Article: Camsell and Dickins Map the Last Frontier

  • Dickins with ATZ-640x250-copyrightsm-V2

    October, 1935, Canadian Aviation
    by Thomas H. Inkster

    Making the most interesting flight in the North this year, pilot C.H. “Punch” Dickins landed at Fort Norman on August 5 with Dr. Charles Camsell and Mr. A.D. McLean.

    Dr. Charles Camsell is Deputy Minister of Mines for Canada and a member of the Council of the North West Territories. Mr. A.D. McLean is Superintendent of Airways and Airports of Canadian Civil Aviation.

    “Punch” and Mr. McLean left Edmonton on July 17, flying to British Columbia. At Prince Rupert they picked up Dr. Camsell and flew to this point, stopping at Wrangel and Dease Lake.

    The purpose of the 10,000-mile exploration trip was to map, by photography, blind spots of our present map along the Yukon-North West Territory boundary. Mr. William H. Sutherland accompanied the party in the capacity of air engineer and photographer.

    Mr. McLean was after first-hand information on northern flying activities and conditions. Perhaps the words of Cervantes would cover it: “I can look sharp as well as another and let me alone keep the cobwebs out of my eyes.” We hope his observations will cause him to recommend a few floating docks and bouys for landing at specific points and enable the pilots to keep young instead of sprouting grey hairs, or going bald completely, through the worry of landing at certain difficult places.

    At Fort Norman, Dr. Camsell enjoyed a visit with his brother, Fred, whom he had not seen for several years. Mr. Fred Camsell is post manager for the Hudson’s Bay Company.

    Both Fred and Dr. Charles Camsell are true northerners. They were born in the country and have seen it change from a land of remote fur trading posts to a domain of oil and mineral wealth where modern steamships and aeroplanes replace canoes and scows in transportation. They went down the MacKenzie and hiked over the Divide during the gold rush of ’98. After two years in search of nuggets, they returned to Fort Simpson to grow up with the Territories. Fred followed in the footsteps of his father, who was district manager for the Hudson’s Bay Company and entered the fur trade. Charles studied geology and, paying his way through university, became an engineer. Camsell River, a part of the North which he surveyed and mapped, is named after him.

    Accompanied by Fred Camsell, the party flew to the Imperial Oil Wells, fifty miles below Fort Norman, to have a look at the refinery which this season is supplying 700 tons of fuel oil to the Eldorado Gold Mines at Great Bear Lake.

    From Fort Norman the party flew to Great Bear Lake, north to the Coppermine, then to the Yellowknife (at the eastern end of Great Slave Lake) where Major Lockie Burwash, the Arctic explorer, made a sensational strike last year. From there they flew to the Beaverlodge field on  the north shore of Lake Athabasca.

    It was only fitting that Dr. Camsell and Mr. McLean should have chosen “Punch” Dickins to usher them through the Northland. A distinguished wartime flyer, pioneer of Northern skyways and superintendent of operations for Canadian Airways in the Mackenzie River country, “Punch” became known to every Canadian when the search was being made for the lost McAlpine party a few years ago.

    This article was originally published in the October, 1935 edition of Canadian Aviation. The picture of “Punch” Dickins is a rare one from the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada archives.

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