(Source: The Leader-Post’s special issue
commemorating the 60th anniversary
of the creation of Saskatchewan. This special issue ran June 8, 1965.)
Flight story covers 54 years
Province can boast many aviation “firsts” (Source: The Leader-Post’s special issue
commemorating the 60th anniversary of the creation of Saskatchewan. This
special issue ran June 8, 1965.)
For 54 of Saskatchewan’s 60 years, man has been
making powered flights through her broad, blue skies.
In the beginning, a doughty, courageous few blazed new trails in the sky even
as pioneer sodbusters broke ground on the prairies below.
They ran up an impressive list of “firsts”
in those years, when flying was a thrilling, dangerous, uncertain profession
engaged in by a handful of dedicated visionaries.
An American barnstormer, W.C. Shaefer, better known as “Lucky Bob” St.
Henry, is credited with making the first really successful flight over
He was hired to put on a flying display at the Saskatoon exhibition on
May 19, 1911, but after a short flight, crash-landed his flimsy crate-type
plane, and it had to be sent back to the U.S. for repairs. He returned on June
2, however, and flying at 250 feet made three circuits of the field before
coming in for a perfect landing. He made another flight on June 3.
On Aug. 5, St. Henry visited the Dominion Exhibition in Regina and made
flights of six and seven minutes duration, “thrilling the large crowd with
breath-taking swoops and dives” according to newspaper reports. These were the
first flights over Regina.
But four days earlier, George Pepper, a Davidson-district farmer,
actually made a brief and ill-fated flight in an aircraft he and his brother,
Ace Pepper, had constructed, George took off from the Davidson race track and
reached a level of 30 ft. before a strong gust of wind made him lose control
and crash. The brothers, who had started work on their plane in the summer of
1910, never again attempted to master the skies.
An even earlier air pioneer was W.W. Gibson. He was born near Piapot in
southwestern Saskatchewan [sic] and later operated a store at Balgonie. As
early as 1905, he was experimenting with models of airplanes. In 1906,
encouraged by his experiments, which included flying models from the roof of
his store, he decided to build a man-sized craft. The first step, he reasoned,
was to build an engine.
Working in a blacksmith shop on a district farm which he also
owned, he began to fashion a four-cylinder, four-cycle air-cooled engine.
After suffering business reverses, he went to Victoria in 1906, where he
completed his engine in two years, and many hundreds of dollars, later. It
proved to be used less for Gibson’s purpose. He then set about building a
six-cylinder engine which was successful, the first airplane engine built in
Canada. He later installed in an airplane he built himself from an original
design. In this machine, he was the first Canadian to make a free flight in a
Canadian-built airplane powered by an engine fabricated in Canada.
His plane was wrecked in 1912, just about the time the famous Glen
Martin put Saskatoon back in the air news. Martin later became head of a large
On Aug. 10, flying from the Exhibition Grounds, Martin set a new
altitude record of 6,400 feet. The mark went unchallenged for five years.
The first woman to fly over Saskatchewan was the famed and daring Katherine
Stinson ((her family later built airplanes) when she thrilled Reginans in
June of 1916.
Among the fascinated spectators at these early air displays in Regina was a
young man, R.J. Groome, who had his head in the clouds and was determined to
be a flier.
His chance came in 1917, when he enlisted in the flying service of that
time. He was posted to Camp Borden and later became a flying instructor at
Camp Mohawk, Ont.
Groome made the acquaintance of Ed Clarke and after his discharge from the
service in 1918, they combined their resources to buy a Curtis JN trainer.
Later, they purchased a second and, in so doing, made aviation history.
Groome and Clarke called their firm the Aerial Service Company and they
built a hangar and an airfield at where the Hill and Cameron intersection
now is located.
Groome received the first commercial pilot’s licence issued in Canada,
licence No. 1. His mechanic, Bob McCombie, was awarded air engineer’s
licence No. 1, and the Jenny was licensed as the first commercial aircraft
in the country. On that same historic day, the tiny airport also received
Air Harbor licence No. 1.
It was at this time that Groome made the first cross-country flight in the
province. Because he couldn’t afford to have the Jenny transported, he flew
it from Saskatoon to Regina.
He carried with him a letter from Mayor MacMillan of Saskatoon to Mayor
Henry Black of Regina, the first mail ever carried by air in Saskatchewan.
On May 16, 1919, the Regina Morning Leader, the forerunner of today’s
Leader-Post, issued a special aero edition, which was flown to Moose Jaw by
Groome for early morning distribution. Later that year, F.H. Summer of Duff
made the first business flight, from Duff to Regina, at a cost of $125.
Two other air companies operated in Regina during the early '20s, Universal
Air Industries and a second group whose activities were short-lived. Capt.
Lane, the pilot, was badly injured and his mechanic, T. Allison, was killed,
when their only airplane, also a Jenny, crashed on Albert Street south. This
was Saskatchewan’s first air fatality. Groome was killed in a crash in 1935.
Many of the pilots of this era were veterans of the Royal Flying Corps and
Royal Naval Air Service who had purchased service aircraft no longer needed.
In Saskatoon, there were Stan McClelland, Dick Lobb, Dick Mayson, Angus
Campbell and Angus MacMillan.
In 1927, the Regina Flying Club was born and this group has since played a
leading role in aviation in the province.
But it was the barnstormers, a gutty group of pilots, who did stunt flying
and took people for rides at small-town fairs and sports days, who caught
the public imagination.
A member of this hardy band was Charles B. Skinner, a 33-year-old Willow
One sunny, summer day in 1928, this young man in an old airplane flew out of
the obscurity of the southern Saskatchewan hills and into the ken of an
In the next 17 years, he flew more than 10,000 hours at the controls of
aircraft that ranged from his first ancient Curtis Jenny to sleek, deadly
Second World War fighter planes.
Charlie Skinner ran up his flying time barnstorming and mercy flying out of
Saskatchewan stubble fields and cow pastures, lugging freight and passengers
in and out of the northern Ontario bush, and by putting more than 1,000
warplanes through their paces as a test pilot at a Lakehead airplane
In 1935, he helped organize and flew Canada’s first air ambulance service,
operated out of Regina’s tiny airport.
His exploits in the skies made him the idol of a generation of
flight-conscious prairie youth and won him the respect and admiration of the
flying fraternity wherever he flew.
He became a legend in his own time, but in 1945, when he hung up his gear
and walked away from his aircraft for the last time, he walked again into
You will find him today operating a garage in the quaint French-speaking
community of Willow Bunch, the place he has called home since he arrived
there with his pioneering parents in 1915.
The Gay '90s still had five years to run when Charlie Skinner made his debut
in a world that had only begun to think of powered flight.
He was still a shaver when his family left Langdon, N.D., to file on free
homestead land at Willow Bunch.
The Leader-Post, Feb 4, 1946
Ambulance in air: Patient is flown
A Saskatchewan health department plane, inaugurating a provincial air
ambulance service, flew the 100-mile round trip to Liberty, northwest of
Regina, Sunday, to bring Mrs. Denis Mahoney, 57, to a Regina hospital.
Hospital authorities at Grey Nuns' (hospital) reported Monday that Mrs.
Mahoney's condition was much the same, but not serious.
A 20-mile-an-hour wind, which had blocked highways with impassable
snowdrifts, pushed the Norseman about on the runway on the initial takeoff,
but once pilot D.K. Malcolm got away, there was no further trouble. He
landed in a stubble field three miles from Liberty.
The plane, which arrived in Regina Friday after being reconditioned at
Edmonton, is one of two in the air ambulance service. It will serve the area
south of Prince Albert, and the second, a natural resources department
craft, will service the country north of that town.
Pilot Malcolm was in the RCAF for five years. The other two crew members are
flight engineer Donald Watson and Nurse M.E. Gleadow of the Saskatchewan
health department, the former an ex-RCAF flier and Miss Gleadow a former
army nurse who served overseas.
The plane is marked with large red crosses on rudder and wings, is equipped
with two-way radio with a range of 100-200 miles, has a cruising speed of
130 miles per hours and a range of 500. It is licensed to carry seven
persons including crew.
"With few exceptions, we shall have to land on unprepared fields answering
emergency calls," pilot Malcolm said. "Low-attitude flying will be
general rule with 1,000 feet the average. In this way, the pressure caused
by changing altitudes will not affect patients."