Grant McConachie: a pioneer in Canadian aviation
Although the federal Department of Transport established the Northwest Staging Route, the government cannot be credited with building the first airstrips in the North. Grant McConachie, a pioneer in Canadian aviation, started flying regular mail and passenger flights to Whitehorse from Edmonton in 1937, first with his company United Air Transport and then with its successor, Yukon Southern Air Transport Limited. Planes used floats in summer and skis in winter, but McConachie soon realized that year round operations were more economical using runways. Whitehorse already had a runway but otherwise northern airstrips were very few and very far between. McConachie set about to remedy the situation, and in 1938 he hired men to clear airstrips in Fort St. John and Fort Nelson using small tractors and horse teams. The next summer McConachie started to clear an airstrip at Watson Lake. McConachie paved the way for the Department of Transport’s survey engineers when they arrived to survey for the Northwest Staging Route. When the route became important to the military, McConachie provided knowledge and advice on how to improve facilities and the route.
4 a.m. June 15, 1941: Yukon Southern Air Transport CF-BTY Lockheed "Lodestar" leaving Whitehorse airfield for Edmonton (view more details)
Thanks to the new runways, in the fall of 1939 Yukon Southern Air Transport’s planes started year round operations on wheels rather than floats and skis. In 1942, McConachie joined Canadian Pacific Air Lines and his own Yukon Southern Air Transport was bought out by Canadian Pacific Air Lines. As President of Canadian Pacific Air Lines he continued to be a pioneer in the aviation world, with the inauguration of fifty odd thousand miles of domestic, transcontinental and global routes.