Bob St. Henry comes to Western Alberta
The new invention of powered, manned flight was barely off
the ground before demands were made to demonstrate at summer
fairs. Edmonton had its first air demonstration by paid pilots
on 28 April 1911. The Edmonton exhibition was able to bring in
the American actor-turned-pilot, Bob St. Henry, or "Lucky Bob."
Appearing with St. Henry that year was the aviator Hugh
Robinson. They completed some demonstrations before they packed
up their Curtiss biplanes and shipped them onto their next
Howard Le Van in Alberta
In July of the same year, the pilot Howard Le Van flew a
Curtiss Golden Flyer owned by J. Stobel during the
Calgary summer fair. Because of the muddy airfield, the aircraft
had difficulties taking off. It was able to get into the air
once on the first day, but crashed into a fence causing damage
to the landing gear and wings. After repairs, Le Van was able to
fly for about five minutes the next day, but more damage
occurred when he hit a gopher hole upon landing. On the final
day, fairgoers could pay 10¢ to enter the tent where the Golden Flyer
was parked and admire it.
Another flying exhibition occurred in Lethbridge in July,
when the well-known American pilot Eugene Ely flew his biplane
in front of a crowd of about 5,000 people. The large
enthusiastic crowd wanted to see the pilot who they had been
reading about in the newspapers. One story described a stunt
where he landed his biplane on the battleship, Pennsylvania,
which was docked in a San Francisco harbour.
[Courtesy City of Lethbridge Archive and Records Management,
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Didier Masson comes to Alberta
The most ambitious display of flight was to be performed by
Didier Masson in Calgary in October 1911. The first flight by
Masson demonstrated one of the main problems that would continue
to be a setback—there was only common low-grade gasoline
available for the motor. In his first flight, Masson was able to
take off, but lost power in his motor, and started to descend,
momentarily, until the power returned. Masson attempted to pull
up, but he realized that he would not be able ascend high enough
to clear some telephone wire, and he landed.
On his second attempt to take off, he hit some bailing wire
that was in the grass, causing his propeller to shatter and
sending splinters everywhere. The cloth-covered wings and tail
section were torn, and the biplane could not fly again that day.
On 20 October, Masson flew his biplane over the city and
noticed that the motor was not working well. The low-grade fuel
was again the problem. To correct this, he ran the fuel line
through the air chamber, which allowed the fuel to heat up
before it went into the carburetor. This worked well when Masson
flew to Victoria Park, but when he arrived, he could see that
the horses pasturing there had not been removed. So he flew by
several times to chase them off before landing.
When Masson did make his first exhibition flight at Victoria
Park, he flew over, waving to the people below, and was able to
come in for a perfect landing, much to the delight of the crowd.
A flight to Edmonton from Calgary was now planned. Masson
wore a heavy arctic cap, sheepskin boots, leggings, and a heavy
tweed and leather suit he stuffed with newspaper for insulation.
He received substantial attention and support, including
messages from New York and Los Angeles, since the flight would
be a Canadian distance record. His plan was to follow the train
tracks to Edmonton where below, a train would travel along
watching his progress, with guests aboard who had paid $20 for
The flight was delayed for several days as cold weather, high
winds, and snow made flight in the open biplane impossible.
After taking off, the wires that were holding the gas tank in
place above the seat Masson was in broke, and the tank came down
on his head. The loose wires got caught in the propeller and
shattered it. Struggling to keep control, Masson was able to
land safely. He was dazed and realized how dangerous the
situation was as he walked away from the biplane.