The years after the first World War saw the birth of civil aviation. The circumstances were perfect for its development for several reasons. With the signing of the Armistice, a large number of unemployed Canadian pilots were seeking a chance to use their new found flying skills to earn a living. This, in combination with a great number of war surplus aircraft and no regulations yet created to govern flying, made for a very interesting period.
Alone, or in small groups, enterprising pilots began purchasing aircraft to start their own businesses. They would fly to small towns and villages and give short rides to the locals, for a fee of course! There were few towns that didn't receive a visit from these adventurous airmen in 1919 and 1920. These visits were met with great success, since flying was still a novelty to the public. Canadians everywhere had heard and read about airmen in the army, but few civilians had actually seen an aircraft up close.
These flights were often referred to as "barnstorming" because they required a farmer's field or pasture from which to operate. Pilots generally charged their passengers $1 for every minute of air time. Often, the pilots performed stunts, such as wing-walking and parachute jumping, to stimulate local interest. Another common practice was flying over the town and dropping handbills to advertise when and where the barnstorming would take place, as well as information about the plane and pilot. Sometimes, in a town where they didn't think they could generate much interest they would offer a free flight to the first person to approach the pilot with their handbill.
According to Frank Ellis barnstorming was often met with much enthusiasm:
When the great day arrived the whole town was agog, and schools were sometimes closed to give the kids a chance to be on hand. Then as the roar of our engine was heard, and we dropped low, flying at rooftop level along Main Street, the entire populace and all the dogs turned out, racing to the field. In "tin lizzies", buggies, and wagons, on horseback, on bicycles, and on foot, first to arrive was a breathless youngster who triumphantly thrust a ragged but precious handbill into the pilot's hand.
Dances were often held in honour of the barnstormers when they stayed in town for a few days, Ellis recalls one in particular when he and pilot Fred Stevenson were invited to such an affair in a farming centre in Manitoba. Unfortunately they had a slight problem:
...we had only the clothes we stood in, which, through much contact with oil and dust, were most unpresentable, Steve's being particularly grimy. With his gracious manner and his good dancing, however, he was extremely popular with the young ladies. As the evening wore on, it was easy to spot the girls he had danced with; their flowing white dresses showed the smudges transferred from his dirty flying-togs. But there were no complaints.
The barnstorming boom that developed in Canada following World War I had passed its peak by the end of 1920. Due to a number of accidents, governmental regulations were eventually created to control the practice. What really ended it, however was a loss of public interest. Quite simply, the initial novelty of flying had worn off and people were looking for a new "flight of fancy".
Source: "The Stuart Graham Papers: The Beginning of Bush Flying in Canada
Sat, Dec 17 2011 9:48 PM
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