Born 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 Canadas aviation
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 own 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.
By 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.
Brintnell 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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