Germany demonstrated the swiftness and terror of airpower on September 1, 1939, when it overwhelmed Poland by "Blitzkrieg," lightning war. Britain and France responded with declarations of war, and a few days later Canada joined the alliance against Nazi Germany. The Allies knew that airpower would play a major role in the coming conflict. The first line of defence for the British Isles was in the air, and military strategists realized that an eventual offensive into Germany would require bomber and transport aircraft. The theatre of operations, the missions, and the aircraft would become more complex, so the crews would have to be well trained.
But they could not be trained in Britain. The training centres would be targets for the enemy and would use runways needed for combat aircraft. Besides, accidents do happen during training, so instruction. should be undertaken away from populated centres. As early as 1937, Britain had considered the possibilities of moving their Royal Air Force training schools to Canada.
Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King supported the British cause but felt that if they wanted to train here, the Royal Canadian Air Force should do the training. At the same time, he wanted to expand Canada's own air force and establish new training stations at several points throughout the country.
The ideas began to develop - and so did the war. The 50-week course was trimmed to 28. It would include not only British airmen, but Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders. Instead of operating at a few points throughout Canada, there would be 22 bases to teach elementary flight, with more bases to be constructed for advanced flight. Instead of training 50 pilots a year they would set a goal of 6,000 or more. In fact, under this plan, 131,000 aircrew members from around the British Commonwealth were trained at Canadian airfields. This ambitious program. was called the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
One focus of the Air Training Plan was the production of aircraft for the training of aircrews. Before Canada entered the war, the Canadian aircraft industry had already expanded to meet orders for service aircraft and employed 4,400 people. By 1944, the peak production year, the ten Canadian aircraft manufacturing companies employed over 81,000 workers. The companies were Curtiss-Reid, Fleet, Canadian Vickers, de Havilland, Fairchild, Boeing, Noorduyn, Canadian Car and Foundry, National Steel Car, and Federal Aircraft.
As well as needing trainer aircraft, pilots enrolled in the Air Training Plan needed expert instructors, and Canada had a unique pool of fliers to fill that role - bush pilots. They had flown through snowstorms and wind and over mountainous terrain, hauling mail and trappers and diamond drilling rigs.
On September 8, 1939, Prince Albert pilots with instructor's licences received letters from the defence department, asking questions about age, flying experience, and the kinds of airplanes with which they were familiar. The next day commercial pilots received telegrams from the chief of air staff in Ottawa, inquiring if they were available to serve, presumably as flying instructors. In addition to the usual questions, the air staff wanted to know about their education, the nationality of their parents, and whether they would be married or single at the earliest time they would be available to serve.
Austin Currie, employed by M&C for only three months, took a leave of absence from the company and joined up. L.L. Dunsmore, who had flown earlier for M&C, joined, as did "Lefty" McLeod, and Floyd Glass. Ernie Boffa, Stuart Millar, and Len Waite from Big River served as instructors, either as military flying officers or civilians.
Their first stop was Camp Borden, Ontario. These self-reliant, often free-wheeling, northern pilots learned military discipline. They also had to review all the things they might have forgotten about meteorology, air navigation, and aerodynamics. Imported Royal Air Force instructors taught them to fly the air force way. Then they had to learn how to teach flying the air force way. Military aviation was different than bush aviation. Flying Officer C.D. Gordon, recruited from Canadian Airways in Edmonton, liked the aerobatics but admitted, "I'll be glad when the snow comes and I can feel a pair of skis under my ship again."
One of the reasons the designers of the Air Training Plan chose Canada was its wide-open skies. Besides, 24 modern airports had been built across southern Canada in preparation for the operation of Trans-Canada Air Lines. That was a start, though many more would be needed.
The Dominion government wanted the schools to not only train Commonwealth pilots but to give an economic boost to the country. Millions of dollars would go into the construction, maintenance, and management of the schools. No single province or region would have an advantage in schools. More than a year before the Air Training Plan was formalized in December of 1939, towns and cities across Canada began submitting outlines and reports on why their community would be an ideal location for a Flying Training School.
Prince Albert had submitted its proposal in August 1938, back in the days when the scheme was still oriented toward the training of Royal Air Force personnel. The sales pitch was strong. Prince Albert offered beautiful flying weather, a newly-constructed municipal airfield that could be enlarged as necessary, a harbour for seaplane training, the only aircraft repair and overhaul shop in the province, and plenty of recreational facilities. And Prime Minister Mackenzie King was also the member of Parliament for Prince Albert.
The Prince Albert airport as it appeared in 1945 when it was base for #6 Elementary Flying
Training School. Saskatchewan's northern forests stretch to the horizon.
Photograph courtesy of Ray Crone.
The city stood to gain as well. The airport would be upgraded, construction would provide new jobs, and the city would have an improved runway for use after the war. As well, the pilots passing through would spend money, adding a few more local jobs.
By the end of January 1940, it looked as though the city was in line for a school. A proposal was made by Ottawa that "the Federal government cover the construction of runways, erection of hangars, living quarters for personnel and other necessary buildings. The Federal government will pay the sum of one dollar per annum to Prince Albert as full compensation for the use of the airport ... and at the end of the war, the airport will be returned to the City. The government will take over completely the management and control of the airport, paying all operating expenses, constructing whatever buildings are necessary and making improvements as they are required." Under the agreement, too, the present commercial operators and the Prairie Airways feeder service to Trans-Canada Air Lines could continue to use the airport. Prince Albert's mayor George Brock immediately telegraphed Ottawa giving the city's approval. All that remained to be learned was just what type of facility would be located at Prince Albert.
The government assigned the schools to their host cities on February 27, 1940. Prince Albert would be the location of #6 Elementary Flying Training School and #8 Air Observer School. Ottawa wanted the Prince Albert Elementary Flying school to open in October 1940. The Air Observer School was to open in 1941.
Twenty-two local flying clubs across the country were given the task of managing the Elementary Flying Training Schools. Civilians were responsible for the operation of the school, though RCAF officers and civilians shared the flight instruction. At Prince Albert, long-time friends worked together as instructors, some in uniform, others in civilian clothes
The school in Prince Albert was incorporated as Northern Saskatchewan Flying Training School Ltd. The first president was H.M. Sibbald and the manager was Steward McKercher. The chief of ground instruction was R.S.E. Walshe from Nipawin, and the chief flying instructor was Len Waite of Big River, a civilian.
The staff of #6 Elementary Flying Training School in Prince Albert during the Second World War.
Len Waite, the chief flying instructor, is seated in the front row, sixth from the left.
Photograph courtesy of Richard Waite.
In July, the first four airplanes were flown in from Winnipeg. The first 24 airmen arrived in Prince Albert from Toronto by railroad and started flight training right away, three months ahead of schedule. When Premier W.J. Patterson arrived for the grand opening to make a patriotic speech, over 6,000 people from in and around the city attended the grand opening!
In the beginning, most of the instructors of #6 Elementary Flying Training School were veterans of bush and prairie flying. Some were already military pilots who volunteered to become instructors. Lefty McLeod had spent his younger years in Prince Albert and was serving with the RCAF in Saint John, New Brunswick, when the war broke out. McLeod had wanted to be an instructor and took his instructor training course at Trenton, Ontario. Because he graduated near the top of his instructor class, he was given a choice of assignments and chose to return to Prince Albert.
Once at Prince Albert's Flying Training School, students were faced with military efficiency. McLeod recalled:
Initially, [we had] four [students], later on, it was six. The instructors had a room and there was a big wicket between the instructors' room and the students' corral. They would give you four or six names and you would just go to the wicket and yell out the names and say, "Okay, you guys meet me in the hangar." You'd get out there and introduce yourself and get to know who they were. Then. we'd go over and say, "This is an airplane. This black, blunt end is the one that goes forward and that is the one that follows it. There's no use telling me you know all about aviation. This is what I'm gonna tell you - pay attention." During the day you would get each of them up for a twenty-minute familiarization ride to see how they were. Some of the guys were kind of brutal about it. They used to go and wring the airplane out and see if they could make them sick. For my money that was a loser's game because you would start by scaring the kid to death instead of making him feel a little more comfortable. I just gave them a ride around the country and showed them the city and told them where not to go mainly the Penitentiary - that was a closed area altogether.
You gave them eight hours of dual instruction, particularly landings and take-offs, then they went solo. [If they did not solo] you maybe thought there might be a clash of personalities or something like that, you would trade with another guy who was having trouble with one of his students and that would give them an extension of another two or three hours. About twelve hours was the maximum.
Then you got into more complex stuff like basic aerobatics and spin recoveries and night flying. We had two or three different cross-countries.
As the war progressed and the demand for aircrews increased, more and more of the instructors were graduates of the Flying Training School system itself. Earl Dodds was one of them. He began. instructing in March 1943 and continued until after it shut down. Dodds recalled that he quickly formed an opinion on the type of person he thought would make a good pilot. "The well-co-ordinated people, the athletes, the guys that could run and play hockey or paddle a canoe and ride a horse. You could pretty well tell if a guy was well co-ordinated by the way he walked."
The course was tough. "They started washing them out after they got into the flying schools. When I came in `43 there was a loose target of 10 per cent. You didn't put up with anything. If you thought the guy was going to be dangerous to himself or somebody else you got rid of him. If you had a good bunch of kids they all went through."
Canada supplied a disproportionately large number of airmen during the Second World War. Much of that was due, of course, to the role of aviation in the country during the late 1930s. But it also began right in the high schools.
Students 17 years or older in Grades 11 and 12 who passed an aircrew physical could join the air cadet program. Their physics, algebra, and trigonometry courses were modified to emphasize aerodynamics and air navigation. They attended summer camp, receiving aviation ground school, and even flight training. Some 18-year-olds graduated from high school and went directly into advanced flight training. By age 19 they were in England and by age 20 were flying Spitfires.
The usual training system for those who were not cadets consisted of several schools, beginning with Initial Training School. Here potential airmen received an initiation to Air Force life and studied mathematics, radio and code, the theory of flight, engines, aircraft recognition, and other aviation subjects. Their performance here, if' they passed, determined the particular air school they could attend next.
Before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, many of the mien in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan were Americans. After the United States entered the war, American students could return to the U.S. Army Air Corps and retain the rank they held in Canada, or they could remain in the RCAF and gain immediate Canadian citizenship.
After Initial Training School, successful pilot candidates went to the seven-week Elementary Flying Training School. Here they learned to fly the single-engine de Havilland Tiger Moth trainers and left proudly with 50 hours in their flight logbooks.
Service Flying Training School came next. For ten weeks students trained on either single-engine or multi-engine aircraft. Both were needed. The beginning of the war was defensive, with single-engine fighters defending British skies. Later in the war, the Allies carried the air war to Germany with multi-engine bombers.
Other schools included Air Observer, Air Navigation, and Bombing and Gunnery Training.
During its 4 years of operation, #6 Elementary Flying Training School graduated 2,467 young pilots or about 5 per cent of the total graduates.
George Greening, a young air engineer from Prince Albert, was employed at #6 Elementary Flying Training School as the assistant chief engineer for both the Flying Training and the Air Observer schools.
Greening had started as a mechanic's helper for Brooks Airways and at age 19 received his air engineer licence. In 1930, Greening moved to the Northern Aero Club of North Battleford to work as an air engineer. He also performed more daring duties for the club at country fairs, wing walking on Pheasant and Curtiss "Jenny" aircraft.
Though an air engineer, he recalled he always "had aspirations to go into flying." During his employment at the Flying Training School, Len Waite, chief flying instructor, encouraged Greening to start flying, and in 1943 Greening was granted his commercial pilot licence. After the war, Len Waite gave Greening his first job as a pilot, flying loads of fish from northern lakes to Big River.
Greening had an eventful flying career and was a colourful character known. throughout the north. Once, when flying his floatplane loaded with American hunters, he made a forced landing in the top of a poplar tree. Another time, he cartwheeled across a frozen lake when he touched a wingtip to the ice in a whiteout. He also had the honour of being Prime Minister Diefenbaker's favourite pilot for northern fishing trips. When he retired from 32 years of bush flying, Greening had accumulated 14,000 flying hours.
Throughout the Second World War, civilian air operations continued alongside the military training, but the free-flying days of the late 1930s were gone. The north had come to rely on airplanes for mail, fire suppression, and passenger service. But during the war fuel was rationed, spare aircraft parts were hard to get, and pilots and air engineers were needed for the war effort. Shortages were not the only thing restricting northern aviation. In some cases, internal security was also a restriction.
De Havilland Tiger Moths of the #6 Elementary Flying Training School in Prince Albert lined
up for maintenance. Photograph courtesy of Burt Sterling.
On December 12, 1939, Ottawa issued its wartime regulations for civilian. flying. They were tough rules for uncertain days. Civilian flying in military areas was prohibited. International flights were restricted to scheduled airlines or to aircraft whose pilots had been given special permission to fly across the border. All civil international flights had to be flown during daylight hours. Furthermore, regulations stated that "none may carry guns or munitions and nothing explosive in nature except signal flares. Radio transmitters on planes must be used sparingly, only for transmission and receiving of messages necessary to navigation and operation of the aircraft, and the messages must not be in code or any language other than French or English. No aerial photography may be carried out without the express permission of the government, and no plane may fly at night without permission."
The government showed how cautious it could be in war-time. Reverend Paul Schulte was known as the "Flying Priest of the Arctic." His exploits became a legend as he flew between mission stations in his Stinson flying. After all, he was operating hundreds of kilometres from the nearest gas station Reliant during the 1930s. Schulte had caches off aviation fuel scattered across the north to keep his airplane. The only problem. was his activities before becoming a priest. He was a First World War fighter pilot for the German Imperial Air Force. When the Second World War broke out, he was transferred from northern Canada to Illinois - the United States was neutral at the time - and was requested to stay there. The Canadian government confiscated his fuel caches and one report said that "it might be presumed he would be denied entry to Canada should he seek to come once more to the Dominion."
When the effects of the war started to influence the economy, the north was left with only two carriers, Canadian Airways and M&C Aviation. Canadian Airways' main business was its flights to Goldfields and the northwest communities. Some of the pilots who flew during those days were Bill Windrum, Fred Meilicke, Cec McNeal, Alf Caywood, and Jack Moar. Windrum managed the base.
The company, operating from the Prince Albert base, had its share of accidents. While flying Pacemaker CF-BFD, Al Parker had crashed at Sophie Lake because of engine failure. Bill Windrum, who had lost Bellanca Pacemaker CF-AKI on Lake Athabasca, also lost another Pacemaker, CF-BFB, from engine failure at Prince Albert in November 1940. Earlier that year, in February, another Canadian Airways airplane, a Stinson SR-9 Reliant, CF-BEC, lifted off the river at Prince Albert and flew into a downdraft. The pilot was on his way to salvage Canadian Airways' big Bellanca freighter, which had gone through the ice at Kingsmere Lake. Unable to gain altitude as the traffic bridge rapidly approached, the pilot, Stewart McRorie of Manitoba, turned the Stinson toward land. He still could not climb so he turned toward the best emergency landing spot he could find - Charlie Mamczasz's back yard on Thirteenth Street West. He managed to land between a telephone pole and a large cement mixer. The telephone pole sheared off the left-wing and the cement mixer ripped off the undercarriage, but the airplane settled down in an upright position. As the airplane came to a standstill, there was a small explosion and fire broke out. McRorie and his three passengers quickly leapt from the airplane. They escaped with minor bumps and burns before a second fiery explosion destroyed the airplane. The crash was McRorie's first in over 12 years off flying.
Canadian Airways' focus had always been mining exploration but mining activity was reduced throughout the war years. The road north from Prince Albert had been pushed through to the end of Montreal Lake by 1940, and a winter road continued north from there. Consequently, the mineral areas around Lac La Ronge and Amisk Lake received the most attention from the mineral industry because they did not require air support.
When the mine at Goldfields shut down in 1942 so did Canadian. Airways, after moving out the mining employees and their families. The shortage of manpower increased operating costs, and declining ore quality forced the mine closure. Many of the buildings at Goldfields were dismantled for their lumber and barged out to Fort McMurray.
In March 1942, Canadian Airways and nine other Canadian air transport companies were purchased and amalgamated to form Canadian Pacific Airlines Limited, a subsidiary of Canadian Pacific Railway.
M&C Aviation's shop in Prince Albert, where ski pedestals were manufactured and
engines overhauled. Photograph courtesy of Ray Crone.
M&C remained as the only civilian operator in the north. Dick Mayson actively supported anything that promoted aviation, even encouraging aircraft model building clubs for youth, and he had long been involved in the Canadian flying club movement.
During the war years, the company excelled in a different aviation field. M&C's aircraft engineer John Pool, who held all four mechanic's licences of the day, wrote about it in his notebook:
M&C Aviation obtained a contract early in 1940 to overhaul all elementary training aircraft operated by the commonwealth training scheme ... in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Overhaul shops were set up employing some 360 people. Peak production was 365 aircraft per year, approximately 600 engines per year plus Oxford aircraft l components and manufacturing of numerous parts supplied to schools and equipment depots. Their shops were at the airport, a building at 1st Avenue West and 18th Street, 2nd Avenue and 15th Street West, and their shop at 1st Avenue and River Street East.
M&C completed its contract with a record which was claimed to be "the best of any overhaul depot in Canada."
Throughout the war, M&C continued its scheduled service and other charter work. It had a licence to operate two scheduled services into northern regions, one to Stanley Mission and the other to the northwest as far as La Loche.
M&C also was licenced by the Air Transport Board to operate a charter service out of its main base at Prince Albert and the base at Big River. It had the authority to fly anywhere on commercial charter work within the continental limits of Canada and the United States. Besides scheduled flights and charter work, M&C's commercial flying included fire patrol, survey work for Ducks Unlimited, and special trips for the Department of Indian Affairs.
Northern residents received complimentary mail delivery to isolated points not on the mail route, emergency mercy flights, and fly-in medical services to isolated settlements. M&C also made public service flights for the RCMP and provincial and federal judges and other public officials, picked up and delivered court witnesses, delivered and picked up ballot boxes and returning officers for provincial and federal elections, and made flights for clergy and church administrators of all faiths.
As the tide of war began to turn in favour of the Allies, so business turned in favour of M&C, as shown by its operating statistics. In three years of war, M&C almost doubled its flying hours, poundage of freight and mail, and the number of passengers it carried.
Air tragedy struck the company only once during its years in the north. In June 1944, Leonard Johnson, who became a northern pilot and later a military pilot, saw it happen. Jack Bailey was flying a Stinson Reliant, CF-BQW, and was departing Emma Lake for Lac La Ronge. The airplane was packed to the ceiling with groceries. It was a hot, still day. Bailey taxied to the north end of the lake for taking off. The Stinson got off the water, but refused to climb, Johnson remembered. The airplane went into the trees near the cottages at Sunnyside beach. There was a fire and Bailey was killed.
Waco CF-AZQ undergoing a complete overhaul and
rebuilding at M&C Aviation's shop in Prince Albert.
Photograph courtesy of Ray Crone.
Two Waco biplanes, CF-AWB and CF-AYQ, and a Norseman, CF-DFU, at
M&C Aviation's water base on the river at Prince Albert in 1945.
Photograph courtesy of Ray Crone.
In late 1944, M&C was operating three Standard Convertible Cabin Waco four or five-seat biplanes: CF-AYQ and CF-AZQ, both of which were built in 1936; and CF-AVW, built-in 1934. M&C had two experienced pilots, chief pilot A. "Cal" Finlayson and second pilot Fred Holland. Finlayson held an instructor's licence and had flown for #3 Air Observer School in Regina. Holland had flown for the Curtiss-Reid aircraft manufacturing company in Montreal. The pilot staff at M&C during the war also included, at various times, Angus Campbell, Ernie Boffa, Al Burton, Harry Marsh, Larry Salter, and George Campbell. Ernie Boffa soon moved over to the Elementary Flying Training School as a flying instructor.
The engineering staff included Rene Baudais and John. Pool, chief air engineer. During the government contract to overhaul RCAF trainer aircraft and engines, Rene Baudais was promoted from mechanic to an inspector for the overhaul shops. Later, Baudais joined the RCAF and completed his pilot training. Toward the end of the war and after the war, Baudais flew a Dakota, flying casualties and released prisoners of war from Germany to England. After the war, Baudais rejoined M&C as a pilot.
Len Waite purchased de Havilland Tiger Moth CF-BFV from the RCAF after the war
and resumed flying fish and delivering mail, passengers and freight to
communities on the west side of northern Saskatchewan.
Photograph courtesy of John Finch.
Angus Campbell died in 1943 after being ill the entire previous winter. He was only 40. He was the company's chief pilot, a successful inventor, and an aircraft engineer, holding B and D licences as well as a welding endorsement. It was estimated he had flown over 10,000 hours in the north, a feat at that time only exceeded by a few pilots in Canada. Commenting on the task of setting up the shop for overhauling RCAF training aircraft, the newspaper said, "Mr Campbell, with his usual energy, attacked this new problem and did not spare himself in ensuring the success of this project."
As the war drew to an end, few of the pre-war northern pilots were still in the area. Those who would return to the north did not face an easy transition. Some would never fly again.. Age and stricter enforcement of medical standards would keep some on the ground. Stewart Graham, assistant director of civil aviation, said they had made medical exceptions for "the fellows up north who for years carried the burden of Canada's aviation progress." He added that bush. flying and southern air terminal flying were quite different.
Most of the airplanes and engines would be different too. Just as after the First World
War, military aircraft would be entering the north for peacetime duty. Norseman aircraft, Anson aircraft powered by Harvard trainer engines, Tiger Moths, DC-3 Dakotas, Cansos, and Stinson Voyagers would be commonplace across the north.