December, 1941, The Beaver (now Canada’s History)
Up to the end of July this year, the big twin-engined Company Beechcraft, CF-BMI, had visited every fur trade district except Labrador. Bought in April, 1939, she had covered almost a hundred thousand miles in the Company’s service, flying in all sorts of weather, and all over the west and northwest, at all seasons of the year except the freeze-up and break-up.
During the first summer, she made one of the longest trips in the history of Canadian aviation. Leaving Edmonton on August 8, she flew up the Mackenzie to Aklavik, then over to Holman Island (Ulukhaktok) and eastward across the Central Arctic to King William Land, down to Baker Lake and Churchill, and so home to Winnipeg, arriving there after a 4,500-mile trip only thirteen days after setting out.
When plans were announced for making an inspection trip through the bitter cold of the Western Arctic the following winter, the wiseacres shook their heads and said that it was simply asking for trouble. But the trip was made without mishap. As on all her flights, the great machine performed beautifully, and the time saved was incalculable. Once again, as so often in the past, the Hudson’s Bay Company was pioneering in the North.
It is doubtful, in fact, if any aeroplane in Canada has been operated so consistently, and certainly none has covered the Dominion of Canada so thoroughly as CF-BMI.
This summer it was planned to use her on an inspection trip of eastern posts flown by pilot Duncan McLaren and engineer Jerry Buchan. Their route north from Fort Chimo (Kuujjuaq) lay across Hudson Straight to Baffin Island; but the extraordinary amount of ice this year made those plans unfeasible. They therefore turned south and followed the course of the Koksoak and Kaniapiskau Rivers to Fort McKenzie and back. In landing the next day at Richmond Gulf, where stood a Company outpost used only in the winter, a large wave damaged and immobilized BMI.
An SOS was sent out on the plane’s wireless to Cape Dorset, 560 miles away. Soon a Canadian Airways plane was on its way north to rescue the shipwrecked travellers. BMI was refloated on September 4, by the light of the moon; but during the night, as she lay at anchor, a fifty-mile-an-hour gale arose. For several hours she bravely weathered the storm; but at last a great wave tilted her so high that one wing plunged under the water. Slowly that wing was dragged under until the other was standing vertically into the air. In a few hours, the great machine had disappeared beneath the waves.
So, one more loss is added to the long list of HBC craft that have been destroyed by the elements. Ever since the Prince Rupert went to her grave two hundred and sixty years ago, the annals of Company navigation in Hudson Straight and Bay have been interspersed with reports of foundered ships. And since the fur trade moved farther north in this century the grinding ice of the Arctic has taken a heavy toll. But the fur trade is a dangerous business, subject to the perils of the sea and the wilderness and such losses are part of the reckoning.
The fine work she performed will be carried on by a sister-ship, CF-BVM. McLaren and Buchan fetched her from below the border last month and soon she will be roaring away over the snow, northward bound for the far-flung posts of the fur trade.
This article originally appeared in the December, 1941 edition of The Beaver magazine (now Canada’s History magazine).