Grant McConachie was well known in Alberta before the Second
World War as a bush pilot
and an entrepreneur. He began operating his first company
in 1934 with four aircraft, mechanics, and pilots, hauling a
half-million kilograms of fish from northern Saskatchewan to
Throughout the 1930s, all bush plane companies operated with
very low margins, and had very few customers. So when the Second
World War began, many men who had been working in the bush left
to join the effort. Many mills also closed, leaving still fewer
customers for bush pilots.
At the same time, these small aviation companies could not
procure new aircraft or parts, since aircraft manufacturers had
shifted their focus to producing aircraft for the war effort.
Fuel and supplies were regulated and bush pilots had to obtain
permission to receive a share.
These factors had a massive impact on the industry and many
companies faced bankruptcy.
In 1937 McConachie’s company, United Air Transport, supplied
regular transport services and airmail to the Grande Prairie and
Peace River regions. That same year he increased his services,
flying between Edmonton and Whitehorse once a week with stops in
Grande Prairie, Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, and Lower Post on
the British Columbia and Yukon border. When McConachie expanded
his service he renamed his company Yukon Southern Air Transport.
Yukon Southern Air Transport was among the strongest bush
plane companies, so much so that when the Japanese bombed Pearl
Harbour and the Americans feared the possibility of the Japanese
landing in Alaska, McConachie’s company was considered vital to
national security. He had the aircraft and the expertise to
transport personnel and equipment north to where the Americans
wanted to build airfields and the Alaska Highway.
Even with this increased activity, Yukon Southern Air
Transport had too much debt, so when an offer came to sell the
airline to Canadian
Pacific Air Lines (CPA), McConachie accepted.