but spotted the ice in time and continued to Prince Albert.
At Prince Albert, however, Windrum's troubles were not over. While landing on the river between floating chunks of ice, he struck a rock and punctured the left float. He quickly turned toward the edge of the river but got hung up on a sand bar ten metres from. shore. Mickey Sutherland had to jump into the knee-deep icy water, attach ropes, and pull the airplanes to shore.
When their ten-day adventure was all over, they were probably warmed as much by their new hero status as they were by the radiator in the office.
Winter came early that year, trapping Windrum and Sutherland's floatplane in ice on a lake near Lake Athabasca. Although there was no snow in the bush, lake ice thickened so fast that Superintendent Gilbert was able to start winter flights by the first week of November 1936. The freeze-up backlog of mail was going north, and exceptionally good furs were coming south.
The people at Goldfields were also glad to see the ice thicken up. The mild weather that tricked Windrum into trying to make one more northern flight had also enticed the river barge operators to do the same from Waterways, Alberta. A barge-load of supplies had been hastily assembled and shipped north in late October. The sudden cold snap, though, brought them to an icy halt, and Goldfields was running out of food. Caribou hunting season was not open yet, and the herds were still a distance from town.
Unemployment added to the problem. Thirty-five men were laid off just before freeze-up and had not yet had a chance to find transportation south. Shortages meant prices for canned food, perishables such as eggs and butter, and other supplies soared. Gasoline prices rose to 75 cents a gallon (about 17 cents a litre). The solution to the food shortage was air freighting from Prince Albert because the ice at other shipping centres was not strong enough to support an airplanes taking off. The ice was not yet strong enough at Goldfields to support airplanes, either. Aircraft, however, managed to bring in food supplies to a lake 19 kilometres north of Goldfields. The supplies were then freighted into town.
In the spring of 1937, the northern economy improved. Tenders were out for mail contracts. New discoveries were expected in the Goldfields area, and a million dollars was being invested into the Athabasca region for prospecting. Jobs were again available at Goldfields, easing the unemployment situation.
To assist in developing the Prince Albert-Goldfields air route, the province established a government liquor outlet in Goldfields. The extra shipments, it was felt, would add an additional weekly flight. The plan was supported by the local police detachment, who were having trouble with illegal liquor and bootlegging. Canadian Airways gave a reduced freight rate for alcohol, adding about a dollar to the price of a bottle. The brewers of Bohemian beer were quick to link their product with the airplanes. The Saturday edition of the Prince Albert Daily Herald, which included the Goldfields news supplement, carried an advertisement showing a dockhand unloading beer from Canadian Airways' Fairchild CF-AOP.
A new airplanes was arriving in the north - the Norseman. It was a product of Noorduyn Aviation Ltd. of Montreal and would become the main bush airplanes for the next three decades. In May 1937, just a year and a half' after the airplanes had its inaugural flight, Canadian Airways brought a Norseman, CF-BDD, into Prince Albert.
The Norseman was designed for northern work, with a sizeable cabin and a door wide enough to roll in a standard fuel drum. The fuselage was more streamlined than the Fairchild's, the engine was enclosed in a cowling, and the front windshield wrapped around to the side. The welded, steel tubing fuselage was fabric-covered and finished in a high gloss. It carried 10 passengers instead of 7, cruised 65 kilometres per hour faster than the Fairchild 71, and could climb 2,400 metres higher to a ceiling of 6,700 metres. The flying range of the two aircraft was similar at about 1,000 kilometres. However, the Norseman had a more powerful engine rated at 550 h.p. compared to the Fairchild's 420 h.p. engine. And, of course, it was new. The Fairchild grew out of a late-1920s design, modified for the 1930s. The Norseman came off the assembly line in 1935.
When the Norseman arrived in Prince Albert, Gilbert did something that was immediately popular with the public: he named the silver-coloured airplanes "The Goldfields Express."
Passengers boarding Canadian Airways' Norseman CF-BDD in 1937.
The company named the airplane the "Goldfields Express"
because it would be flown mainly between Prince Albert
and Goldfields on Lake Athabasca.
Photograph courtesy of Saskatchewan Archives.
The Goldfields Express went to work immediately. Superintendent Gilbert had the honour of introducing the airplanes to the town whose name it carried. For the rest of the summer, Bill Windrum flew the Goldfields Express while Gilbert flew a Fairchild 71, CF-AOP. Other pilots operating out of Prince Albert that summer was North Sawle flying a Fairchild 71, CF-ATZ; Norm Forrester flying a Fairchild 71C, CF-ACO; and Paul Davoud flying a Junkers W-33, CF-AQW.
The Goldfields Express was not the only new airplanes on the river. In early June, two six-passenger Bellanca Pacemakers, CF-BFD and CF-BFB, arrived at the Canadian Airways dock. That month, Parker flew Pacemaker CF-BFD on its first northern flight to Lac La Ronge.
The Pacemaker was not new to Prince Albert. A Pacemaker, CF-AKI, had been flown out of Prince Albert for some time, but it had been damaged beyond repair at Lake Athabasca a year earlier when Windrum made a forced landing during a snow storm.
Gilbert, like his competitor at M&C, was interested in a good public image. Mayson and Campbell always made an airplanes available to the Elk's Club for their Christmas food basket fund-raiser, taking passengers aloft for a penny a pound (about 2 cents a kilogram). That summer, Canadian Airways sponsored the Rotary Club's Milk Fund money-raiser and Canadian Airways' airplanes carried 189 people into the sky.
Meanwhile, a new mineral exploration site was being developed. Norite Bay, at the eastern end of Lake Athabasca near Pine Channel, between Fond du Lac and Stony Rapids, had been the site of a silver rush in 1915. Nothing had come of it, however. The area was "rediscovered" in the mid-1930s, and during the winter of 1936-37 about 40 men were working there for Athona Mines Ltd. During the winter they did surface work and began drilling in the spring. Prince Albert suppliers had the edge over Alberta merchants. "Of notable interest to Prince Albert," gloated the Prince Albert Daily Herald, "is the fact that the scene of the new mineral area is 85 miles (137 kilometres) due east of Goldfields, which puts it just 85 miles further away from McMurray, the Alberta point of entry to the north."
Canadian Airways, always in tune with the mining industry, began service to Norite Bay late in January 1937. Besides, to the Goldfields and Norite Bay flights, it ferried Magistrate Lussier to northern courts, brought furs out for the Hudson's Bay Company, did charter work for the RCMP, flew fire suppression crews, and flew the mail. One of their most famous passengers was the "Indian" naturalist, Grey Owl.
For years the trappers, missionaries, and traders of northern Saskatchewan received mail four times a year. However, what may have been adequate service for them was inadequate for the mining men. Postal officials recognized that miners needed a weekly service. Norite Bay began receiving "courtesy service" when Canadian Airways passed through on Fridays. By July 1937, an official post office was set up.
For Canadian Airways or any other operator, mail contracts helped keep the airplanes flying. The airline had worked hard to establish an airmail service across the prairies in the late 1920s and early 1930s, although the Depression forced the cancellation. of the service for a time. By 1937, airmail was reintroduced, but the federal government was continually reducing the rates paid to companies hauling the mail.
At the same time, the federal government was setting up a national east-west air service, Trans-Canada Air Lines. Minister of Transport C.D. Howe made it clear that Trans-Canada Air Lines would be Canada's only transcontinental carrier. The new national airline meant that Canadian Airways would have to settle for flying a north-south feeder line to Regina to link up with Trans-Canada Air Lines' airmail service. Canadian Airways, however, would have to compete for the contract.
Canadian Airways aircraft on the river at Prince Albert in 1936. The Junkers JU 52, CF-ARM,
known locally as the "Flying Boxcar," had a wingspan of 30 metres, a cabin 6 metres long,
and could carry up to 2,700 kilograms. In the centre of the photograph is the
"Goldfields Express," Norseman CF-BDD, and on the right is a Fairchild 71, CF-AOP.
Photograph courtesy of Saskatchewan Archives.
Justice Flies North
J.E. Lussier began flying his travelling courtroom into northern communities in 1932 with Brooks Airways. He soon became known across the north as the "Flying Magistrate."
On the days before his travelling courtroom, lengthy preparations were required to bring together the judge, the police, the witnesses and, off course, the accused. Bringing the magistrate in by airplanes simplified things greatly. In August and September of 1932, Lussier tried 50 cases across the north.
Magistrate Lussier was not always welcome. During the Depression, men headed north, where they could live off' the land, trapping and trading furs for necessities. Not all trappers played by the rules, and sometimes trappers came off the trapline for a Christmas holiday to find the RCMP waiting with a list of trapping violations.
When Brooks Airways became Wings Ltd. in the spring of 1935, Lussier continued, often flying with Bill Windrum. In the fall of that year when Wings' business went to Canadian Airways, Lussier followed.
Even those who must pass judgement have personal biases and feelings. Lussier's aviation experiences made a mark on his life. Maybe that is why the Flying Magistrate showed leniency to one particular post office robber.
Buster Whiteway helped hold up the post office and store at Bay Trail, near Humboldt, Saskatchewan, during the fall of 1932. Whiteway trained a gun on the postmaster while his two accomplices tied the postmaster up. They rifled the cash box of $100 and took another $60 of goods on. the way out. They made a clean get-away.
Constable P. Greaves arrested Whiteway on January 7, 1933, in northern Manitoba. Whiteway was to appear in court in Prince Albert. The constable, Whiteway, and fellow passenger, John Robinson, a prospector, climbed into an airplanes piloted by W.A. Spence and headed to Prince Albert from Manitoba.
The airplanes was caught in a storm and it crashed at Moose Lake, Manitoba. The pilot was killed; Whiteway was thrown clear of the wreckage and suffered a broken ankle. After regaining consciousness, he staggered back to the mangled airplanes and pulled out his captor, Constable Greaves, and Robinson. Making sure they were all right, Whiteway hobbled across the windswept ice to a fishing camp for help.
A month later, Whiteway finally arrived in Prince Albert and within minutes was standing before Magistrate Lussier. "Six months," said Lussier, "dating from the time of your arrest." Six months was a light sentence for armed robbery.
Lussier became a great friend of aviation in Prince Albert and chaired the committee to form a flying club in Prince Albert in 1936.
Nationally, Canadian Airways was having a bad year throughout 1938. Prospecting was down, the postal service was still pressing mail carriers for lower prices, and there was increasing competition from bush operators. Total freight carried by the entire company decreased by 2.3 million kilograms from the 11 million kilograms carried the previous year.
But this was not the case for Canadian Airways' operation at Prince Albert. Since the previous year, the Prince Albert base employed 12 full-time and 4 part-time staff and the payroll doubled. The steady pace of flying continued into 1938, even though. some off the Goldfields mining fever was cooling off, and the Prince Albert Daily Herald was no longer devoting pages of each Saturday edition to Goldfield's news. Replacing Goldfields were some promising gold strikes in the Sulfide Lake area just north of Lac La Ronge.
During March, at least ten different Canadian Airways airplanes passed through the local base, the biggest of which was a Junkers JU52, registered as CF-ARM and nicknamed the "Flying Boxcar." Junkers aircraft were built in Germany and were, for some time, the largest aircraft operating in Canada. CF-ARM, built-in 1931, could carry up to 2,700 kilograms of freight and had a cargo cabin 6 metres long. The wingspan was almost 30 metres, its length was 18 metres and the top of the tail was more than 6 metres above the ground. Today, 4 Cessna 185 aircraft could easily be parked in a square pattern in CF-ARM's hangar, with room to spare.
Junkers aircraft played an important role in the development of mining in remote areas of Canada. During the spring of 1938, CF-ARM hauled 230 tonnes of hydro-electric material for Consolidated Mining and Smelting to Goldfields. The average load was 2,700 kilograms. The previous year, the Junkers had been used to transport 6,800 kilograms of steel needed for the Island Falls hydro-electric power plant built by Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting near Sandy Bay, Saskatchewan.
Goldfields Express was busy, too. Spring break-up was only a couple of weeks away and everyone seemed to have last-minute flying to be done. During one three-day period, Windrum made two round trips from Prince Albert to Yellowknife with a side trip to the Stony Rapids area and other short charters out of Goldfields. His total distance travelled was 4,300 kilometres, or 1,400 kilometres a day. Another pilot, Wally Carrion, did local freighting out of Goldfields, flying as much as 4,500 kilograms a day by small aircraft - including a total of 8,200 kilograms of dynamite.
The summer of 1938 brought personnel changes to the Prince Albert base. Al Parker, who had come to Saskatchewan from Sioux Lookout, Ontario, in December of 1935, was transferred to his home province of Quebec in May. In June, Superintendent Walter Gilbert went west to Vancouver to take over Canadian Airways' British Columbia operations. Bill Windrum was made the acting superintendent at Prince Albert. In 1938, Win drum was elected to the provincial legislature for the Athabasca riding.
Despite staff changes, it was business as usual for Canadian Airways throughout 1938 and 1939. It promoted service to Yellowknife in. the spring of 1939 to carry the mail. between the Northwest Territories and Prince Albert where it linked up with Prairie Airways, the company that underbid Canadian Airways for the north-south feeder mail run.
M&C, meanwhile, was keeping busy as well. Break-up came fast in 1938. The airplanes were down only 13 days between ski flying and float flying. Ann us Campbell, L.L. Dunsmore, and Ron J. Baker were flying the M&C machines. Baker had worked as the chief radio technician for the Department of Natural Resources. Part of his new job with M&C involved installing radios in all the M&C aircraft. Another pilot, Austin J. Currie from Winnipeg, joined the M&C staff. CF-ATG, their Fairchild FC-2, was fresh. from a complete engine and airframe overhaul.
A mixed schedule of charter work was piling up for them. Prospector Bert Lien went into Sulfide Lake with a canoe and supplies. Geologist J.S. Wright went north as did Floyd Glass who later became prominent in northern aviation. A teacher, Mr Ahenakew, wanted to go to Stanley Mission, and another man wanted to fly home to North Battleford so he could vote in the provincial election. There was freight for Lac La Ronge and Ile a la Crosse, fire patrols for the government, and mail contracts up to Buffalo Narrows and Portage La Loche to fulfil. The last furs of the season were waiting to be bought and brought out from the north of Lac La Ronge. All these trips were in the first days of open-water flying.
M&C Aviation's Waco YKS-6, CF-AYQ, at Saskatoon.
It is sporting the company's famous ski pedestals.
M&C Aviation bought this plane in 1937, one year after
they were first built, and flew it for ten years.
Photograph courtesy of John Finch.
Things were going well for M&C. It had two Fairchild FC-2 aircraft; two Standard Wacos, YKS-6 and ZKS-6; a Stinson Junior and a Waco 10 Landplane. The company had 11 permanent employees. Besides the many types of flights already mentioned, the improving economy was bringing a new customer, the tourist. They had dollars to spend in search of northern fish or game.
On August 15, 1939, the first gold brick was poured at Goldfields. That brick represented millions of dollars, hours of toil, and all the dreams of those who worked there hoping to earn a better life. The brick, 30 centimetres long, 15 centimetres thick, and 15 centimetres wide, weighed 32 kilograms and was valued at more than $30,000. It was a small start in recovering Consolidated Mining and Smelting's $4 million investment. It was only fitting that it be flown out on the Goldfields Express.
This was the start of production, but it was also the beginning of Goldfields' final days. Although gold had been headline news for four years, on August 17 it had to take second place to the heavy-print war headlines bannered across the same page. The eyes of Saskatchewan were no longer on that glistening brick.
Goldfields continued until 1942, when a combination of low-grade ore, increasing costs, and a shortage of men forced it to shut down. The men who had flocked to the north for work and escape were now needed elsewhere.
By the time the Second World War erupted, the aviation industry, through the efforts of the commercial operators, had greatly matured. Its importance in northern Canada and the scale of operations are revealed by the fact that more tonnes of freight were carried by air between Edmonton and Yellowknife in 1938 than were carried by air that year in the entire United States!