Day 539 - Saanish
The Victoria airport is situated in Saanish. That is where the first plane to fly across Canada during the winter landed in 1932. The pilot was not a Canadian but a Swede. This was 21-year old Jarl Grubbström from Stockholm. He met 24-year-old Willie Cross at a party in Montreal in 1931, and it was not long before the two flying enthusiasts had a concrete plan for the monumental challenge.
Despite his young age Jarl was already an experienced pilot while Willie had a pilot’s certificate but had never flown alone. The spoilt son of the wealthy Victoria Cross family, Willie had just bought a Fairchild FC-2 C-CAIH plane that could be fitted with skis. The two young pilots braved the warmer than ideal weather and took off from Montreal on January 20, 1932 promising to follow the CPR railway tracks.
“Rumour has it that Willie’s substandard eyesight precluded him from doing much of the piloting,” writes Sherrill Maclaren in her book entitled Braehead. “Newspapers picked up the progress of the intrepid aviators as they hopped across the country. They winged it through snow storms, fog and rain, bending props in three forced landings and within hours of victory crashing into a slough in the Crowsnest Pass. For three weeks they fueled freezing limbs with bonfires and Johnny Walker, waiting for another propeller to arrive from Montreal”
On 23 February Cross and Grubbström were finally able to land at Victoria’s Saanich airport after an actual flying of about 28 hours. When the Canadian Air-force had covered the same stretch 12 years earlier for the very first Trans-Canada flight, albeit starting from Halifax but in ideal summer conditions, the trip had taken 10 days with 45 hours in the air. This was at a time when trains covered the same stretch in 132 hours.
Jarl “Grubbe” Grubbström stayed on in Vancouver after his historic flight and participated in the first British Columbia Airtour. He, however, returned to Sweden in 1934 when there seemed to be no end to the Depression. He joined the Royal Swedish Airforce and later became a commercial pilot for the SAS pre-cursor, AB Aerotransport. He also published a Swedish-English dictionary for aviation terms. Jarl Grubbström died in 1985. Willie Cross whom Maclaren described as “indulged and spoiled rotten by wealthy, doting parents” sold the Fairchild when he could not find a suitable airfield for a commercial service in Victoria. He committed suicide in 1940.
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