Article: Stevenson Aerodrome – From Prairie to Flying Field

  • Image of autogyro outside the Winnipeg Flying Club and Stevenson Aerodrome airport office, c 1930

    June, 1930, Western Canada Airways Bulletin

    In the spring of 1928 after the ‘break-up’, Western Canada Airways, having in mind the continuance of their flying school, which had been in operation at Brandon Avenue base throughout the winter, decided on a field at St. Charles some six miles west of Winnipeg on the main highway, as the most suitable location for their future activities.

    Flying instruction and some commercial work was carried on at this aerodrome during 1928 and the early part of 1929. During this period, an experimental air mail service was instituted, precursor to the present Prairie Air Mail Service. This first service was a daylight venture and flights were made daily from Winnipeg to Calgary and vice versa. This service was continued for a month terminating on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1928.

    With the discontinuance of the flying school, six months later the field was deserted, practically, by Western Canada Airways. The hangar was used for storage space and occasional flights were made to and from St. Charles, when landing conditions required the use of wheels.

    This period represents the earliest days of the light landing movement in Winnipeg and after the formation of Government-assisted flying clubs, Western Canada Airways confined their activities to the operation of the larger type aircraft.

    Some six months after the Western Canada Airways flying school commenced operations, the Winnipeg Flying Club received their first machines from the Government, and as their aerodrome they chose a field which has now developed into the present Stevenson Aerodrome.

    On May 24, 1928, the opening day, the field was named ‘Stevenson Aerodrome’ in honor of Pilot F. J. Stevenson, one of the first of the Western Canada Airways pilots, one who had been engaged in commercial flying since war time and who had done more as a pilot than any other for the cause of commercial aviation in Manitoba.

    In the spring of 1928 Stevenson Aerodrome was open prairie, on which one could see, here and there, the corner stakes of lots and subdivisions which were placed on the market in the boom days of 1911-1912. Only on the adjoining Assiniboine Golf Course could one occasionally observe any activity and so it was when the first ‘Moth’ came; overnight the ‘prairie’ became the ‘flying field’.

    Today the hum of the aeroplane motor is heard from dawn to long after dark, for since the preparations for the Prairie Air Mail Service began, night flying has become an established practice.

    Stevenson Aerodrome lies 3 1/2 miles due west of the centre of the City of Winnipeg. In order to reach it by automobile one must proceed three and a half miles out along Portage Avenue and then one mile north on Sackville Street. This street constitutes the eastern boundary of the aerodrome and this is the route taken by the mail trucks from the General Post Office, Winnipeg.

    Approaching Winnipeg by air from the south, a direction marker may be seen on the Winnipeg Electric Company’s gas tank which is located some 1 1/2 miles west of the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. The marker consists of an arrow 115 feet long, pointing towards the Stevenson Aerodrome. ‘AIRPORT’ is painted in 15-foot letters and ‘3 MILES’ in 20-foot chrome yellow letters.

    The neon beacon on the Hudson’s Bay Company Store is three miles east of the Aerodrome. Another landmark is Polo Park Race Course, one mile SE of the aerodrome, with its name prominent on the roof of the grandstand.

    The north and south runway of the Stevenson Aerodrome, of natural turf, is about 2,800 feet, while the east and west runway is about 2,200 feet. Two large floodlights and a revolving beacon have been installed, and while the obstruction lights on hangars and other buildings are in operation, the boundary lights are not yet in position.

    The companies operating from this field include The Winnipeg Flying Club, The Northwest Aero Marine and Western Canada Airways Limited. The Royal Canadian Air Force also have a hangar. The Winnipeg Flying Club is purely an instructional and social club, while the Northwest Aero Marine provide flying instruction and general commercial air transportation. Their repair shops are situated at their river base. The RCAF, as the name implies, is a Dominion Government Service, the machines being employed on fire detection and suppression and on aerial survey. Travelling north on Sackville Street, the first hangar to be seen is that belonging to the Royal Canadian Air Force, north lies the hangar of the Western Canada Airways, and immediately north of that again is the establishment of the Northwest Aero Marine Company. From this point, the ground is monopolized by the Winnipeg Flying Club whose tennis courts, new Club House now in course of erection, hangars and offices form a unit around the main entrance of the field.

    Stevenson Field is the port used as Customs Air Port by those land machines which arrive at Winnipeg from the United States. It is also the scene of the greatest flying activity in the Winnipeg District, so that in reality it is ‘Winnipeg’s Flying Field’, although officially it is neither ‘Customs Air Harbour’, nor ‘Municipal Field’.

    When the question of the establishment of a prairie air mail service was under consideration, it was decided to make the Winnipeg terminus of the run at Stevenson Field. The contract for this service was obtained by Western Canada Airways, so it became necessary to provide accommodation and facilities for servicing the mail planes. For this purpose a large hangar was erected and gasoline pump installed. The main portion of this hangar measures 100 feet by 150 feet and is flanked by two extensions on the east and west sides respectively. The wing on the west side is used as a repair shop and is large enough to house a complete machine during overhaul. The extension on the west side is partially occupied by the pilot’s room, teletype office and stores. At the rear of each wing is a furnace room. Fans and conduits are provided to ensure circulation of the heated air throughout the building. As can be imagined this is no easy problem when there is a difference of 90 degrees F between the inside and the outside of the building. This variation was quite common during the past winter. At the front south side of the hangar is a large concrete apron on to which machines can be taxied for washing or during ‘warming up’.

    If a line be drawn from Winnipeg in a north-westerly direction through the three provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, so that this line passes through Edmonton, the triangle thus formed with a base about 800 miles long encloses the great wheat growing districts of Canada and in this area wheels or skis can be used all the year round. All other flying in Canada excepting local flying, and in the extreme south-east, is done on floats. It is with the larger cities in this area that Winnipeg is linked up by the Prairie Air Mail Service. From Stevenson Field it is now possible to travel over regularly operated routes by Western Canada Airways machines to Akalvik at the mouth of the Mackenzie River in the Arctic. This distance is practically the same as from Liverpool, England to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

    This article originally appeared in the June 16, 1930 Western Canadian Airways bulletin.

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