Saskatchewan Aviation Chronology -1919

1904 -- Scottish-born William Wallace "Bill" Gibson (later nicknamed "the Balgonie birdman") began experiments with flying machines mere months after the Wright Brothers made their first flight.

The Balgonie hardware merchant and (unsuccessful railway construction contractor) experimented with large models and kites flown off the roof of his store in the village east of Regina.

In 1906, he moved to Victoria., BC, where he also designed and built an airplane engine that enabled him to make a successful short flight in his "Gibson Twinplane" on Sept. 8, 1910. This was, significantly, only 18 months after J.A.D. MacCurdy made the first airplane flight in the British Empire -- at Baddeck, N.S. on Feb. 23, 1908. Gibson’s flight was historically significant as the first free flight made by a Canadian-built and -designed aeroplane, with a Canadian-built engine. This engine is now in the National Aviation Museum in Ottawa.

On September 24, 1910, Gibson flew his Twinplane for it over 200 feet before landing. Alas, without brakes, it crashed into an oak tree and was wrecked.

Gibson then built his "Multiplane", which flew successfully on August 12, 1911 at Calgary, but was also smashed on landing when it ran into a badger hole. (See Canada’s Flying Heritage by Frank Ellis.)

Summer, 1908 - The first manned flying machines flew in Saskatchewan, in the ungainly form of hot-air balloons. Their venues: summer fairs and exhibitions.

(See Grant McEwen's book on fairs and exhibitions in Western Canada.)

1911 -- May 17 -- The first heavier-than-air flight in Saskatchewan took place. Flying a Curtiss biplane, an American aviator working under the name of Bob St. Henry (“Schaeffer” or “Shaffer” was the real name of this Nebraskan) arrived in Saskatoon by train from Edmonton. He made his first flight May 17 from a grass strip on what was then the city's west side. He remained in the city until June 2, tinkering and making flights. The same aircraft and airman flew from the racetrack in Regina’s exhibition park in August of that same year. (See History of Canadian Airports by Tom McGrath, page 209.)

This, the first, conventional, powered aeroplane to fly in Saskatchewan, arrived in Saskatoon (from Edmonton) inside several packing cases in a boxcar -- 1,000 pounds or so of gear. The Curtiss pusher biplane with a 40-horsepower Curtiss engine was assembled and took off from the province's first "landing field" -- the infield of the racetrack at the Saskatoon Exhibition Grounds, on May 19th, 1911.

Pilot Bob St. Henry flew it again in August, when the Dominion Fair was held at Regina.

1911, Aug. 1 -- at Davidson, between Regina and Saskatoon, the Pepper brothers, Ace and George, wanted to fly, too. After building models and gliders, they obtained an eight-horsepower engine and built their own biplane. During the annual fair there in 1911, George became airborne, flying about 80 feet at a height of 10 or 12 feet before wind caused the aeroplane to crash. (Sources: Frank Ellis’s book Canada's Aviation Heritage; also Saskatchewan History magazine, published by the Saskatchewan Archives Board, 1959 edition, and George Fuller‘s Chronology of Canadian Aviation, carried in early issues of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society Journal.

1911, Aug. 5-10 -- the first flight of an airplane over Regina came when American barnstormer Bob St. Henry flew a Curtiss Pusher biplane from the racetrack at the Regina Exhibition Grounds. During his Regina flights, he even circled the dome of the new Legislative Building.

This was a very commercial matter: in addition to the fee ($500 per flight) that the intrepid aviator collected from the fair board, fairgoers were charged 25 cents apiece for a look at the marvellous flying machine being assembled inside a tent.

Flying could not be guaranteed, of course, because of weather!

1912 -- "Bob" St. Henry made the first heavier-than-air flight in Prince Albert, at the town’s summer fair. See Prince Albert Daily Herald, August 28, 1966, Pages A-26/28

Another itinerant aviator who appeared in Saskatchewan that year was Glenn Martin, who went on to form the famous company that built the B-26 Marauder of the Second World War. At the Saskatoon fair of 1912, he got his pusher biplane up to 6,400 feet.

Rival St. Henry lost the Saskatoon fair contract for that year, but did make it to Prince Albert and later to North Battleford.

Another aviator, Jimmy Ward, flew his Curtiss Pusher in Regina in July, 1912., a mere three weeks after the cyclone of 1912 sacked the city.

Martin came back to Saskatoon in 1913 and took three local people for rides -- the first paying passengers in Saskatchewan.

1913 -- Itinerant airman Albert Blakeley made an epic, if unsuccessful, flight from Weyburn to Moose Jaw.

Blakeley had flown at a fair in Weyburn, and heard there was be another fair being held in Moose Jaw. Rather than disassemble his aircraft, he resolved to fly his Curtiss Pusher up the Soo Line Railroad at 40 mph to seek it out.

At that speed, he should have made the trip in 2 1/2 hours. But because of high winds, it took 2 1/2 days. The weekly newspaper from Milestone, south of Regina, contained a small item on how the little Curtiss Pusher biplane "sounding like a buzzsaw", chugged over the town on its way northwest. In time, Blakeley had to make a forced landing only five miles from "the Jaw".

1916 -- The First World War saw a near-complete cessation of aviation in Saskatchewan -- save for appearances by an American aviator Katherine Stinson, who flew at the Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw summer fairs in 1916 and 1918.

1918, October -- A committee of officers ftom the new Royal Canadian Naval Air Service arrived in Regina to interview recruit for the service, created the previous month to operate air stations and to fly submarine-hunting seaplanes from Canada's east coast. But with the Armistice on Nov. 11, all recruiting stopped and an order-in-council to disband the service was issued on Dec. 5, 1918. (See "Canadian Military Aviation Efforts Between 1909 and 1920", by James Pickett, Proceedings of the 3rd Annual Air Force Historical Conference, RMC/CMR Kingston, 1997, Edited by the Office of Air Force Heritage & History. 


1919 -- May 19 -- Reginan Roland Groome, a former instructor with the Royal Flying Corps in Canada, set up the Aerial Service Co. on what is now the corner of Cameron Street and Hill Avenue, a few hundred yards west of Albert Street. His air engineer was Robert McCombie.

On May 19, Groome and McCombie flew to from Saskatoon to Regina, thus completing the first cross-country flight in Saskatchewan. The trip took seven hours.

On May 26, a Canuck piloted by Groome carried specially printed copies of the Regina Leader to Moose Jaw. See History Of Canadian Airports, page 182.


1919 --Spring -- Stan McClelland, formerly a lieutenant in the Royal Air Force (successor to the Royal Flying Corps) set up a commercial flying operation in a field on 22nd Street West and Dundonald Avenue on the west side of Saskatoon, his hometown. McClelland also established one of the most unusual training schools in Canadian aviation history: a special school (operating under the name "Keng Wah" Aviation to train young Chinese men from the U.S., Canada and China for Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's army air force. This facility was near the site of Saskatoon's current airport on the north side of the city. See History of Canadian Airports by Tom McGrath, page 209. and "Stan McClelland: His Story" by Ray Crone, CAHS Journal, Vol. 9, No. 4, Winter 1971.)

1919  May 19 - The first successful cross-country flight in Saskatchewan occurs when aviator Roland Groome and mechanic Robert McCombie, after having taken delivery of a war-surplus Curtiss JN-4C Canuck, fly it to Regina, their home. They stopped in Davidson and Disley. Because they are carrying a letter from the mayor of Saskatoon, F.R. Ramsay, to his counterpart in Regina, Henry Black, this was Saskatchewan's first airmail flight. (See Ray Crone's article on this flight in the June 1994 issue of The Windsock, newsletter of the CAHS Regina Chapter.

 1919 Aug. 25/ -- The first fatal air crash in Saskatchewan history occurred when a Curtiss JN-4 (Can) biplane, flown by a former RAF officer named Capt. R.H. Lane, crashed about 2.5 miles south of Regina's southern edge. Killed was a mechanic employed by the firm's owner, Western Flyers Ltd. Lane was injured. Source: Regina Morning Leader, Aug. 26, 1919

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