OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

MEETING # 1544

4:00 P.M.

NOVEMBER 17, 1994

From Bush to Jet:
Western Canadian Aviation

by Rex W. Cranmer LL.B.

Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library


A brief review of aviation in Western Canada, particularly the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia and the Yukon and Northwest Territories from the end of World War I to the jet age of the 1960's.

The career of George William "Grant" McConachie (1909 - 1965) is followed throughout from his days as a contract bush pilot flying primitive airplanes to lakes and waterways in northern Canada carrying supplies and passengers, graduating to government contracts on scheduled flights, until World War 11 when most bush airlines were bought out by Canadian Pacific Railroad Company to create Canadian Pacific Airlines.

McConachie's rise in Canadian Pacific Airlines to become its president in 1946 at age 37, and his extending its air service to the Orient and Australia, and over the pole routes to Europe, and south to Mexico and Buenos Aires, all accomplished in spite of the Canadian government policy of fostering a monopoly of air travel to its Trans Canada Airline.


Rex Cranmer is a native of Redlands, attending the public schools through high school, and pursuing his college studies at Stanford University where he earned his B. A. as a pre-legal student and his LL. B. from Stanford Law School in 1943.

He practiced law in Los Angeles and San Bernardino until 1948 when he opened his office as a sole practitioner in Redlands. In 1973 Gov. Reagan appointed him judge of the Redlands Municipal Court and a year later elevated him to the San Bernardino Superior Court where he served until retirement in 1987.

He married Jean Larson, whom he met at Stanford, in 1944, and they have raised two daughters and one son.

He has served on the Redlands School Board and on boards of other community organizations. He has been a member of the 1st Congregational Church of Redlands for over 60 years and has been a Kiwanian since 1948.

His eldest daughter, Joyce, married a Canadian and lives with her family in Calgary, Alberta. Her husband's father was a bush pilot flying out of Edmonton after World War 11 which inspired an interest in the subject of today's paper.


In 1903 the Wright brothers electrified the world with the first flight in a powered aircraft. Their success spurred others to design and construct machines capable flying and maneuvering on sustained flights. With the outbreak of World War 1, the military of both sides recognized the strategic value of air recognizance and the need to counter the opposition's efforts with armed aircraft. The production of increasingly sophisticated airplanes in large quantities resulted from the efforts of each side to overcome the efforts of the enemy. Flying schools and camps were established to train personnel to operate and maintain the aircraft.

When the war ended, a cadre of skilled pilots and mechanics returned to civilian life seeking a means to adapt the use of the military weapon to peaceful purposes.

From the outset the public greeted the flights of airplanes with great enthusiasm and the passing of a plane over a community would result in a rush to the outdoors to witness its passage. To support the financial requirements of flying most commercial operations were confined to flying exhibitions at fairs and circuses and giving joy rides to those adventurous souls willing to pay to risk their lives.

In the 1920's there were some extraordinary examples of the capability of airplanes to overcome the hazards of distance and weather, demonstrating the feasibility of aviation playing a significant role in the transportation of freight and passengers. In the summer of 1920, U. S. Army General Billy Mitchell with his uncanny foresight observed that Alaska and Asia were separated by only 52 miles, and approved the flight of 4 De Haviland biplanes from Mineola, Long Island, across Canada and Alaska to Nome and return to show that an inland aerial route was feasible if the need to transport men and supplies to Alaska should ever arise.

This flight of over 9000 miles was accomplished by the 4 planes without loss. In September, 1926, Capt. James Dalzell McKee, a wealthy citizen of Pittsburgh, undertook to fly a seaplane across Canada from Montreal to Vancouver and then on to San Francisco. Commemorating this accomplishment, McKee established an endowment to support an annual award of the Trans-Canada Trophy to the individual who made an outstanding contribution to the advance of aviation in Canada, which award has been given annually since 1927. And in 1927 Charles A. Lindberg made the historic first solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean flying from New York to Paris. These noteworthy flights, along with others, were subjects of vast coverage by newspapers and radio and stimulated great interest and excitement in the minds of the populace.

In this paper I will look at the development of aviation in Western Canada, and, by way of illustration, the remarkable career of George William McConachie, who, in traditional Canadian fashion, was nicknamed, "Grant". The capital of the Province of Alberta is Edmonton, which early on, besides being principally a farming community, had links to the vast stretches of hinterland in northwestern Canada. During the Yukon gold rush at the turn of the century, Edmonton was the jumping off place for the long trek across the mountain passes to the Yukon gold fields in Alaska. It also was the base for prospectors and trappers ranging northward for hundreds of miles into largely unknown and unexplored territory.

After World War I interest in aviation developed most prominently in Edmonton among the western provinces leading to the establishment of the first Aero Club to conduct ground and flying instruction and the first municipal air harbor in the Dominion of Canada. Several famous air force veterans located at Edmonton and their exploits were the source of much community interest and pride. Some persons saw in the airplane an answer to problems of communication and access to remote Edmonton. Two pilots in particular, Clennell H. Dickins, nicknamed "Punch" and Wilfred Reid May, nicknamed "Wo", organized financial supporters for two air companies engaged in flying passengers and supplies in and out of the bush areas abounding around Edmonton. Both of these men were early recipients of the Trans-Canada Trophy. In the early days there were no air strips for airplane use, and pilots flying into the bush used the traditional routes of the pedestrian traffic following the course of rivers and lakes, and landing and taking off on stretches of water or ice. This meant the planes were equipped with pontoons in the summer season and with skis in the wintertime. Twice a year during the Fall freeze up and the Spring thaw neither landing gear was suitable and the bush pilots were out of business for six weeks to two months at a time. This enforced layoff often caused severe financial distress for the pilots who were all operating close, if not below, the margin.

George William "Grant" McConachie was born April 24, 1909, at Hamilton, Ontario, of Scottish parentage. His father was a master mechanic with Canadian Pacific Railroad and, six months after Grant's birth, moved his family to Edmonton where he became the District Chief Master Mechanic for the railroad. Grant graduated from Victoria High School and enrolled as an engineering student at the University of Alberta. While in high school Grant always was engaged in some employment but found time to be a star athlete including victories in the Edmonton to Calgary marathon bicycle races. From his employment with railroad 'jobs he resolved not to follow his father's path with the railroad. He could be found frequently around the Edmonton airport trying to make himself useful and earning some free flights from Wo and Punch as a reward. By the end of the term at the university he abandoned thoughts of a college education and worked for funds to finance flying lessons at the Edmonton Aero Club. After 7 hours 20 minutes instruction he passed his pilots tests and soon became a proficient pilot for the Aero Club performing stunt flying for their air shows. He had a tendency for casual regard of bureaucratic regulations, for while he was earning the hours required for a commercial license, he rented planes to give some of his railroad buddies weekend joy rides at $5.00 a crack. In 1931 he accumulated the required flying time and passed the tests to receive his commercial pilot's license. At that time, the Chinese government was offering $300 per month for airline pilots which Grant at first considered taking, but when his uncle Harry pointed out he had to give up his Canadian citizenship and would become subject to conscription in the Chinese military, Grant changed his mind. Grant persuaded his uncle that if he had his own airplane he could find enough business to sustain himself and the plane's operation and even show a profit. Uncle Harry agreed to become Grant's partner and invested $2500 for the purchase of a second hand Fokker. The first customer was a professor who wanted to test his theory that migratory birds’ instincts were controlled by the length of daylight. He had kept some crows under conditions extending midsummer daylight hours until the month of December, and he wanted the crows flown South and released to see where they would fly. He had their tails dyed yellow and equipped them with yellow leg bands containing an offer to pay $5.00 to any one returning the bands to him with information of the location where the bird was captured. Grant loaded the birds and flew South until he spotted a field where he could land. The owner of the field and his two sons helped Grant to unload and release the birds. Grant then took off and as he circled the field to wave good-by to the farmers he saw they had armed themselves with shot guns and were busily shooting the crows. He later learned they had put in a claim to recover on 50 yellow bands.

Grant then entered into a contract to fly white fish from Cold Lake lying on the border of the Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan to the nearest railhead at Bonneyville 30 miles distant. The whitefish thus did not have to be frozen and could be shipped fresh in refrigerated cars to Chicago and command a premium price. The flying contract was at a rate $14.00 per hour less than the total operation costs of the airway company, but it did provide a source of funds sufficient to keep the enterprise afloat, and Grant learned some very valuable lessons about bush flying.

The Fokker had a design load of 800 pounds but Grant found he could get airborne carrying 1200 pounds and that became the standard load of fish for each flight. He also developed business flying groceries and supplies and an occasional passenger into Bonneyville for additional revenue. In the bush there was no shelter for the plane, so at the end of the flight the oil was drained from the engine and kept indoors overnight. In the morning it was necessary for the mechanic to warm the bucket of oil on a stove to restore its liquidity and to use a blow torch to heat the engine cylinders. When the oil and engine were sufficiently warmed the oil was poured into the engine and cranked by its propeller to start.

If the engine, for some reason was balky and failed to catch it would start to freeze and the oil would have to be drained and the whole process repeated. After a period of flying, Grant found the engine would not develop enough RPMs for safe flight. His mechanic remedied the situation by beating the metal propeller to a finer pitch which, produced the required RPMs.

On a flight to a remote lake he broke a strut for a landing ski. With help from some Indians a splint was fashioned from a birch bough and held in place with thongs of caribou hide which held together long enough to permit him to return to civilization.

The Spring thaw terminated the season for flying fish and Grant now had flown over 600 hours altogether and had accumulated enough revenue over expenses to repay Uncle Harry his $2500 investment. Aviation regulations, however, forced the Fokker to be grounded until it had had a complete overhaul, and Grant was compelled to borrow back the $2500 to comply.

In August of 1932 Grant and Uncle Harry were joined by Princess L. Galitzine and formed a corporation named Independent Airways which was now able to acquire another Fokker and a Puss Moth. That November Grant was preparing to take off from Edmonton and was interrupted by Uncle Harry who insisted on a conference in an office. Grant left the engine idling and talked with Uncle Harry. When he returned to the plane and took off, he discovered there was insufficient power to stay aloft because the propeller and wing struts had accumulated ice while idling in the damp foggy weather. Grant was able to avoid crashing into buildings in the town of Calder, a nearby suburb, but the plane caught a power line and cartwheeled into the ground causing the engine to land on Grant s lap. The plane was demolished and Grant sustained 17 fractures to his legs and hips as well as injuries to his hands and arms. His doctor advised amputation of his left leg, but Grant refused and after two months in the hospital he was able to move about on crutches, but his left leg was stiff from the hip down. Grant could no longer fit into the cockpit of a plane and he was relegated to directing the airway activities from the ground. One night after his employees had worked for ten hours completing the fish hauling contract for the week, Grant put on a party to celebrate. After several potions of gin, it occurred to him that if the adhesions in his knee were broken he would be able to bend his leg. He laid down on a table and extended his leg over the edge and persuaded a large mechanic to jump on it.

The pain was excruciating and his leg swelled enormously, but when the swelling subsided he was able bend the leg enough to resume piloting. A month and a half later, while lifting a barrel of fuel, his right leg broke through the snow crust leaving his left leg bearing the entire weight which caused the remaining adhesions to tear loose, but when that swelling receded, he found his leg fully recovered.

In October, 1932, the telegraph operator in Edmonton received a static filled telephone call from Pelican Rapids, an outpost some 150 miles to the north, calling for help for two line inspectors whose stove had exploded and severely burned them both, and they required immediate medical aid. He relayed this information to the commanding officer who decided it was not possible for a military airplane to land in that vicinity. He then put out a call for a bush pilot who might feel there was some way of aiding the injured men.

Grant, who had the reputation as one of the best and wildest of the bush pilots, responded, but knew that the Fall freeze was in progress and no pontoon landing was safe and the ice was not thick enough to permit the use of skis. He talked by the telephone to a trapper trying to help the injured men and learned he had a shelter on a lake ten miles from Pelican Rapids and the lake level was low so that a strip of sand along the edge might allow sufficient room between the trees and the lake for a plane to land. Grant told the trapper to get the injured men to the lake and light a fire so the smoke would indicate the wind direction for the attempted landing. Grant had been barnstorming with the Fokker that summer and it still was equipped with wheels, so after receiving some first aid instruction from a doctor, Grant took off with his mechanic and some medical supplies in the cabin.

Arriving at the lake, Grant dropped down to inspect the landing sight and found that the smoke from the trapper's fire was so heavy he could not see to make a landing up wind, and the open space from the trees was barely as wide as his wing span.. The down wind landing was dangerous because the Fokker had no brakes and depended upon a tail hook digging into the earth to slow its progress, and the hook would not penetrate into the hard packed sand. Grant elected to land with a power stall, keeping the nose of the plane high with just enough power to not stall and then cutting off the engine to avoid a fire, pulling the control stick fully back and letting the plane crash onto the shore. The landing gear held up and the plane coasted along finally stopping just before reaching the trapper’s cabin.

The bums sustained by the two men were so severe it was evident they would have to be flown to the hospital to have any chance of survival. To get the plane in the air, Grant and the mechanic and trapper pulled it up on the shore at the end of the sand strip and tied the tail to a tree with a rope stretched across a stump for a chopping block, loaded the injured men and the mechanic in the cabin, then Grant brought the engine to full power and signaled the trapper to chop the rope. The plane ran along the sand and Grant was able to get airborne and return to Edmonton. There the burned men were quickly rushed to the hospital and after about three months recovered from the accident.

Grant's flying experience was over the flat bush land of the northern Alberta environs. West of Alberta lay the Rockies and the Coastal Range and between them the Stikine Range which was so rugged it resisted exploration and was even avoided by the Indians. The bush planes offered the feasible means of access to lakes and waterways within the mountains and the lure of valuable ores was irresistible to prospectors.

Barney Phillips had purchased a treasure map purporting to show the location of a fabulous mine which had produced quantities of gold for prospectors who had later lost their lives in the wilderness. He sought out Grant because he was afraid that older bush pilots would have established mining company clients to whom they might divulge the location he wished to develop. Grant could only use the small Puss Moth for the venture which involved flying supplies through the mountains to Takla Lake in northern British Columbia as a jumping off place to the secret mine. The two men were undaunted that they were taking off in an under powered plane lacking any radio piloted by a 23 year old with no mountain experience, flying over inadequately mapped territory where winter snows were shoulder high in the canyons, to an undisclosed location where, if they became stranded, no one would know where to search for them. They flew without incident to Takla Lake and then started out with Barney Phillips navigating from his map and Grant trying to memorize the route for his return flight.

After flying about 160 miles Barney pointed out a small lake nestled at the foot of Two Brothers mountain at 5000 feet above sea level, and Grant put the little plane down on the snow covered lake ice. The landing run was shortened when the plane broke through the snow crust and sank to its wing struts. The engine could not lift the plane free of the snow, so the two men left the motor idling and emptied the cargo, then, wearing their snowshoes, tramped up and down the lake to pack down a runway for take off. Grant successfully flew out and back to Takla Lake. He continued to fly seven more trips to Two Brothers Lake ferrying in three more miners and enough supplies to last them until June when he was scheduled to return with more supplies.

When Grant returned to Edmonton he was greeted by the Sheriff who slapped an attachment on his plane. The other planes and equipment had likewise been seized to pay creditors and Independent Airways was out of business. Grant was now faced with the problem of how to get supplies to the men at Two Brothers Lake as only he knew the route to their location. After several frantic weeks of searching, he found a friend in Vancouver who was willing to use his plane to make the trip. They journeyed into Takla Lake and when taking off for Two Brothers Lake, the plane's engine exploded and the flight was aborted. They discovered a metal roller on a rocker arm had shattered and the engine was inoperable. They were 100 miles from the nearest radio to summon help and walking that distance through the mountains was impossible. The pilot undertook to form a replacement part from a wrench socket and after five days of drilling and filing he finished the task and revived the engine. The two did not trust the plane to complete the mission to the miners and they returned to civilization.

By this time the scheduled date to return to the miners had long since passed and it was not until the end of July that Grant found another pilot willing to make the trip. They flew to Two Brothers Lake and found the four men suffering from acute malnutrition and the shock brought about by their sense of being abandoned. The three employed miners were bitter toward Grant but Barney Phillips accepted the exigencies facing the youthful entrepreneur and agreed to join him in establishing a new airline to serve his mining operation. With Barney Phillips arranging the financing and Grant overseeing the operations, United Air Transport came into existence with Grant as president. Grant used some of his learning experience to obtain aircraft for the new company. He went to the receiver of the defunct Independent Airways to see if there were available any aircraft from other distressed operations and found there were two Fokkers which had been seized which he immediately acquired and with a third plane purchased at Edmonton he had a starting fleet. United Air Transport then was able to ferry mining machinery, construction materials and supplies to Two Brothers mine during the summer months and to obtain a fish hauling contract from Peter Pond Lake in Saskatchewan to the railroad at Cheecham.

In May, 1934, Barney Phillips at age 51 died from a heart attack leaving an 18 year old son, "Young Barney", who agreed to continue the enterprise as Grant's partner. Again, drawing on his experience, the partners registered the planes in their mothers' names who then leased them to the business.

Grant learned another lesson when he experimented with one of the Fokkers which proved to lack enough power to lift 800 pounds of fish over a 7000 foot mountain range. He instructed his mechanic to leave off a circular tubing which surrounded the engine and carried the exhaust from the cylinders to be discharged under the fuselage. The resulting loss of pressure greatly enhanced the performance of the engine. The design of the Fokker placed the pilot in an open cockpit directly behind the engine, and as Grant flew along he commenced feeling nauseous and developed a monstrous headache which caused him the be violently ill at the end of the flight.

After resting he commenced the return flight but after 60 'les he was dizzy and his fingers became so numb he had to use his wrist, hooked around the throttle knob for control and was unable to maneuver the control stick. Somehow he managed a straight line descent to land on a lake where he tumbled out of the cockpit on to the pontoon and into the water, saved only by his arm catching around a strut. When the plane drifted towards rocks on shore, he revived enough to return to the cockpit and start the engine and taxi back to the center of the lake. He rested another half hour and took off but another 40 miles and he again had to put down on a lake.

Eventually he made his way back to Edmonton where he consulted a doctor, who, after learning the story, was amazed how Grant had survived death from such exposure to the exhaust fumes. Grant thereby learned not to make haphazard modifications of his equipment. Grant coveted a larger more powerful airplane to fly an increased payload at less cost per mile and that plane was a Ford tri-motor owned by Harry Oakes, a prospector who had hit it rich and was a multimillionaire living on an estate at Niagara Falls. He had purchased the Ford two years before for $50,000 but it was not being used and was costing Oakes in depreciation and overhead. Oakes had the reputation of being mean and irascible but Grant was determined to try for the plane

At the first meeting, Oakes stated that if he sold the plane the price would be $50,000, which might as well have been $50 million to United Air. Grant kept returning and talking about the opportunities of the North country and the importance of bush pilots to furnish access to prospectors. Finally on his fourth visit he pulled out all stops in talking about how vital air traffic was to developing northern Canada and how great a part the Ford could play Oakes asked him what United would offer and Grant told him United only had $2500. Oakes said, "Sold!"

Between the Fall of 1931 and the Winter of 1935, United Air Transport depended upon the 3 months fish hauling contracts from Peter Pond Lake for steady revenue. Fish transport was regarded as flying garbage by many bush pilots but the steady work attracted enough pilots and mechanics to keep the contracts fully performed. The pilots worked 6 of the 7 hours 6f daylight 6 days per week and were paid by the pound of fish flown. The loads carried were as heavy as the 'lots judged the planes could be persuaded to lift, so the Puss Moth, rated at 500 pi pounds, was carrying 800, the Fokker rated at 800 pounds was carrying twice that, and when the Ford came on line rated at 2000, its regular load became 3600. In the 1935 season, United Air transported more than one million pounds of fish.

In May, 1935, Grant inaugurated the first commercial flight across the Rockies. A wealthy oil tycoon offered $I 000 to be flown in the "biggest airplane flying in Canada" from Calgary to Vancouver. The press was enthusiastic about this progressive step and Grant received a volume of publicity which attracted crowds to witness the flights take off. Amid cheers the plane took off in fair weather on its westerly course but on approaching the Rockies at 14,000 ft. elevation, dense clouds blocked the way. Grant tried to continue on course, but the primitive instruments available were of little assistance, and when ice began to form on the wings and propellers he recalled his previous experience and started to descend. The thought of returning to Calgary was too disgraceful so he made for Grand Fork lying Southwest of Calgary.

The unusual appearance of the great plane caused the populace to flock to the airstrip including the mayor and his wife, who invited the fliers to lunch in the town hotel where speeches by the mayor and Grant delayed the resumption of the flight for 3 hours. As a result of such hospitality, Grant invited the mayor and his wife to join the flight which proceeded toward Vancouver at low altitude affording the Albertans views of lush forests and meadows contrasting with the stark landscape they-had left. It had not occurred to anyone to call Calgary about the unscheduled delay and the failure to arrive in Vancouver as expected gave rise to radio reports speculating about the fate of the missing plane.

When Grant was approaching the Vancouver airport he observed long lines of cars and crowds of people waiting. Upon landing, the plane's occupants were whisked off to Hotel Vancouver by the mayor of Vancouver who never missed an opportunity to stand in the limelight. He made a grand speech about establishing regular service between Vancouver and Calgary, but Grant would only concede that the flight showed it was possible. The mayor saw to it that Grant had a room at the hotel, but at the end of a week's stay Grant found his hospitality did not include payment of the hotel bill. Grant only had a $1,000 check payable to United Air and he resorted to giving a series of joy rides to defray the bill and buy enough fuel to return to Alberta.

At the end of the fish hauling season in 1936, United Air was in its usual desperate need for flying contracts for the Summer. The Ford showed the strain of two years in the far north lifting and landing overweight loads and -was not designed to be fitted with pontoons and was of limited use to the bush operation.

Grant found a buyer in Whitehorse who wanted it for his airline. He offered to trade Grant a Fairchild airplane worth $10,000 plus $8000 in cash for the Ford. It was a deal Grant could not refuse and he flew the Ford to Whitehorse to deliver it.

After the new owner acquired the Ford, an air inspector immediately grounded it for a complete overhaul and repairs which took all summer. It meant the new owner could not perform certain freight hauling contracts he had had lined up, and Grant was happy to take over the additional business using his equipment.

July 5, 1937, Grant flew the first flight of the weekly schedule linking Edmonton with Whitehorse which became possible when United Air received a mail-carrying contract from the government. Bolstered by additional mail contracts. United Air was able to expand its scheduled service into northwest points of Ft. Nelson, Fort St. James and Prince George to connect the fur trapping and mining supply centers. The service was also extended to Vancouver and Dawson from Whitehorse, which made possible a connection with Pan American Airways operating from Fairbanks, Alaska, and Grant had succeeded in providing a route from Edmotiton to the Pacific Ocean.

The activity in the Yukon area led to another airline between Vancouver and Whitehorse and a change in a merger identity as United Air became Yukon Southern Airways. At the outset, the operations were with ski and pontoon equipped aircraft which meant schedules could only be provided on a ten month basis. Grant recognized that to move from a bush airline to a full service airline, it would be necessary fly wheeled airplanes which meant the development of air strips along the routes.

In 1937 he started a program of cleaning and leveling strips at stopping points along the routes. He also had radios installed in the planes and ground stations so pilots could receive meteorological reports along the way. The Government contributed some funds to the construction of the air strips,-but it was not until 1940 that the Department of Transportation actively entered into the development of a series of air fields in a project called the Northwest Staging Route. The expanded activity of Yukon Southern Airways did not, however, spawn expanded financial security.

As time went on Grant's sources of financial support seemed to melt away, and he was challenged to devise almost miraculous solutions to keep the enterprise alive. After making the rounds of the financial houses in Montreal and Toronto and in New York and Pittsburgh and receiving total rejection because of the red ink shown by the company records, it occurred to him that one of the principal creditors with a strong financial position had a stake in continuation of the airline. Imperial Oil had furnished the gas and oil for Grant's flying enterprises from the beginning, so he wangled an appearance before the oil company's board of directors. He attended the meeting in Toronto and there placed on the board room table a $3.95 school room world globe. He announced he was not there to talk about Yukon Southern's routes or business, or the interest of the U. S. and Canadian governments in the inland route through the Yukon to Alaska for commercial and military traffic. He stated he wished the board to think about opportunities which lay over the horizon-a route over the top of the world across Alaska, over the Bering Sea, along the coast of Siberia to Shanghai.

Using a piece of string he demonstrated that the distance from Edmonton to Shanghai over the top of the world was 2000 miles shorter than a trans Pacific route by way of the Hawaiian Islands to the Orient. His proposal would permit the use of wheeled DC 3s which could fly a pay load equal to that of the heavy Pan American sea planes for a substantially lower cost. The weather conditions were no worse than those already being faced in the airline's northern operations. The Russians had been approached and were enthusiastic about the prospect of mail and passenger service along the route.

The board members were caught up in the spell of Grant's presentation and wanted to know how the oil company would fit in to the projects Grant explained that it would be necessary to sustain the operation of the airline while equipment, air fields and government permits were arranged and to keep the airline going, he needed an interest free line of credit of $1 00,000 to cover past and future purchases of gas and oil. The board voted unanimously to extend the credit as requested. To meet the need for replacement of bush- capable aircraft Grant matched, or perhaps exceeded, the Imperial Oil deal.

The Canadian Car and Foundry Co., of Montreal, which manufactured railroad rolling stock, was anxious to invade the aviation field and had acquired 5 airplanes and their sales rights. The planes were powered by twin engines and had the capability of being equipped with pontoons, skis, and wheels which was ideal for the low density mail and passenger traffic of Yukon Southern's routes. When Grant expressed interest in the planes, Canadian Car paid his expenses to Montreal to test them in flight and discuss purchase terms. After satisfying himself as to the performance of the aircraft, Grant told the Canadian Car manager that their use by his airline would furnish substantial proof of their worth and lead to many more sales in the aviation market. The manager agreed that putting the planes to use was highly desirable and offered to sell the three planes, priced at $70,000 each, for a total of $100,000. Grant replied that although the airline had a tremendous potential with its mail contracts, there just wasn't any money available. The manager considered the matter further and said that the plan of the Canadian Car Company to enter into the production of airplanes would permit him to sell the planes for $10,000 apiece. Grant replied that he did not get the message that Yukon Southern had no money. Grant proposed that they enter into a lease sales contract with a down payment of $1.00 per plane and monthly installments of $I 000 for each plane as soon as they commenced operating. He argued that Canadian Car had no cash problems and if Grant failed to make the payments the planes could be immediately recovered. By this time the manager was completely convinced Grant would most certainly achieve the success he so strongly argued and the deal was made. The lease-purchase of the fleet was more fortunate than anticipated because Canadian Car through some mix-up in its office, never billed for the monthly installments and no more cash than the initial $3.00 was paid until the three planes were eventually sold to be replaced by larger planes.

By 1940 Yukon Southern had evolved from a stn’ctly contract bush flying operation to an almost established scheduled airline. It had some unpaved, unlighted airstrips; three credible (but unpaid for) planes and twelve other tube and canvas bush planes too inefficient to break even; two per week flights from Edmonton and Vancouver to the Yukon (usually less than half filled); 150 employees (who raced each other to the bank to cash their paychecks, just in case); and was in hock to the eyebrows to the Royal Canadian Bank, with the Imperial Oil credit about exhausted. Grant appeared undaunted and proceeded with plans to open scheduled flights through Alaska to Vlalldvostok in Siben’a. he entered into an agreement with Pan American Airways to serve as licensee and operator of a chain of ground radio stations needed by Pan Amen’can on its Seattle to Fairbanks run. At the invitation of Juan Trippe of Pan American, Grant was a guest copilot on some PanAm Clipper flights to gain some personal experience with over seas flying.

It is now time to digress and consider some of the effects that the war in Europe was having on Canadian aviation and the part played by Canadian Pacific Railroad. Canadian Pacific was organized as a private stock company in 1881 to construct a railroad across Canada to the Pacific shore, a project completed in four and one-half years. The completion of the railroad has been credited with tying the four western provinces to the Canadian confederation instead of possibly becoming a part of the United States. The railroad company promoted emigration to the western lands and invested in much of their development, and as a result, it, over the years expanded its activities into many areas of the economy. In 1919 it was granted permission to operate an airline, but did not engage in any such activity until 1933 when it invested $250,000 in Canadian Airways, a bush flying service out of Winnipeg. By 1940 the war in Europe reduced the opportunities of the bush airlines because mining and fur trapping shut down as personnel traveled south to enlist and because of manufacturers conversion to war related production cut off needed civilian supplies and materials. Canadian Pacific then resolved to acquire all of the bush airlines and enter into serious competition with the Government owned and operated Trans Canada Air Lines. In all, ten air companies across Canada were acquired, including Yukon Southem, which was paid $400,000. After Yukon Southern’s creditors were paid, the shareholders were left with about $100,000.

Management of the bush airlines was very difficult because of long standing animosity among them from years of fierce competition to survive. The former chiefs of the bush companies refused to cooperate with each other and their employees disdained mutual assistance. Because of the intense n’valry between Punch Dickens and Wop May of Canadian Airlines and Leigh Britnell of Mackensie Air Service, all of whom had years of experience, they were passed over, and Grant was the unexpected choice to serve as Assistant to the Vice President for Western Airlines in Winnipeg. In less than two months, Grant was involved in the planning of the Alcan Highway with the U. S. Military. The generals saw Alaska as indefensible as the Hawaiian Islands because it could only be supplied by sea routes and they regarded the inland route through Canada to the Yukon as safe from enemy interdiction. They relied heavily on Grant’s experience in developing his air routes from Edmonton through Whitehorse to Alaska to help in engineering the path through the mountains for the highway.

Construction of the highway commenced in March, 1942, and it was completed by October, 1943, a 1600 mile two way graveled road from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks costing $125,000,000, and the biggest project since the Panama Canal. Canadian Pacific Airlines was engaged throughout the construction in hauling supplies, materials and personnel which resulted in Canadian Pacific evolving into a full service scheduled airline operating with adequate financial backing from the parent railway corporation along routes with well built air ports developed cooperatively by the United States and Canada. Another important project also claimed the attention of Grant during this period as it, too, involved area in which he had established air service. The U. S. Army elected to build a pipeline to convey oil 600 miles across the mountains from Norman Wells, some 1400 miles north of Edmonton, to a refinery at Whitehorse. This project also depended on the air service of Canadian Pacific Airlines to carry needed materials and personnel.

The consolidation of the bush airlines under the ownership of Canadian Pacific Airlines, however, did not produce a profitable operation. One day Grant was ordered to appear in Montreal before a vice president of the railroad to explain an interview he had given to westem journalist detailing the losses suffered in the aviation venture. In those days the railroad company maintained a "none of your business" position on public disclosure of the company books, and Grant fully expected he would soon be back to bush flying on his own. When the vice president had exhausted his denunciation of Grant’s action, Grant asked if the railroad company would have preferred headlines that the company was a robber baron exploiting the helpless outposts it served which was the story the journalists had been told by western residents. The vice president cooled off and he and Grant had a long discussion concerning the reasons for the losses. Grant explained that under war time conditions there was little they could expect to do, but when they were able, they should concentrate on acquiring a uniform fleet of fast wheeled airplanes to serve the longer scheduled routes and return the bush flying activities back to the bush pilots.

In 1943, Prime Minister Mackenzie King promulgated the policy designating the government airline, Trans Canada Airline as the only cam’er to engage in trans continental and international air service. Canadian Pacific was aghast at this pncking of their future expansion and entered into a vehement protest against the govemmenf s monopoly and were met with the further order that the railroad company would no longer be permitted to engage in aviation and would have to divest itself of the airline within 12 months following the end of the war in Europe.

The railroad vice president named W. M.. Neal, with whom Grant had discussed the airline’s future, was appointed president of Canadian Pacific Airlines and he brought Grant to Montreal as his assistant and together they were able to fend off most of the government’s pruning of their air services. In 1947, W. M. Neal was elected president and chairman of Canadian Pacific Railroad and Grant stepped into the presidency of Canadian Pacific Airlines at age thirty seven. As president Grant undertook to confront C. D. Howe, the Canadian minister of transport, with all his forceful arguments about the future of the northern route to the Orient, bolstered again with his world globe and piece of string. C. D. Howe was impressed but did not agree to change the government’s announced policy until he talked with the head of Trans Canada Airlines. He found that the government’s airline had no interest in wasting the taxpayers’ money on a risky Far Pacific gamble. The minister then gave permission to Grant to proceed on two conditions: 1, that he purchase North Star aircraft from the Canadian manufacturer; and 2, that the route be extended to, serve Australia.

In November, 1948, Grant undertook to secure the permits necessary for the projected route to Australia, which he thought would only involve asking the governments affected to accept his Canadian credentials and grant the required permission. The Australian bureaucrats hemmed and hawed for two weeks until Grant finally was able to confront the Minister of Transport who informed him that the Australian socialist government believed in airlines being a governmental function and would not permit a privately capitalized company to operate.

However, to ease the disappointment a farewell party was given for Grant and his delegation. At the affair the Prime Minister asked Grant, then age 39, how he became president of Canadian Pacific Airline probably expecting to hear he was the scion of a wealthy stockholder. Grant had leamed the Prime Minister had started his career as a railroad worker so he searched his wallet and found his old union card from the railroad which he exhibited as he told of his early struggles to develop an air transportation business. The atmosphere thawed and the Prime Minister directed that a temporary permit be granted for the Canadian Pacific flights. That temporary permit continued for years as the only authority for Canadian Pacific to fly in Australia.

In January, 1949, Japan was being administered by the Allied Occupation Forces headed by General MacArthur. Here, Grant was enmeshed in a bureaucracy that did not seem to have an end. He was required to set up meetings with generals to obtain each of multiple permits and after three weeks’ effort, he was still struggling to satisfy the requirements. He sought an appointment with the Supreme Commander which was finally allowed for a 15 minute audience a week hence. Grant worked to condense his presentation to the allotted time and when the date arrived, he was subjected to an hour’s background check before being admitted to the General’s waiting room.

At precisely 18:00 hours, Grant was admitted to the presence of MacArthur who arose and greeted him warmly. Grant stated he was from Canadian Pacific Airlines and MacArthur started talking about the critical need for more shipping to carry supplies to Japan and how helpful it would be if Canadian Pacific would assign its ships to the Pacific from the Atlantic. After discoursing on shipping needs, MacArthur diverted to a discussion of the Hudson Bay Company and how it had expanded from fur trading in the North to a vast retail operation throughout all of Canada, Grant was now down to only five minutes of his allotted time and trying to decide how to shorten his presentation, but MacArthur gave him no chance rambling along about his railroad trip to Banff and Jasper the Canadian Rockies, and the fifteen minutes expired. Finally MacArthur checked his watch and exclaimed he was late for an embassy affair and would have to leave. Grant burst out that he had come to see about the issuance of a permit to fly into Japan and MacArthur told him there was no problem if he would just check with General Wedemeyer at nine the next morning everything would be all fixed up. In the morning Grant called on General Wedemeyer who assured him everything was approved and by four in the afternoon Grant had all the necessary endorsements of the multiple generals.

At long last Grant was able to implement his dream of an airline service to the Orient. His enthusiasm was not based on any surveys or market studies or analyses, but ‘ust his own conviction that it was a marvelous thing to do and that something was bound to happen that would make it successful, and he was able to have $10,000,000 in capital and first year costs committed to the project. At the beginning a number things seemed to spell doom for the venture. In 1949, the Communists took over the mainland of China excluding any trade with that country, the Japanese were forbidden to travel, the Australian money was devalued 25% and Canadian government currency restrictions discouraged international travel. Grant was an indefatigable optimist and insisted that the airline serve the best wines and cuisine and furnish expense included layovers at Hawaii and Fiji, and he generously issued free fare passes on the theory that the planes might as well carry passengers as empty seats, because each satisfied customer would become an acting advertisement for Canadian Pacific Airlines service.

The McConachie trust in good fortune was not betrayed as two sources of revenue sprang up to sustain the Pacific venture for the next five years. In Hong Kong an agent chosen to represent the airline happened to have connections with an organization engaged in smuggling Chinese citizens out of Red China and exporting them to friends and relatives in Canada. He was able to corral all of the exporting phase which meant a full complement of first class passengers on each flight out of Hong Kong. The other revenue source resulted from Grant’ s persuading the Canadian government to use Canadian Pacific to transport U. S. Military personnel to serve in Korea as part of its commitment to the United Nations to support the action against North Korea. Canadian Pacific provided first class service all the way and became the preferred means of travel for the U. S. officers, most of whom ranked as colonels or higher. Grant again was convinced that every military person flown was a future booster for Canadian Pacific. Flying the U. S. military out to Japan and retuming smuggled Chinese from Hong Kong produced about $34,000,000 total revenue in five years.

The De Havilland Comet, the first jet powered commercial aircraft was introduced publicly on September, 6, 1949, at an air show at Farnborough Areodrome, England, with Grant in attendance. This was nine years before U. S. commercial Jet powered planes would become available. The spectacle of an airplane whooshing by without propellers at twice the speed of conventional aircraft, set Grant’s promotional fires aflame. No other airline except the British Overseas Air Company, which had no choice, was willing to pioneer the use of the untried jet, but Grant convinced his board of directors that it was essential for Canadian Pacific to utilize the most modem and efficient equipment available and two Comets were ordered for delivery in 1953.

The first plane to be delivered was to be flown from England to Australia, but the inexperience of its pilots resulted in a fatal crash on take off from Karachi Airport in March, 1953. The BOAC also lost a Comet mysteriously on a scheduled flight and it was later determined that the metal skin was fatigued from changes occurring as the craft flew from sea level to the stratosphere resulting in a rupture along the spine from the high pressure required in the cabin. Despite these unhappy events, in November, Grant with customary persuasiveness secured board approval for the purchase of three more larger more powerful Comets.

In the Fifties Grant embarked on an ambitious program of route expansion. In his mind, if a route was available and flyable, it should be flown. Canadian Pacific in four years ending in 1957 added 16,000 more miles to its scheduled flights, offering service to Mexico City, Lima, Buenos Aires, Amsterdam, Lisbon, and Madrid. This was done in the face of the governmental policy that the nationally owned airline, Trans Canada, had the first option to open any international route, but the Minister of Transport was always primarily concerned with not wasting taxpayers’ money and declined to initiate unproved routes. The route to Amsterdam was plotted over the North Pole from Vancouver and I 000 ‘les shorter than the customary flights to Europe from Montreal. Grant foresaw ml that the shorter route would attract traffic bound from the Pacific perimeter to European points, and from Europe to western United States, South America, and the Orient.

Grant chafed constantly from the refusal of the government to allow Canadian Pacific to compete against Trans Canada along domestic and international routes. He was sure that Trans Canada was not an efficient operation and competition would result in lower air fares and higher customer totals. In 1957, the Liberal government was ousted by the Conservative party, and Grant saw his chance to reverse the policy of monopoly. He applied for permission to fly domestic routes across Canada competing with Trans Canada and expected the hearing would only be pro forma in obtaining a favorable decision. He depended upon his usual persuasive powers to carry the burden before the Air Transport Board, but Trans Canada came to the hearing loaded for bear with reports, statistics, financial records, and a very astute attorney and after four days Grant suffered the humiliation of defeat tempered only by a crust tossed his way allowing Canadian Pacific one round trip flight per day between Vancouver and Montreal.

In the Sixties, the switch to jets resulted in over investment by all of the world’s airlines and consequent financial losses. Grant reported the loss of over $7,000,000 for 1961, and Canadian Pacific Railway had to make an unprecedented dividend reduction. Grant assured the board the effects of the jet surfeit were diminishing and the profit picture would improve the next year. The government’s Trans Canada also suffered a $6,000,000 loss and urged that with the total Canadian airlines losses of $13,000,000 the government should require merger of the two airlines. Fortunately for Grant, the resolve of the railway company’s board against the government taking over its airline was adamant. Grant’s prediction about better financial reports in the future were accurate, and in 1962, the loss came in at only $1 million, 1963, $500,000 profit; 1964, $4.800,000 profit; and 1965, $7,200,000 profit. Grant continued his efforts to expand the crack in the competitive shield arguing constantly that the monopoly of Trans Canada was a disservice to the Canadian traveling public and that only third rate nations in the world maintained single airlines. He was also disgusted with Canada’s refusal to enter into an accord with the United States permitting reciprocal airline service between the two neighboring nations.

Grant was totally committed to aviation. In the 1960’s he was reported to say he averaged 125,000 miles of flying per year and over an eleven year period, averaged 400 miles flying per working day. He commenced experiencing heart twinges. He was advised to ease his schedule and to avoid higher altitudes but he refused to give up visiting his ranch in British Columbia located at 3500 feet or to cease flying in aircraft pressured for 8000 feet altitude. In June of 1965, he traveled to San Diego to discuss leasing two airplanes from Western Airlines and checked into the Edgewater Motel the evening before his meeting the next morning. That night he suffered a fatal heart attack and was dead at age 54 years.

Grant McConachie was awarded the Trans Canada Trophy for 1945 "in recognition of long service energetic support and whole hearted efforts in the development of civil aviation in Canada, and for his successful endeavors in opening up Canada’s vast hinterland in the north west, especially the area between Edmonton, Alberta, and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory." as stated in the announcement of the award by the Minister of Defense. He was past president of the Vancouver Board of Trade, and a past president of the Air Industrial and Transport Association. In 1963 he was named Businessman of the Year by Sales and Marketing Executive Industrial of New York in recognition of his unending vigorous fight against government monopolizing civilian air service. In 1973 he was named a member of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame and he was made a Companion of the Order of Flight at Edmonton, Alberta.


Keith, Ronald A., Bush Pilot With Briefcase. 1972.
Doubleday & Co.

Myles, Eugenie Louise. Airborne From Edmonton. 1959.
The Ryerson Press.Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Sutherland, Alice Gibson. Canada’s Aviation Pioneers. 50 Years Of MeKee Trophy Winners. 1978.
McGraw Hill Ryerson, Ltd., Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Ward, Max. The Max Ward Story, A Bush Pilot In The Bureaucratic Jungle. 1991.
McClelland and Stewart Inc.Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

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