Francis Russell Baker was born on 31 January 1910 in Winnipeg.
He attended school
there, learning to fly at age 16. He
continued his studies at the University of Manitoba and earned a
commercial pilot’s licence.
He then spent time as a barnstormer, appearing across the
province of Manitoba. In 1929, Baker moved to British Columbia,
and in 1937 he became a pilot for Western Canada Airways.
Baker was a respected bush
pilot – a skill exercised flying rescue missions. He also
flew geological parties into the mountains of northern British
Columbia where no other pilot had flown before.
Shortly after the Americans entered the Second World War
following the bombing of Pearl Harbour, there was an effort to
build a highway to Alaska to allow American troops to move north
if the Japanese invaded. Baker was one of several bush pilots
who were employed by the Americans who needed them to fly along
the route to survey it. He demonstrated his abilities when a
number of American bombers were forced to land in the northern
mountainous range of the Yukon. Baker was the pilot who was able
to find and rescue the crews, which earned him the United States
Air Medal in January 1942.
Baker worked for his old friend Grant McConachie when he was
a pilot for Canadian Pacific Airlines (CPA). He was made senior
captain, and later divisional superintendent for CPA at
During his experience at CPA, Baker realized that there was
great potential for charter aircraft companies, so he left in
1946 to establish his own company, Central B.C. Airways, based
in Fort St. James. He started with two Beechcraft seaplanes, two
employees, and a contract with the B.C. Forest Service. To
fulfill the needs of the Forest Service, he acquired four more
aircraft in 1947.
In 1948, he bought the first Beaver airplane that was
manufactured by de Havilland.
The success of Baker’s Central B.C. Airways began in 1949,
when he bought up struggling companies that included, Kamloops
Air Service, Skeena Air Transport, Associated Air Taxi,
Whitehorse Flying Services, Queen Charlotte Airlines, Associated
Airways, Aero Engineering Ltd., and Airmotive Accessories Ltd.
These acquisitions made Central B.C. Airways the third largest
airline company in Canada at the time, after the larger Trans
Canada Airlines, and Canadian Pacific Airlines.
Another opportunity came Baker’s way in 1951 when Central
B.C. Airways won the contract to provide air support to the
Aluminium Company of Canada (Alcan) who was building the large
smelter complex at Kitimat and Kemano.
Baker changed the name of Central B.C. Airways to
Airlines (PWA) in 1953. At the same time, he started to fly
a scheduled service from Vancouver to Kitimat.
Ice Floe Rescues – Harold Heacock
Harold tells the story of a daring ice floe rescue.
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