The building is almost unchanged, but the tenant is very different. In 1942 this was the former Vancouver offices of Yukon Southern Air Transport, who had just moved to Howe Street. The company was undergoing other changes that year – Yukon Southern Air Transport was bought out by Canadian Pacific Air Lines, with Grant McConachie, founder of Yukon Southern becoming President of the company. Yukon Southern was sold for over a million dollars, although it had never generated a profit. We’ve seen the building the office occupies in an earlier post: it’s underneath the much-loved and no longer operating Railway Club, built in 1920 for real estate agent Harry Jones.
McConachie started flying regular mail and passenger flights to Whitehorse from Edmonton in 1937, first with his company United Air Transport (which he founded in 1933) 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. Only Whitehorse had a year-round runway; otherwise northern airstrips were almost non-existant. In 1938 McConachie hired men to clear airstrips in Fort St. John and Fort Nelson using small tractors and horse teams. The next summer McConachie had started to clear an airstrip at Watson Lake, when the federal Department of Transport decided to develop an airway between Edmonton and Whitehorse based on routes established by bush pilots and a consideration of the shortest route between the centre of the continent and the Orient (the Great Circle Route).
In 1939 an airway survey established a route linking existing airports at Grande Prairie, Alberta, Fort St. John and Fort Nelson, B.C., and Watson Lake and Whitehorse in the Yukon. The government expanded these airports with 3,000 ft. x 500 ft. runways and some storage and maintenance facilities. The improvements were made to make it safer to fly across this remote area, and the chain of airports was known as the Northwest Staging Route. McConachie paved the way for the Department of Transport’s survey engineers, but was also able to take advantage of the new facilities for his airline operations. Yukon Southern added 3 twin-engine, all-metal Barkley-Grow T8P-1 airliners in the spring of 1940, followed soon after by 2 Lockheed 18-40 Lodestars.
Today you can’t buy a ticket to Whitehorse, but you can get a very reasonably priced Falafel Plate.
Image source City of Vancouver Archives Bu N153