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Trans-canada Airway System (Tca): Airmail March 1, 1939

 
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Posted 10/24/2012   8:39 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this topic Add cynical to your friends list Get a Link to this Message
This thread relates to the inaugural cross-country airmail service initiated by Trans Canada Air Lines on March 1, 1939. Lightly said, but it took almost a decade to bring this event to fruition. My interest goes back over 20 years as an off-shoot to my work with maps, aerial photographs and an amateur's interest in trains.

The specific decade spanned the years between 1929 and 1939 and centres on the creation of two organizations that share the TCA acronym, namely, Trans-Canada Air Lines and the Trans-Canada Airway system. The latter organization was set up to improve airport facilities across Canada, which, in turn, facilitated the formation of the airline and ultimately a transcontinental mail and passenger service.

Airport improvements and, in some cases, airport construction began as early as 1929 in western Canada where terrain conditions were less of a hindrance. Ontario's Precambrian Shield, however, presented the largest stumbling block in completing a country-wide network. To cover this immense distance a system of main airports, which would be regular stops, combined with intermediate fields having radio beacons for guidance and numerous rudimentary fields in between for emergency purposes was envisioned. These were constructed through the depression era using enormous numbers of unemployed in a system of work camps.

The airfields were aligned about a hundred miles apart along the railway tracks north from Toronto to Cochrane where the route turned west along what was originally the National Transcontinental Railway track to Winnipeg but, by this time. taken over by the Canadian National Railway (CNR). By September, 1938 the system was complete. Trans-Canada Air Lines immediately began familiarization and training flights along the rugged Ontario portion of the route and airmail service began March 1, 1939. One month later on April 1, passenger service began. The rest, as they say, is history.

The movement of mail in an expedient manner across the country had become a national priority. Over the next few weeks I intend to show how the gap in the Ontario portion of the route was overcome.

To set the mood here is a Youtube video pertaining to a Lockheed Electra familiarization flight between Montreal and Malton (Toronto) airport prior to the start of trans-continental passenger service on 1 April, 1939.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4w1zImiK_c
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Posted 10/25/2012   4:29 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add cynical to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Leaving Toronto Trans-Canada Air Lines' Lockheed L10A Electra planes headed directly north following the railway tracks. you can follow the tracks and the route using Google Maps or Google Earth. Because there were so many I will only highlight some of the airfields that made up the system. We begin north of Lake Simcoe at what was initially known as Reay Airport located between Gravenhurst and Bracebridge. Supposedly it was named after the nearby Reay Post Office, which was apparently a naming procedure followed by the federal government at the time. I find this strange in that the Reay Post Office, which opened in 1878, reportedly closed in 1930. I have yet to see any Reay postmarked covers or stamps.

Work on the airfield actually began in 1933 as part of the depression era "relief" program but was obviously slow-going. Although usable by 1936 it was not completely finished to standard until 1938. At full completion there would be three turf (grass) strips in a triangular configuration. Local residents were not happy about the government-chosen name and lobbied to have it changed and ultimately it was re-named Muskoka Airport. The little airfield was ready to play its emergency role on the initiation of air mail service on March 1, 1939. In the early years of WWII it served as a training base for RCAF air crews and from 1942 to end of World War II, it served as a training facility for the Royal Norwegian Air Force. Known as Little Norway, it replaced the Toronto Island Airport as their main training base in Canada.

Today the old airfield has been superseded by a north-south state-of-the-art runway capable of handling aircraft the size of Boeing 737s. It has been some time since I came into this airport but remnants of the old airfield can be seen at the south end of the modern runway. This short east-west grass strip, that made up one side of the old triangle, is aligned with the prevailing winds and is still maintained for light aircraft to use as an alternate crosswind runway. Below is my rendition, rightly or wrongly, of the airfield location and its configuration relative to the present-day runway on a Google Map image of the area. The railway tracks can be seen in the upper left side of the image.

Present-day Muskoka Airport/Old TCA Reay Airfield
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Edited by cynical - 09/25/2013 7:16 pm
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Posted 10/25/2012   7:14 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add BeeSee to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Thanks for sharing this great information Cynical
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BeeSee in BC
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Posted 10/26/2012   2:58 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add cynical to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Thanks BeeSee.

After Reay the next airfield along the route north was Emsdale and two strips in an X-configuration are still in use (see Goggle Map image below). Given the federal government's naming policy at the time I assume the Emsdale Airport was named after the nearby Emsdale Post Office, which opened on September 1, 1877.

The following quote is from the History of Perry Township:


Quote:
On one of its hills, Emsdale has an airport. During World War Two (1941), the Royal Norwegian Air Force trained at the Emsdale Airport. Rumours circulated that some of the local farmers had to goad their horses to gallop in order to stop the Norwegians from landing their light planes on their loads of hay. Interestingly, a tourist's road map put out by the Shell Oil Company in the late 1930's went so far as to propose that, "the Emsdale Airport stands to become one of the most important airports on the Trans-Canada Air Service".


Today, the airport is active, but it did not attain this lofty prediction. I don't know much about the airport but my impression from the quote is that its early history appears understated. The area's railway history, however, is well-documented given its crossing point role for the north-south CNR track running from Toronto to North Bay and the east-west CNR line running from Ottawa to Parry Sound (Depot Harbour).

My take on the airfield's role is that it was an important meeting point where planes from eastern Canada (e.g., Montreal) following the latter rail-line up the Ottawa and Madawaska River valleys joined the stream from Toronto heading north towards North Bay. A radio beacon and communications equipment at the Emsdale Airport facilitated the merger of the two traffic streams. On the west to east trip planes destined for Ottawa and points further east would split away from the main route at Emsdale.







The top image shows the configuration today. I am going to go out on a limb and indicate a possible third strip (the yellow line) that may have been part of the original configuration to better reflect the prevailing winds. If it turns out I'm wrong I will remove it.

Below is a postmark (1-split-ring) dated May 26, 1913 from the nearby Emsdale Post Office


Emsdale Ontario Postmark May 26,1913
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Edited by cynical - 11/23/2012 09:15 am
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Posted 10/27/2012   3:12 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add cynical to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
The next airfield on the route north was the South River Airport in Joly Township. Again, based on the Federal Government's naming procedure, the airfield would have gotten its name from the nearby South River Post Office, which opened in 1882 shortly after the area was settled.

The following quote is from airport descriptive material:


Quote:
The airport was originally built in the 1930s as a federal "make work" program during the Depression. The property was leveled and graded by teams of horses and 'slush scrapers'. Originally set up as an emergency landing field, the airport was also used by Trans-Canada Airlines (later to become Air Canada).

With the advent of the second world war, the airport had more military value. (There was some training and it retained its value as an emergency landing field.) After WWII, the airport remained dormant for quite a while. The military continued to use it periodically from year to year. For example, some of the military from Petawawa would spend a two-week training session there.

Later, according to federal government policies, it was turned over to the province of Ontario. It fell under the jurisdiction of the Department of Lands and Forests (now the MNR). The ministry was considering replanting trees on the airport property when local opposition put a halt to the project.


Today the airfield looks much the same as it did when it was built. It is now jointly owned by the local municipalities and is called South River-Sunridge District Airport. It consists of two well-maintained turf strips in a wide X-configuration (see below). It was touch and go as to whether some of the airfields in the network would ever get finished but this apparently was not the case with this one as there are pictures dated 1937 showing planes on the ground as well as evidence of military use in 1939.

TCA South River Airfield/South River-Sunridge District Airport

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Edited by cynical - 12/02/2012 11:14 am
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Posted 10/28/2012   12:16 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add cynical to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
I said that the Emsdale area was the aerial meeting and splitting- apart point for the two traffic flows following the separate railway track systems. However, North Bay, on the eastern end of Lake Nipissing, was a major junction point in the system in that planes going in either direction landed there.

The construction pace may have been sluggish at many of the other airway sites but this wasn't the case at North Bay. In 1933 the City of North Bay was chosen as the regional office site overseeing the construction of the Ontario section of the airfield network. It was not until 1937 that it was decided that an airport should be built in North Bay as part of the system. By 1938 three runways and a terminal were under construction and by the end of the year there were passengers passing through the terminal (Tim McGrath, 1992).

By the spring of 1939 the North Bay Airport was ready to play its pivotal role as the next landing site for both the Ottawa and Toronto-originating flights. Its name is right there in the array of cacheted first-flight covers set up by the postal department for the various segments of the cross-country route. Below is a record of the first flight cover segments from a clipping of that year from The Stamp Digest, May,1939 and placed on SCF by Rod222.

There were previous occasions when extra planes had to be put on routes to carry the enormous amounts of philatelic material spawned by the department but I have no idea if this was the case for the March 1 embarkation. Today there are scads of these philatelic covers on the stamp auction sites, so many, in fact, that there might be more "cachet" in having a March 2 postmark.




Today the North Bay/Jack Garland Airport is probably the best most under-used airport in the country. Its history of use has been erractic but it remains a jewel capable of handling the largest aircraft from anywhere in the world. Aviation buffs would do well to google it. Anyone interested in a display of postcards and covers related to the North Bay TCA period should go to the following:

http://www.vintagepostcards.org/aviation.htm
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Edited by cynical - 12/09/2012 3:13 pm
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Posted 10/29/2012   7:52 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add cynical to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Leaving North Bay the Trans-Canada Air Lines' planes followed the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway tracks (later re-named Ontario Northland in 1946) north towards Cochrane. In doing so they would fly over what are now the railway ghost towns (i.e., hamlets) of Tomiko, Jocko and Osborne. The first emergency airfield they encountered on this leg was Diver, located east of Diver Siding, hence its name.

My initial interest in the emergency airfields making up the Ontario section of the network began with this one when I noticed an abandoned airport symbol on a National Topographic System (NTS) contour map of the area in the 1980s. Some time after I would find out that Diver Airfield provided radio beacon services and turf strips as part of the network. By the late 1950s it was still possible to discern the abandoned airfield from the air as well as a "wye" railway siding that may have serviced it. The first figure below is from an old high-altitude National Air Photo Library (NAPL, Ottawa) that I have from about that period. The airfield is the triangular cleared area on the right-hand side of the photo. The railway tracks are on the left side.

Old High-altitude Aerial Photograph of Abandoned TCA Diver Airfield
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Edited by cynical - 11/05/2012 1:58 pm
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Posted 11/22/2012   4:37 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add cynical to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
The next airfield in the sequence was Gillies located roughly 50 miles north of the Divers Airfield and about midway between the communities of Latchford and Cobalt. It's name is derived from an old logging river drive landing area on the nearby Montreal River in Coleman Township called Gillies Depot. In time a small community grew up around this operation and would take this name as would its post office in 1905 and later the railway station as well. The post office closed in 1944 and the community over the years essentially disappeared.

The high-altitude photograph below shows the airfield sometime after the TCA route was abandoned. The photo can be dated by what will be the Highway 11 extension that bypassed Cobalt and Haileybury to connect directly to New Liskeard. Tourists coming from the south get a fantastic view of the Little Clay Belt as they approach New Liskeard but in doing so they miss taking the old highway, now called 11B, to see the fantastic mining community of Cobalt and the great view of Lake Timiskaming from the beautiful town of Haileybury.

Old High-altitude Aerial Photograph of Abandoned TCA Gillies Airfield


....and here it is recently (courtesy of Google Maps) with my yellow line rendition of where it was:

Abandoned TCA Gillies Airfield


Looking at the Gillies strips you might think they weren't of much consequence in the scheme of things but you would be wrong. In the summer of 1937 the iconic CD Howe, supposedly the brain-child of the TCA system, decided to show Canadians that you could fly across the country in less than a day. To prove it he set off in a thunderstorm from St. Hubert, Quebec, in a Lockheed 12a Electra (a "junior" version of the 10a) piloted by RCAF Squadron Leader John H Tudhope ("Tuddy"), who would be placed in charge of seeing that the "system" got up and running. Their first re-fueling stop turned out to be - you guessed it - Gillies! There is more to the story than this and you can catch it in Peter Pigotts's book entitled "On Canadian Wings: A century of Flight".
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Edited by cynical - 12/02/2012 7:54 pm
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Posted 11/27/2012   4:51 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add cynical to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
The next TCA airfield north of Gillies was Earlton and it still exists today associated with the thriving agricultural community of the same name. I'm going to skip this one as it is well-documented on the internet.

The next TCA airfield north of Earlton was Ramore. The Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 11) now bypasses Ramore so travelers no longer see the agricultural/railroad community nor its nearby sister community of Holtyre. Below is a Google Map image of the abandoned TCA Ramore Airfield that was located southeast of the community in a somewhat awkward 3-strip configuration adjacent to Talbock Lake:

Abandoned TCA Ramore Airfield


The Ramore Airfield area would enjoy a second life in the early 1950s as a result of the Cold War. A radar base was constructed a short distance up the road by the United States Air Force (USAF) as part of the Pinetree Line. As we shall see later other TCA airfields would be closely associated with this early warning detection system.
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Edited by cynical - 12/19/2012 8:24 pm
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Posted 12/01/2012   12:49 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add cynical to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
The next TCA airfield on our route is located a short distance north of the agricultural community of Porquis Junction, which grew up where the branch rail line leading in to Timmins splits away from the North Bay-Cochrane main line. The airfield survives today but now takes its name from the nearby pulp and paper town of Iroquois Falls, which provides us with the following bit of history:


Quote:
Porquis Junction Aerodrome, as it was originally named, first opened in 1929 and became part of the Trans-Canada Airway System operated by the Department of Transport. By the late 1930s, the airway linked Montreal and Vancouver. Trans Canada Airlines' (TCA) Lockheed 10 Electra aircraft were used to serve Porquis Junction. At the end of the Second World War services were upgraded to serve larger Douglas DC-3 aircraft. In the late 1940s, Porquis Junction became a regular stop on the TorontoľKapuskasing Route for TCA. The main Runway 14-32 was turf and measured just over 3,900 feet in length, supporting daytime and night time operations. Two other intersecting turf runways measured 2930 and 2555 feet in length.


Porquis Junction Aerodrome/Iroquois Falls Municipal Airport


Those who clinked on the link in the thread's first post showing the Malton take-off might appreciate this photo link showing a somewhat later landing at Porquis Junction (now Iroquois Falls Municipal Airport):

http://www.timminspress.com/2012/05...hoto-gallery
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Edited by cynical - 12/01/2012 3:33 pm
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Posted 12/02/2012   11:54 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add Gilles le timbre to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
I think the most under utilized is Mirabel
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Posted 12/03/2012   8:11 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add cynical to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
I mentioned in a post above that the planes followed the railway tracks north to Cochrane, Ontario, and then turned left (i.e., west) and followed the CNR tracks (the old National Transcontinental tracks) west to Winnipeg. This was poetic licence on my part in that for construction purposes and subsequent servicing (e.g., fuel) it was the system of airfields that followed the tracks not the planes. After all, the planes going west left Malton (Toronto) in late evening and flew north and then west through Ontario in the dark. What the planes followed were the aerodrome radio range beacons, rotating light beacons, fixed intermediary light standards and, in some instances, hand-held light guns.

Although an important railway transfer point for moving men, horses, food and equipment used in constructing the airfields Cochrane does not appear to have played a major role in the actual flights. However, Cochrane was one of five radar sites that the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF 671 Signals Co.) established in northern Ontario during WW2 that pre-dated the Pinetree Radar Line. The other sites were Armstrong, Nakina, Hearst and Kapuskasing. Their purpose was to protect the Sault Ste. Marie canal locks from a Pearl Harbour-like attack from Hudson Bay.

With this in mind the next airfield in the system was Tudhope located northwest of Porquis Junction ("Porky") and west of Cochrane and southwest of nearby Smooth Rock Falls. The Tudhope Airfield is, of course, named after the esteemed gentleman mentioned in the Gillies post and he will be mentioned again later.

Depicted below is what I believe to be the Tudhope Airfield displaying an "X" configuration. One of the old strips may have been recently re-established possibly as part of a forestry aerial herbicide spraying program (a guess on my part) or some similar use.

Abandoned TCA Tudhope Airfield
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Edited by cynical - 01/10/2013 1:25 pm
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Posted 12/04/2012   8:20 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add cynical to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
The next scheduled stop after North Bay was Kapuskasing. It was a refueling stop rather than a "cacheted" philatelic airmail stop. To this day it remains a well-established airport.

Let's re-join our intrepid duo, Howe and Tudhope, who were trying to cross the country from Montreal to Vancouver on a "dawn to dusk" run. When we last saw them they had fueled up at Gillies and this included some additional tank capacity that was added for this trip just in case. That extra fuel would come in handy. Apparently the radio range beacons at the Kap airfield had not been calibrated as yet and not being able to find the airport they missed that re-fueling stop so soldiered on not knowing exactly were they where.

A few years later Kapuskasing would be the terminus of a "spur" route (Kapuskasing-Porquis-North Bay-Toronto) when Trans-Canada Air Lines shifted the cross-country route southwards as a result of advances in aircraft/guidance/communications systems.

The intersecting pattern of yellow lines in the image below is a rough approximation of what I believe was the original strip configuration for the TCA Kapuskasing Airport.

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Edited by cynical - 12/09/2012 11:24 am
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Posted 12/09/2012   11:57 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add lorddenning to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Kapuskasing airport post card:

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Posted 12/09/2012   12:53 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add cynical to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Lorddenning: with your postcard as a backdrop I thought it would be appropriate to provide a personal touch here by inserting a picture of the Kapuskasing staff of that time period. The photo is from the March 1948 issue of The Netletter, which goes out to former airport/airline employees. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for relatives who may have worked in the aviation industry.

TCA Kapuskasing Airport 1940s from The Netletter (1948)

Front Row, left to right: Leo Clermont, G. Waite, A. St. Onge, W. Watt, J. York, B. Creighton, B. Hudson.
Back Row, left to right: D. Widney, B. McCormack, D. Calder, W. Baker, J. McIvor.
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Edited by cynical - 12/09/2012 2:26 pm
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Posted 12/13/2012   12:18 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add cynical to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Hearst had its beginnings as a division point on the National Transcontinental Railway (later taken over by Canadian National Railway) and quickly developed into a significant timber industry town.

Hearst's present airport is north of the town. Finding the old TCA airfield's location was difficult but I believe it was south of the town as shown in the image below.

Abandoned TCA Hearst Airfield
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