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Whitehorse Aviation to 1947

Arctic & Northern Aviation - Photos and History

An Explorer's Guide to Whitehorse, Yukon

All-Year Round Guide to the Yukon, 1947     The two articles and photograph below have been copied from the 80-page booklet "All-Year Round Guide to the Yukon", which was compiled and published for The Kiwanis Club of Whitehorse by Horace E. Moore of The Whitehorse Star in 1947. We have done a high-resolution scan of the booklet, and it can be downloaded from our Public folder at Dropbox by clicking on the cover image to the right (pdf, 24MB).

    The first article, by Leslie Keith, describes the development of the Whitehorse airport, and the second article, by Horace E. Moore, describes the city's part in Yukon aviation generally.

Whitehorse airport, 1947

Whitehorse Airport

    IN THE YEAR 1947, from Whitehorse you are able to travel on business or pleasure bent to Edmonton or Vancouver in ten hours, enjoying modern style and comfort, by Canadian Pacific Airlines, or to Seattle by Pan-American Airways. At these cities global air routes are at your service. Or do you wish to go to Mayo, Dawson or way Territorial points, there are scheduled flights twice a week? Pan-American operates daily to Juneau and Fairbanks.

    Yesterday's mail is opened today, an expert Department of Transport Weather and Radio staff are tuned in on the elements and ether waves twenty-four hours around the clock. Forecasts are broadcast daily, news of impending weather changes are fed to the continental interior. Radio keeps tab on all air traffic, C.P.A., and Pan-American make scheduled arrivals and departures, R.C.A.F. fly 2 daily "sked" and supply trips to intermediate fields, B-29s fly overhead and set down, fighter planes including Jets, buzz the field, circle the town, peel off, bank, and skim into a landing.

    This is all made possible by the existence of the airport, a product of the enterprising pioneer foreseeing the incoming air age, bush flyer and large Governmental effort backed by the will of a continent to repulse the threat from beyond the setting sun.

    In 1920 the present site was a semi-open area used as a frontier golf course and village parade ground. Four U.S. Army bombers headed this way, so a landing area 1,677 feet long was roughly levelled off. The airport was born.

    Occasional landings from this time on: then in 1927, Clyde Wann, pioneer promoter, started regular use of the field. operating a Ryan monoplane: 1928, Klondike Airways operated a Fairchild aircraft: 1937, B. Y. N. Air Services initiated service to the Northern Yukon. The same year Pan-American included Whitehorse in their world-encircling system. 1937, Yukon Southern with a staff of competent bush pilots, under leadership of McConachie, Northern Airways promoter extraordinary, initiated an Edmonton-Whitehorse Air Run. George Simmonds inaugurated a Vancouver-Whitehorse operation using a Waco in 1938. Thus the use of the field became established. Whitehorse citizens of this period will remember some of the famous bush pilots, Wasson, Cook, Vines, Rice and Oaks.

    The Territorial Government were now interested in the airport, providing limited funds for development - by 1941, 150 acres were cleared and a landing strip 2700 feet long, 100 feet wide constructed, partly surfaced with decomposed granite.

    World War II broke out, Department of Transport engineers conducted a preliminary survey, and construction work started towards improvement of the field in 1941. Pearl Harbour and the Japanese War, thousands of U.S. troops and civilians crowded in on Alaska Highway construction, the rush was on. Whitehorse bulged at the seams, freight and transportation facilities were strained and jammed. Amidst this hurlyrburly urgency of war effort, the tempo of airport building stepped up; by the end of 1941 the landing strip was 4500 feet long, 150 feet wide, asphalt surfaced.

    1942, the runway lengthened to 6600 feet, widened to 200 feet; roads, power lines, buildings, barracks and other facilities constructed. Traffic increased, planes and supplies were going through to Alaska and Russia. C.P.A. had consolidated all minor air companies into its present comprehensive service.

    1943, the U.S. Army took over Airport Construction, building in one short season 7200 by 150 feet of concrete runway, additional taxi strips, aprons, hangars and other buildings. 1944 brought continuous expansion by the D.O.T. and R.C.A.F., providing ever more facilities and services.

    1945, the end of the war, with Whitehorse established as Canada's far North-West key transportation point, at the meeting of rail, highway and river and located on tomorrow's air-route to the Orient by virtue of the airport being an integral part of the chain of modern airfields, with attendant radio, telephone and telegraph communications stretching from Edmonton to Fairbanks.

    Arriving by air at night you see the outline of the runways, military encampments, the town of Whitehorse, silhouetted by lights, or by day as you approach from the east over the rim of the mountains, you pick up the airport from afar with its white strips of concrete pavement, then the pilot curves north to the fringes of storied Lake LeBarge, lines up for a landing over the radio range and as you float in, you see the Alaska Highway skirting the airport, glimpse the magnitude of the development which has taken place here, networks of power lines, roads, oil storage tanks and refinery, for oil flowed here from Mackenzie Valley's Fort Norman as an emergency war measure.

    Landed and taxied to the Air Terminal you de-plane, viewing the expanse of the field, which is on bench table land some 200 feet above the town, a concrete runway 7200 feet long, 6600 feet of parallel asphalt runway, 3300 feet of cross runway, all rimmed and interconnected with taxi strips and parking aprons, almost 5,000,000 square feet of pavement, 550 acres cleared, trimmed and developed, 4 large hangars and numerous other buildings, embraced within an airport reserve of 7500 acres, fenced to the east and west by the sharp clear outline of the northern mountains.

    To build this, over a million cubic yards of earth were moved, several hundred thousand tons of gravel used, miles of underground cable, water and sewer mains installed, 400,000 sacks of cement and 10,000 drums of asphalt used. Whitehorse may well be proud of the airport and of the days of construction, for, as it stands, it is the result of the planning of the Canadian and United States governments and the cooperative work of the Department of Transport, United States Army, Royal Canadian Air Force, American and Canadian contractors, exemplifying the spirit of our democracy and a landmark in the future development of Canada's Northland.

Whitehorse Paved the Way for Aviation to the North

    For a history of aviation in the Yukon Territory we have to go back to June, 1920, when Capt. H. T. Douglas of the U. S. Air Force and Capt. H. A. LeRoyer of the Canadian Air Board arrived in Whitehorse to talk over a proposed international aeroplane flight from Mineola, N. Y. to Nome, Alaska. They both came with the authority of their respective governments to make all necessary arrangements for landing places, fuel, supplies, etc. In commenting on the proposed flight the Whitehorse Star of that day described it as "an event that will go down in history as one of the most dairing conceptions of the potentialities of aerial flight that has ever been conceived since the possibilities of a lighter-than-air craft as a means of transportation became, through the inventive genius of man, a certainty."

    At the conference which took place the visitors stated they would require a field 600 yards long and 200 yards wide. The day after their arrival they were escorted by the late Robert "Bob" Lowe and others to the site where the present airport is now located. At that time it was covered with trees and brush which were quickly removed. The flight was being undertaken in order to ascertain the feasibility of establishing aerial routes in the far northland.

    The planes were scheduled to leave Mineola, N. Y., on July 5, 1920, but they did not depart until ten days later. The distance to be covered was estimated at approximately ten thousand miles and sixteen stops were to he made en route. These included Erie, Pa.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Winona, Minn.; Fargo, N. D.; Portal, N. D.; Saskatoon, Sask.; Edmonton, Alta,; Jasper House, Alta.; Prince George, B. C.; Hazelton, B. C.; Wrangell, Alaska; Whitehorse and Dawson, Y. T.; Fairbanks and Ruby, Alaska. A telegram from Washington, D C. addressed to the "Mayor" of Whitehorse, stated the planes would reach here on or about July 22.

    A map of the Whitehorse airfield was prepared and sent to Wrangell for the use and benefit of the aviators, and a similar map of the Dawson airfield was sent here for the same purpose.

    The airmen in this trans-continental flight met with many difficulties en route. However they reached Wrangell on Saturday, August 14, 1920, and on the following Monday the first plane arrived in Whitehorse. Shortly afterwards two others appeared upon the horizon and were safely grounded on the local airfield. The fourth plane had met with difficulties on muddy ground at Wrangell and did not reach Whitehorse until Tuesday, August 17 - Discovery Day to us Yukoners. Naturally the flyers received a royal welcome at the hands of the people of Whitehorse. Each plane used in the flight had a speed of 135 miles per hour and was overhauled every thirty hours. The last plane to arrive in Whitehorse averaged one hundred miles per hour. According to official calculations the planes had covered a distance of 2800 miles between New York and Whitehorse.

    Just as mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow, so from the small airfield for the above-mentioned first trans-continental flight north has developed one of the finest airports in the north today of which Whitehorse is justifiably proud. In the past it has played an important part in aviation throughout the north. In the future, because of its strategic position, it is destined to play an even greater part in global aviation.
-- H. E. M.