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Wilfred Leigh Brintnell (1895-1971)

Leigh Brintnell in his Aircraft Repair Ltd. officeBorn in Belleville, Ontario, Wilfred Leigh Brintnell became one of Alberta's true aviation innovators.

His career in the skies first took off in 1917 when he volunteered his skills to the Royal Air Force, and was assigned training duties in Texas and England. After a stint with the aviation branch in the Ontario Forestry Department, Western Canadian Airways hired Brintnell in 1927. He completed assessment flights to the west and piloted the first multi-engine flight from Winnipeg to Vancouver. He was the first pilot to circumnavigate Great Bear Lake, and in one particularly famous flight, travelled more than 16,000 kilometres over the mountains between Aklavik, Northwest Territories and Dawson City, Yukon. His trailblazing flights first established a route between Alberta and the Far North, making Edmonton a gateway city and an integral part of Canada’s aviation industry.

W.J. Trelour, Leigh Brintnell and Gilbert Labine Many important men of the day took to the skies with Brintnell. Gilbert Labine, a famous prospector, was among them; Brintnell flew him to Great Bear Lake in August 1929, where a large deposit of uranium was discovered.

In 1931, Brintnell left Western Airways to form Mackenzie Air, based in Edmonton. In a rapidly growing and increasingly competitive industry, his airline found its market niche, carrying food, clothing and medicine into the North, and hauling ore out. The business was sold to Canadian Pacific Airlines for $100,000 in 1940.

Brintnell founded Aircraft Repair Ltd. in 1938 to help keep up with the repair of his ownBrintnell with a plane from Mackenzie Air Services Ltd. aircraft. For a time he worked with another Alberta aviation inventor, Jack Moar, who served as the planning and production manager at Aircraft Repair Ltd.

Leigh Brintnell with his wife CarolyBy the time war broke out in 1939, business had expanded to include three new hangars, employing 2,500 workers on three shifts throughout the next five years. Those who worked with Brintnell during this period are quick to point out his willingness to do the dirty work along side his employees, and his ingenuity. Roy Miller, who worked in the welding shop throughout the war, recalls a wheel adaptor built by his boss, which allowed them to put skis on the aircraft without taking off the wheels.

Leigh Brintnell with associateBrintnell was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1946 for his contribution to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. As well, the Geographic Board of Alberta named a lake in Northern Alberta after the pilot in 1954. He retired in Edmonton in 1965, and was posthumously inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in 1975.

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