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Dolar De Lagrave, Dawson City Aviator

Arctic & Northern Aviation

Originally published on April 24, 2020

    I came across a photo at the Yukon Transportation Museum of a glider built in Dawson "ca. 1925". None of my online or my primary print resources mentioned it or the builder, but I found him in Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail's book "Polar Winds: A Century of Flying the North"." She says:

    "Dolar De Lagrave was the first in the Yukon to turn this interest in aviation into an actual flying machine. He had left his family behind in Quebec to seek riches during the Klondike gold rush and never returned, opting instead to stay in Dawson and work as a tailor and inventor. In the fall of 1910 he constructed a biplane glider with a wingspan of 4.5 metres to test aeronautical theories. His methods of testing, however, were more foolhardy than scientific: "Mr. De Lagrave," noted the Dawson Weekly News, "simply puts his arms through supports, and plunges off the prow of the hill, letting the wind assist the air." At the time there were also reports he was building an airship with the support of his fellow Dawsonites, and he may have been behind the March 1918 plans for a fifty-seat flying machine to go between Dawson and Skagway. Nothing came of either of these schemes, unfortunately, but he continued to build and test gliders in Dawson until his death in 1938."

    Although it sounds like he died in Dawson, I've been unable to find him at Findagrave.

    An article about the proposed 1918 air service between Dawson and Skagway is reproduced below.

The Weekly Star (Whitehorse, Y.T.) - Friday, April 12, 1918

    Dawson News, March 25: A flying machine with a capacity of fifty passengers is projected for service between Dawson and Skagway. A story to this effect is brought to Dawson by recent arrivals from the coast. Details are not yet given out, but it is said that the promoter of the plan believes an aircraft suitable for this service can be secured, and that it will be able to make the trip, one way, in four hours.

    The distance between Dawson and Skagway is something like 465 miles by trail, but by air-route would be much shorter.

    Considerable speculation has been indulged in at various times by Klondikers as to the best type of air craft for service in this northern country. A good many believe that something after the type of the Gotha or of the larger Allied planes capable of carrying several passengers, could be operated successfully in this northern belt.

    Among the several points considered as to the operation of aircraft is the temperature, especially in winter. It is believed by some who have been reading closely on experiments with airplanes on the European battlefronts that the cold of the Yukon would be no hinderance.

    While it was as low as 86 below zero, Fahrenheit, in Yukon, this winter, thus. establishing a record for the country and perhaps for the world in so far as temperature on the ground is concerned, one of the recent magazines reports that aviators in Italy ascended to heights where they encountered similar temperatures.

    One of the Italian fliers reached an altitude over 19,000 feet and found the temperature 89 degrees below zero. He was well dressed for the trip, having woolen underwear, fur coat and similar equipment to that worn by Arctic travelers, and did not suffer from the cold, so continued to ascend after reaching the extreme cold, and navigated there as long as he found it necessary in carrying out his mission.

    The United States government some time ago considered seriously a plan to place airplanes on the mail routes in Alaska, especially where there are few trails, and where the distances are great and difficult of travel in winter.

    Recent reports say that a mail service is to be established. by the United States government between Washington and New York. Many think that such service soon will be common in America, and that, after the war, aviators will be numerous and that many northern routes will have such a service. A number of northerners have projected the Dawson-Skagway flying service at different times.