1937 Yukon Nuggets
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.