The Story of the First Official Airmail Flights to the Arctic – 1929

The tender for airmail service closed June 7th, 1929 but was not signed until November 25th. Once the contract for Airmail Service to the Mackenzie River District was awarded to Commercial Airways Ltd., of Edmonton Alberta plans were soon in place.

All the mail for these flights was carried by train from Edmonton to Waterways on November 26th and the First Flight Covers were pre-canceled at Edmonton dated November 26th.

Over the next few weeks a variety of flights were taken from Fort McMurray starting December 10th, in some cases mail was carried by Dog Team to some communities off the regular airmail route (for example Rae and Herschel Island) but the awarding of this contract meant there was no more dog team or water transport contracts for mail service.

From December 10th through December 20th mail was carried to communities in Northern Alberta (Fort Chipewyan and Fort Fitzgerald) and the South Mackenzie District (Fort Smith, Fort Resolution, Hay River, Fort Providence and Fort Simpson). On December 21st two planes left Fort Simpson  but had to return due to bad weather and left again on December 22nd for the run down the Mackenzie River to  Wrigley, Fort Norman, Fort Good Hope, Arctic Red River, Fort McPherson and to Aklavik on December 27th.

On December 30th the return flights started and the final leg to Edmonton was flown On January 3rd by Wop May & Cy Becker and accompanied by Guy Rocke the Postmaster from Fort McMurray, Tim Sims of Canadian Wright Ltd., mechanic Casey van der Linden, Ted Watt of the Edmonton Journal & Postal Superintendent Walter Hale.

In addition to the pilots listed below Mechanics included Stan Green, Don Robertson, Tim Sims (Canadian Wright Ltd.), and passengers included Ted Watt (Reporter with the Edmonton Journal) and R. Walter Hale (Postal Superintendent). Other passengers were carried on some legs of the flights.

A listing of all these flights may be found in this booklet. In total 125 flights were made by 6 pilots using 4 aircraft – total flying time was approximately 181 hours. W.R. “Wop” May flew 58, Idris Glyn-Roberts flew 50, C. “Boom” Lumsden flew 30, “Cy” Becker flew 25, Moss Burbidge flew 10 and Archie McMullen 8. In some cases we have had to estimate flying times as headwinds & weather caused many delays and in a few cases a tailwind made for extremely quick trips.

The philatelic mail accounted for 1,270 lbs (or about 120,000 covers) and was sent from Edmonton to Fort McMurray on November 26th in 26 special bags having been cacheted and stamped. The commercial mail carried on these flights totaled 7,677 lbs. Including parcel post. The total cost for these flights to December 31, 1929 was $7,500.00 for two months service plus an additional amount of $2,703.08 at a rate of 0.5417 cents/mile for extra trips for philatelic mail (one trip from Fort McMurray to Fort Simpson and return, and another trip from Fort McMurray to Aklavik & return.)

 Photos of Airmail