“Aviation, even in its primitive state, appealed to me from the start. I can recall that as a youth I made treks in or near my hometown to wherever airplanes could be found… such as at the foot of Brandon Avenue on the Red River where float-equipped planes landed occasionally and could actually be seen moored. The Royal Canadian Air Force also operated the odd flying boat such as the Vickers into Brandon Avenue.” Lloyd Sloan, Memoirs of a Flyboy (1936-1979)
Buy it or move it! That was, more or less, the uncharacteristically unpaternalistic ultimatum the Oblate Fathers gave James A. Richardson in 1930. It was regarding the property at the foot of Brandon Avenue on the south bank of the Red River in Winnipeg. Canadian Airways Ltd. (CAL), a national company Richardson had established in 1930 using Western Canada Airways as the nucleus, leased the five-acre parcel of land. The site had been used by Western Canada Airways since 1926 for aircraft repair and storage purposes. Brandon Avenue was the company’s first and principal maintenance base. Now, it was a choice between buying the property or moving the operation.
Richardson bought the land for $5,000. The Oblate Fathers would accept nothing less. The Royal Canadian Air Force occupied an acre on the northern end of the site, where it had a slipway, an enclosure and moored planes for service in northern posts for fighting forest fires or doing photographic survey work. It vacated the premises in 1931, however.
As the single seaplane base in Winnipeg, the Brandon Avenue site often hosted visiting aircraft alongside those in CAL’s fleet, along with those belonging to the RCAF. W.B. Burchell, editor of The Bulletin, Canadian Airways magazine, noted that on October 1, 1929, ”… an analysis of the eight machines which were at their moorings here showed: one amphibian, three flying boats, and four machines on floats”. In December 1929, the base also had the distinction of welcoming back some of the members of the MacAlpine Expedition who had sparked a costly and failed search for them, but who had found their own way to safety.
The Brandon Avenue site, located across the river from the greens and fairways of the Norwood Golf Course (now Lyndale Drive), was a compound consisting of five buildings, plus a yard with test stands for running the engines and a jib crane for handling wings, engines, or the whole aircraft if necessary.
Canadian Airways Limited was sold in 1942 to The Canadian Pacific Railway, which used CAL as the nucleus along with eight other bush plane companies to create Canadian Pacific Airlines. The base on Brandon Avenue closed the following year. The base, however, has been somewhat immortalized by a mural. It graces the south wall of the Royal Canadian Legion No. 252 building, located at 426 Osborne Street (at Woodward) and offers a bucolic, picture-postcard view of the past. A small group of bystanders, some of them waving, all of them standing on the lush grassy riverbank watch CF-ARM take off from the Red River. The mural was painted by Dwayne Ball and sponsored by Take Pride Winnipeg and The Winnipeg Foundation. (www.themuralsofwinnipeg.ca).
However, the mural is missing the building, winch, engine jib crane, and slipway. The portrayed aircraft, however, is Canadian Airways most iconic – Junkers JU-52 1m CF-ARM, the largest airplane in North America at that time. The mural remains a visual reminder of the company which opened the North and established commercial air service in Canada.
Edited from Altitude, a quarterly publication of the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada, Fall 2008.