It was the most powerful aircraft in Canada flying on floats. The visionary pilot at the controls was man who would make trans - Pacific flying commonplace in years to come. But on July 5, 1937, he was flying his giant Ford Trimotor 12-passenger aircraft to Whitehorse. An aviation first was in the making.
Grant McConachie was at the controls on that July day back in 1937. Twelve passengers were on board, but only one was paying. The others were on a freebie promotional flight from Edmonton to Whitehorse. The giant plane left the Edmonton float-plane base at 8:15 a.m. Fuel stops were scheduled for Fort St. John, Fort Nelson and Lower Post. It was a rough flight with severe headwinds reducing the air speed at times to 70 miles an hour, compared with the much ballyhooed plan to fly at an incredible 100 miles an hour.
The headwinds eased off, and the United Air Transport plane and passengers pulled into the White Pass docks on the Yukon River at 11p.m. The first commercial flight from Alberta to the Yukon took 15 hours. More important to the new airline company than the non-paying passengers was the 400 pounds of mail it carried for the Canadian post office. The company could survive with the mail contract.
Next day in Whitehorse, the brash young McConachie decided to fly on to Dawson City and establish it as a destination for United Air Transportation. The company flew on a shoestring budget until 1939, when it added a few more planes to its fleet.
That year, it changed its name to Yukon Southern Air Transport Limited. Also that year, the Ford Trimotor float plane used in the first flight to the Yukon was rammed by a runaway Hurricane aircraft while it sat on the tarmac in Vancouver. The plane was damaged beyond repair. McConachie sued the Canadian military and won a cash settlement of $52,000.
Still cash-strapped, McConachie decided to approach the Canadian Pacific Railway and offer them a partnership in Yukon Southern. On January 13, 1941, the CPR announced the purchase of the company, and Canadian Pacific Airlines was born. Grant McConachie's role as an international aviation pioneer was just beginnning.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
In my search for Yukon Nuggets, stories from our fabled past, I have often come across strange - sometimes bizarre - tales.
Most recently, a story surfaced for which I have no explanation, nor could I find anything to prove the event actually occurred except to tell you that it was a feature article in that most trustworthy of publications, Time Magazine.
Here as Robert Service would say, are the simple facts of the case - as written on May 10th, 1937. I leave it to you to judge the truth of the tale.
We have heard in previous Nugget broadcasts how Duff Pattullo, once Premier of British Columbia, got his start in politics during his eight-year stay in Dawson City at the turn of the 19th century. He was in Dawson during the gold rush and beyond, became a Member of the Yukon Territorial council and speaker of the Legislature. When he left the Yukon in 1908, he was elected to the BC legislature and subsequently became Premier in 1933. That job lasted ten years. Pattullo always had an interest in the Yukon. As it turns out that interest was more than nostalgia for his earlier political days in the Territory.
Pattullo wanted to take the Yukon with him when he left and, according to the Time Magazine story of May 10th, 1937, he did just that. In that issue, Time reported that "BC Premier Duff Pattullo announced last week that British Columbia had closed a deal with the Government of Canada to take over Yukon Territory."
Time Magazine went on to say that "As soon as British Columbia's Legislature signs on the dotted line, that province will become, next to Quebec, the largest in Canada. From maps of Canada, said Time, "will disappear the colorful Yukon Territory, made famous by the discovery of gold in 1896 and the hairy-chested poems of Robert William Service."
"Yukon's sole representative in the Dominion Parliament since October 1935 has been Mrs. George Black, a dashing woman who left Chicago to join the gold rush of 1898."
Time reported that Mrs. Black exploded angrily last week when Premier Pattullo announced his acquisition and expressed "surprise" that no statement had been made "either in Parliament or by the Prime Minister."
Time continued: "By no means reluctant was the Dominion to surrender control of the Yukon, which has cost it nearly eleven million dollars for its development with almost no direct return to Ottawa. Cheerfully, said Time, the federal Government consented to make an annual grant to British Columbia of $125,000 for five years to help meet the expense of taking over.
So what to make of this story. We know that the Yukon did not join BC back in 1937. What we don't know is where they got the information of how close the federal government came to handing the Yukon over to British Columbia in 1937.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
See also: Duff Pattullo
Times were tough in the Yukon just before the outbreak of World War II. The territory had become a backwater, out of sight and out of mind, especially by the Federal Government. In 1937 the feds gleefully agreed to allow British Columbia to take over the administration of the territory, hardly anyone was living here anyway. In 1941 the population of the entire territory was about 4600 people. Two thirds were men, and many stayed to work in the summer, and left when freeze up came.
But small business plugged along. Over at the Whitehorse Star’s little shack on Main Street, owner Horace Moore was a one man show. Moore had bought the Star in 1938. He was trying to eke out a living publishing a six page paper once a week, and do some commercial printing jobs to keep the wolf from the door. Then in 1942 things changed for Moore, and the Yukon. The American Troops building the Alaska Highway hit the Yukon like a juggernaut. Things changed so much that Time magazine ran a story about, of all things, The Whitehorse Star. Time wrote: “Outside the tiny white-framed building a large sign simply says ‘printing’. That’s the headquarters of The Whitehorse Star in the Yukon Territory. Inside, another large sign pleads ‘don’t shoot, we're doing our best’. The first sign went up six years ago because Editor Horace Edward Moore wanted business. The second went up last week, because he had too much”. Time’s report was elegant. “A birdlike 63 year old Mr. Chipsy sort of man who immigrated long ago from England, Horace Moore had worked around Western Canada at various jobs before buying The Star. From the paper, and from what other printing jobs he could pick up, he hoped for a living and leisure. He acquired a linotype machine and an operator, increased his paper’s size from four to six pages, and turned out job printing for Whitehorse’s few stores. One year he won a Canadian Weekly Newspaper Association award for the best paper under 500 circulation. Best of all, he did all of this in an easy 5 day week.
But last year the Alaska Highway brought briskness to editor Moore’s idyllic retreat. Thousands of inflooding US Army Engineers and private construction workers transformed Whitehorse into something unreal. Job printing orders went up like a rocket. Officers and contractors now bang on The Star’s doors with orders for letterheads, record forms, tickets and contracts in the thousands. With the aid of a new automatic press and four assistants, two of which are army men who work part-time, pipe-smoking cap-wearing Horace Moore is doing the best he can. But gone are the five-day weeks and the life of Riley. Whitehorse’s frosty ink stained paradise has been invaded”. Yet another example of the impact the Alaska Highway had on the Yukon.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin