May, 1941, Canadian Aviation
The saga of Yukon Southern Air Transport is something more than the traditional rags-to-riches, bound-to-rise Horatio Alger yarn. For it constitutes a vivid cross-section of northern aviation’s humble origin in the tattered bush freighter stage and its development to airline status.
Through the more desperate years which began a decade ago with one man and one plane, Grant McConachie and a battered Fokker, the founder of the company always kept up his courage by getting altitude and peering beyond the horizon.
Yukon Southern has just taken delivery of two shining new Lockheed Lodestars, adding them to the fleet of three Barkley-Grow transports, two Wacos, and one single-engine Beech. These planes operate over 2,565 scheduled route miles, covering one of the most strategically important strips of territory on the continent, linking Yukon and Alaska with the rest of Canada and the United States.
He formed United Air Transport in 1933. With three Fokkers and unlimited presumptions, U.A.T. challenged the rock-bush-and-swamp wilderness northwest of Grande Prairie where gasoline came to three dollars a gallon or more and even a successful forced landing could be disastrous.
When he had a one-man outfit freelancing precariously, flying whatever and wherever he could, McConachie could see beyond the ragged bushland of northern Alberta to rich fur and placer gold areas in the fastness of British Columbia.
As he struggled to build up a business in this virgin territory, McConachie managed to pick up a sturdy old tri-motored Ford somewhere. It was neither graceful nor swift but it could carry a payload and its three engines were a real comfort over some of those mountain ranges.
In the summer of 1937, U.A.T. followed the famous gold rush trail of ’98 with the Ford, establishing weekly passenger and mail service between Edmonton and Yukon. Thus one man’s persistent vision of ending the geographic isolation of Yukon and Alaska was realized.
Present operation of the fastest airline equipment in the world is adequate testimony to the fact that McConachie didn’t stop dreaming and making his dreams come true.
The compelling importance of the air route to Yukon and Alaska is being demonstrated not only in the revenues of Yukon Southern, but even more convincingly in the fact that the Dominion Government is busily expending millions of dollars to develop a string of first-class airports through northern British Columbia for reasons of military strategy.
Sixty per cent of the northern traffic originates in Alaska. Passengers fly over Pacific Alaska Airways (who also acquired Lodestars recently) to Whitehorse where they book passage over Yukon Southern to Edmonton, there to connect with Trans Canada Air Lines and American lines to the central States. Revenue is showing a 50 percent increase over last year and shows no sign of leveling off.
If you want to fly to Yukon or Alaska you may take the trip entirely by air from any major centre on the continent. From Edmonton or Vancouver you can catch a Yukon Southern airliner on any Monday, Wednesday or Saturday at nine or ten in the morning, arriving in Whitehorse, Yukon at 6:45 pm the same day. A connecting plane will put you in Fairbanks, Alaska for a late dinner.
Edmonton-Whitehorse fare is $85 one way and $153 return. Flying time to Fairbanks, Alaska is just 11 hours from Seattle, 27 hours from New York, 21 hours from Chicago and 16 hours from San Francisco.
Ted Field, who co-piloted the old Ford with McConachie on the historic first mail flight to Yukon, is now operations manager of Yukon Southern. Sheldon Luck, another veteran who had coaxed planes over mountain peaks and out of swamps is chief pilot now, succeeding Field. The other pilots are: Don Patry, D. W. ‘Scotty’ Moir, and R. Goldie.
McConachie takes the wheel whenever he can break away from his office. He took delivery of the new Lodestars personally in Vancouver.
You would think McConachie might be satisfied now that he has built an airline over the bush and has tied two very big and important territories to the rest of the continent. But he is still looking over the horizon. He is figuring on plans to fly the short route to the orient, over Alaska, across the Bering Sea and down the China coast.
This article was originally published in the May, 1941 edition of Canadian Aviation.