Yukon Nuggets

  • The airplane at the Cyr Wood Lot on the site of today's airport.

1920 Yukon Nuggets

First Aircraft in Whitehorse


In June 1920, Captain Douglas of the U.S. Air Force and Captain Leroyer of the Canadian Air Board arrived in Whitehorse. Both came with the authority of the US and Canadian governments to present a plan for a record-breaking airplane flight from New York State to Nome, Alaska. The purpose was to study the feasibility of establishing aerial routes in the far north.

The Captains came to Whitehorse to arrange for landing places, fuel and supplies. The Whitehorse STAR described it as "an event that will go down in history as one of the most daring conceptions of the potentialities of aerial flight that has ever been conceived since the possibilities of a lighter-than-air craft for transportation became, through the inventive genius of man, a certainty."

They would need a field 600 yards long and 200 yards wide. The day after their arrival they were shown a site on the escarpment overlooking the tiny town. At the time, it was known as Cyr's wood lot and covered with trees and brush.

The four airplanes taking part in the expedition were the de Havilland DH-4 biplanes of the first Alaska Air Expedition. The distance to be covered from New York to Nome was ten thousand miles, with sixteen stops en route including Whitehorse and Dawson City.

A telegram from Washington, D.C., addressed to the "Mayor" of Whitehorse, stated the planes would reach here on or about July 22. The airmen in this transcontinental flight met with many difficulties.

However, they reached Wrangell on Saturday, August 14, 1920, and on the following Monday the first plane arrived in Whitehorse. Shortly afterwards two others appeared upon the horizon and were safely grounded on the local airfield. The fourth plane had met with difficulties on muddy ground at Wrangell, and did not reach Whitehorse until Tuesday, August 17th.


The bold airmen received a royal welcome in Whitehorse. Each plane had a speed of 135 miles an hour and was overhauled every thirty hours.


Back in 1920, this was big news, and the Whitehorse Star waxed eloquently about the feat.

Just as mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow, so, from the small airfield constructed for this first transcontinental flight north, has developed one of the finest airports in the north today, of which Whitehorse is justifiably proud. In the past it played an important part in aviation throughout the north. In the future, because of its strategic position, it is destined to play an even greater part in global aviation.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.