London Calling - Flying the Governer of the Hudson's Bay Company

 London Calling

On July 28, 1949 three passengers climbed aboard a Grumman G21A Goose at Montreal for a 19-day journey around Quebec and Labrador. The flight plan included more than a dozen stops and much of the flying would occur “over particularly rugged terrain” where “radio signals were frequently out.” The passengers, however, had faith in their pilot and aircraft: not only was Doug Pickering an excellent pilot who had flown for 20 years without incident, but he was Operations Manager for Laurentian Air Services, a first-rate aviation firm based out of Ottawa. Laurentian had purchased the Goose, CF-BXR, at the end of the Second World War and was the first company in Canada to operate a Goose commercially.

It was Laurentian’s sterling reputation that prompted the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) to use it to fly some VIPs around Quebec and Labrador in 1949. After all, you want to keep the Governor of the HBC, his wife, and the St. Lawrence regional manager safe as well as comfortable while they visit small towns and distant outposts, spreading morale and checking up on operations. From the photos that remain from that trip, it certainly seems as though the 30th Governor of the HBC, Sir Patrick Ashley Cooper, and his wife were able to travel in style. As you can see in the first photo, the two are in front of the Goose looking very put together, he in a suit and tie with his wire-rimmed glasses, and she with her white gloves, hat, and two-toned pumps.

Sir Ashley Cooper was no stranger to life in backwoods Canada, though, and on several occasions abandoned his suit for more practical attire. He had been Governor of the HBC since 1931 and had made a few trips to Canada before, so he gladly put on a plaid shirt, rubber boots and mosquito netting while fishing at Lake Nipishish. In fact, looking at the photo showing them with their catch that day, you might assume that Sir Ashley Cooper was the bush pilot and that Doug – who was wearing a shirt and tie and smoking a pipe - was the Governor!

London Calling


Operations Manager and pilot for Laurentian, Doug Pickering (left), with H.I. Witney, and the Governor at Lake Nipishish.

These opportunities for fishing and relaxing were the exception rather than the rule, though. After all, the reason that Sir Ashley Cooper had come to the area in the first place was to visit HBC posts along the Gulf of St. Lawrence. And there were a lot of them. In 19 days, they visited the following posts: Bersimis, Baie Comeau, Sept Îles (which wasn’t established as a town until two years later), Romaine, St. Augustine, Blanc Sablon, Goose Bay, Cartwright, Rigolet, North West River, Mistassini, Oskelaneo, Roberval, Pointe Bleue, as well as the Grenfell Mission at Harrington Harbour. At these locations the Governor presented service awards to various HBC post managers, met with local leaders, and toured industrial and resource operations like the Labrador Mining and Exploration Company’s “vast project at Knob Lake.” Interestingly enough, a decade later Laurentian would set up a base at Knob Lake to take advantage of the Schefferville mining boom; when that boom ended, the company created a popular fishing camp and outfitting operation out of that base.

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G.J. Lane, Divisional Manager Quebec North, the Governor, and an unidentified man in front of the Goose at Baie Comeau, Que. on July 28, 1949. Above: Map of Quebec showing tour stops.

Before Doug flew his passengers to Montreal on August 16, they stopped at Arvida, where they all stayed at the beautiful Arvida Inn, a huge stone building with lovely grounds. At the inn, someone took a photo of Doug in one of the lounge chairs, looking every inch the dashing pilot with his aviator sunglasses and slicked hair.

After the trip, Sir Ashley Cooper (and his wife) carried on to England where he would continue as Governor of the HBC until 1952. Doug went back to his regular work at Laurentian and continued to be central to the company until his retirement in 1975. While Doug has since passed away, young pilots at Laurentian were often regaled with stories of the time he flew the HBC Governor around the St. Lawrence. I’m sure the trip was just as memorable for the Governor.

London Calling


Doug Pickering at the Arvida Inn at the end of the Governor’s visit in 1949.

I This quote and much of the information in this article comes from an article published in the official Hudson Bay Magazine for its fur traders, the Moccasin Telegraph, entitled “The Governor’s Visit.” I would like to thank Doug’s son, Dick Pickering, for bringing this story to my attention and for providing me with these wonderful photos of the trip.

II The governor also visited the Quebec Iron and Titanium Corporation at Havre St. Pierre, the Quebec North Shore Paper Company at Baie Comeau, and the power developments at Isle Maligne and Shipshaw, among others.

Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail is a writer who currently lives in Ottawa. Her most recent project, For the Love of Flying: the Story of Laurentian Air Services, will be published by Robin Brass Studios in 2009. For more details, please visit her website at http://dmchenail.googlepages.com or email her at dmchenail@gmail.com.

London Calling


In this shot from the early 1950s, the Laurentian Goose still sports the overall bare metal finish, but with altered markings - stripe removed, new tail lettering and logo added. The luggage tag shown here shows us a close up of the Laurentian Air Services logo on the fuselage - featuring a Waco cabin biplane overflying the distinctive hills and lakes of the Laurentian range in Quebec. Photo by Peter Keating, via Eddie Coates

London Calling


This photo of CF-BXR apeared in the Canadian Aviation Historical Society’s Journal in 2001. A lovely colour image. it shows her getting ready for take off in Labrador. The photo was taken by Dr. Joe Stayman, a good friend of Doug Pickering.

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By the early 60s when Michael Ody photographed BXR, she was sporting this more corporate airline livery. The photo was taken at Ottawa’s North Field 42 years ago. Photo: Michael Ody Collection

London Calling


By 1974 our Goose had been sold to West Coast operator Trans Provincial Airlines out of Prince Rupert, British Columbia. While with TPA, she sank on October 8th, 1979, but was raised and put back into service. In 1988, she was in the service of Pattison Indsutries then back with TPA. She sank one more time while moored at a dock in Ketchikan, Alaska.

London Calling


In 1990, the one-time Laurentian Air Services Goose was purchased by Devcon Construction out of Tualaton, Oregon and refurbished to the highest of standards. It is clear from her beautiful paint scheme and new moniker - “Summer Wind” that she is appreciated and much loved. This photo was taken at Brown Field Municipal Airport near San Diego, California in April of 2002. Photo by Tony Zeljeznjak

London Calling


Back home on Canadian turf in September, 2005, she still looks in immaculate condition nearly 70 years after she was constructed. Photo at Vancouver International by Richard Sutherland

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