This Week in History (1938): New flight links Prince George and Vancouver

Eyes were to the sky just after noon on Sunday January 16, 1938, as Prince George residents welcomed the first inbound flight of a new passenger air service from Vancouver.

The weekly round-trip service, operated by Alberta-based United Air Transport (UAT), included stops in Williams Lake, Quesnel and Prince George before terminating in Fort St. John, where passengers could connect with UAT’s Edmonton-Yukon air route.

The inaugural flight took off from Ashcroft at 9:30 a.m. (direct service from Vancouver did not begin until March 1938). The plane — a five-seat Waco cabin-model biplane with a cruising speed of 140 miles per hour — arrived in Prince George at 12:19 p.m., where it disgorged a full load of two pilots and two dignitaries — the third dignitary having been left on the ground in Ashcroft as he “proved too heavy for the already loaded plane,” according to a Prince George Citizen article published on January 20, 1938.

Upon deplaning, Cariboo MP J.G. Turgeon distributed a bundle of Vancouver Saturday newspapers to numerous onlookers, then handed Prince George mayor A.M. Patterson a letter from Vancouver mayor G.C. Miller. Miller, who had travelled by rail to Ashcroft to witness the historic take-off, wrote that Prince George and Vancouver were “now in reality next door neighbours with only a few short hours of travel between.”

Indeed, by April 1938, direct service to and from Vancouver was well under way, with a flying time of between 2.5 and 3.5 hours, depending on the direction of travel. Advertised fares ranged from $33-37 return.

“I feel sure that the airline that is being started today will be the beginning of a great development of the different parts of B.C.,” wrote Prince George mayor Patterson on January 16. Cariboo MP Turgeon anticipated that the “pioneer” route would spark construction of both a highway and a railway through the Cariboo to the Peace District, while UAT vice-president R.L. “Ginger” Coote declared that the flight would “develop into one of the grandest scenic tourist trips in Canada.”

Whether those proclamations proved true or not, UAT did leave its mark on Canada’s aviation history. In 1941, then rebranded as Yukon Southern Air Transport, it was one of the first airlines acquired by a fledgling Canadian Pacific Airlines. UAT founder Grant McConachie went on to serve as Canadian Pacific Airlines’ CEO for over half of the company’s 45-year operating history.

Canadian Pacific Airlines was eventually absorbed into what we now know as Air Canada — which means that the first passenger air service between Prince George and Vancouver has a very definite connection with that very same route as it exists today.  

(Sources, where not stated:  Prince George Citizen, January 13, January 20, March 3, and April 21, 1938.)

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