The Photographic Historical Society of Canada

100th Anniversary of Flight over Montreal & Toronto
Carl Mills
Program date: September 15, 2010

Carl Mills by Lansdale
Mills by Lansdale

Getting ready for Carl's presentation
Getting ready for Carl

Old RCN Banshee
Old RCN Banshee

RCN Banshee restored
Banshee restored

pre 1910 airplane crash
risky business < 1910

Wright Bros 1903
Wright Bros 1903

Dr Bell with McCurdy, Curtiss etc
Selfridge, Curtiss, Bell,
Baldwin, McCurdy

Silver Dart
Silver Dart

Bleriot reaches Dover
Bleriot reaches Dover

Bleriot lands Dover
Bleriot lands at Dover

First Britsh flight - took up a pig as a passenger - Pigs can Fly
Pigs can fly

aviation meets - thrills and advertisement
Aviation meets

spectators at aviation meets
Spectators

McCurdy Crash
McCurdy crash

Count Jacques de Lesseps arrives in Canada
Count de Lesseps

Montreal 1910 Admission tag
Montreal 1910 meet

Bleachers at Weston meet - Toronto 1910
Toronto 1910 meet

de Lesseps and other aviators
de Lesseps

de Lesseps and sister arrive
de Lesseps and sister

de Lesseps with Anzani 25 powered Bleriot monoplane
de Lesseps - Anzani

de Lesseps hanger
de Lesseps - Hanger

Aviators
Aviators

Bleriot wing control
Bleriot joy stick

Bleriot and family
Bleriot family

de Lesseps wedding
de Lesseps - wedding

Quebec City from air by de Lesseps
Quebec City aerial

Carl Mills is a Canadian historian with a life long interest in aviation. He joined the RCAF Auxiliary in 1955. A decade later he graduated University of Waterloo with a degree in Electrical Engineering. He then rejoined the Air Force Reserves in Toronto, retiring after 24 years service in 1983 as a Lieutenant Colonel. Since retiring, he became involved in Canadian aviation historical research and published his first book, Banshees in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1991. Restoring a surviving RCN Banshee jet fighter, now in the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, ignited Carl's interest in the history of aviation. His current book project is about the Canadian Airmen and Airwomen in the Korean War. Carl wears many hats - Associate Historian, Air Force Air Division; member, Canadian Aviation Historical Society; member, Air Force Association; Honorary Member, Korea Veterans Association; and Honorary Life Member, Canadian Naval Air Group.

In 1910 groups of aviators held meets in various North American cities to demonstrate aircraft and flying and compete for monetary awards. Included in this itinerary in the summer of that year were two major Canadian cities. The meets took place over many days and attracted European, American, and Canadian aviators. Groups associated with the fledgling automobiles lent their prestige to the aerial events.

The novelty of aircraft and flying was a natural attraction for photographers. The glass plates and roll films of the day were capable of capturing moving objects giving us a legacy of images. Carl chose over 100 early images from a variety of sources to illustrate his tale. He used the life of an illustrious French aviator, Count Jacques De Lesseps of Paris, to bind together the early days of aviation. Carl's description of the challenges and complexities of keeping a craft in the air emphasized the great risks these pioneers took pushing their machines to the limit. And many died in crashes - it was very much a "learn as you go" period.

motions about three axis of an airplane
axis of motion
spinn
spinning cylinders
wing spars on a Bleriot monoplane
Bleriot wing spars
uneven forces on wing spars
forces on spars

Carl took pity on us and described the mechanics of controlling an aircraft moving in three dimensional space. In addition to elevators and rudders to control movements up and down, left and right, the pilot also had to keep the machine from rolling. This was managed in many early machines, including those designed by the Wright Brothers, by twisting a wing to add drag on one side counteracting the tendency to roll. Up to an airspeed of about 35 miles an hour, the pilot could use his muscles to do this but beyond that speed the forces were simply too great. The alternative was to use the now universal aileron - flaps similar to elevators on the wing tips which operated in opposite directions. Dr Alexander Graham Bell in Baddeck, NS, contributed greatly to the early success of the aileron which he chose for his Silver Dart machine. It took considerable research to determine the best size, shape, deflection and placement for these roll control surfaces.

To gain speed and payload capability efforts went into designing more powerful engines. Unlike the automobile engine, low weight was important consideration. Unfortunately as power was increased, forces on the aircraft structure increased too and progressively weakened key components like the wooden wing spars until there was a sudden wing failure and the craft broke up in the air. Experimentation determined that the lift on the wing was stronger near the leading edge making the twisting forces on the two spars unbalanced. The solution was to increase the cross-section of the front spar over its companion. Each increase in engine power, each crash, led to more investigation and strengthening of the parts that failed.

Bleriot monoplane in Chicago
Bleriot Monoplane
Wright Bros on take off track
Wright Bros take-off
uncrating the Scarabee
uncrating Scarabee
route over Montreal
route over Montreal
Holding the winning model
Winning model
winning model on display at the NRC
On display at NRC

The first meet in Canada was held in Montreal from June 27th through July 5th. Both Canadian meets were organized by Mr Wilcox of Toronto. In Montreal the meet sponsor was the Royal Automobile Club of Canada. Ten pilots and aircraft were attracted to the meet including five from the Wright Brothers in New England. Wilcox wanted Louis Bleriot of France, famous for his aircraft designs, to participate, but he declined in deference to the safety concerns of his wife and growing family. Bleriot suggested another French aviator, Count de Lesseps. De Lesseps' father was part of the small group who built the Suez Canal. The same group also made an ill-fated attempt to build the Panama Canal. De Lesseps agreed to participate in return for $10,000 plus another $5,000 for expenses. The count's entourage included himself, his sister and her husband (his physician), his brother, two mechanics, and two Bleriot aircraft. A similar contract was signed to bring in the Wright team. Two other Bleriot aircraft were at the event - one owned by the event organizer and flown by a hired aviator, and one owned by a Mr Baker Timberlake who intended to learn to fly it himself at the event.

The meet was held at Lakeside (now part of Pointe-Claire). The grounds consisted of five strips of land owned by five different farmers, land that had to be smoothed, and ditches filled. The first effort wasn't acceptable to de Lesseps and the work was redone at a furious pace to meet opening day. Nearby rail lines and train service moved spectators quickly between Montreal and Lakeside. De Lesseps was a hit with his many skillful takeoffs and landings as was the American Brookins with his death-defying spiral dive towards the ground. Canada was represented by John McCurdy pilot of the Baddeck 1 who was plagued by problems and misfortunes. He experienced many aborted attempts during the meet and on his final flight, he crashed in a nearby field. The crowd rushed over and stripped vital parts from his aircraft for souvenirs, ending his participation.

De Lesseps's second aircraft, the Scarabee, was almost a week late arriving. It was uncrated and assembled in time for an historical flight the next day, July 2nd. De Lesseps made a 49 minute round trip to downtown Montreal, around Hotel de Ville (city hall) and back to Lakeside - A first for any Canadian city.

Other attractions made the meet a summer festival. There was a model aircraft contest and the winner was J Parkin of Toronto. He entered a model of the popular Bleriot airplane. The model can be seen today at the NRC in Ottawa.

Willard in fast plane 1910
Willard in fast plane
de Lesseps at Stratton crash in Weston
de Lesseps Weston
route over Toronto
route over Toronto
Bleachers site inWeston
Bleachers site
de Havelland
De Havilland
de Lesseps
de Lesseps
second f;ight over Montreal
2nd Flight
McCurdy at Weston
McCurdy at Weston
de Lesseps with Wright team at New York (now site of JFK Airport)
de Lesseps at NYC
de Lesseps at left with Curtiss at centre
de Lesseps, Curtiss
daredevil tricks to annoy the Wrights
bug the boss
resting at a meet
Resting at a meet

A few days later the meet moved to Toronto running from July 9th through July 16th. The aircraft were transported between meet sites by rail. The sponsor in Toronto was the Ontario Motor League (now the CAA). The site chosen was the Trethewey farm (near Eglinton and Jane). Like the Montreal location, it was near railway tracks running into the downtown. Both CPR and Grand Trunk (later part of the CNR) added extra trips to take spectators to the farm. Bleachers were set up at what is today Hearst Circle. Like the Montreal meet the flights were a gamble. Some took off as planned others didn't. One flight reached an altitude of 3,000 feet. On two days, there were two airplanes in the air at the same time. De Lesseps once again made a long circuit to city hall and back - this time a shorter 30 minute flight that covered nearly 18 km. The Trethewey airfield remained in service after the meet, attracting some small aircraft companies and other organizations such as de Havilland and the RCAF's 10 Squadron (later 400 Squadron). It closed in 1940 when Downsview opened a bit further east.

While the two Canadian meets didn't make a profit, they were successful in introducing aircraft and flying to thousands of Canadians. And while both meets had spectacular crashes, no one was killed. De Lesseps stayed in Toronto for a few days after the meet. Attending an event hosted by the exclusive York Club in the Gooderham mansion near Bloor, he was introduced to William MacKenzie, whose estate, Benvenuto, was nearby on Avenue Road. MacKenzie invited the young flyer to Benvenuto where he met MacKenzie's eldest daughter, 22 year old Grace.

After the Montreal and Toronto air meets, the Count returned to the US for the airshow at Belmont Park, NY (now JFK International airport).  While there, Grace and her sisters visited with him and he took her for a flight in his two-seat Bleriot. She became the first Canadian woman to fly. 

Their romance flourished and the couple married in London England the following year. They moved to Paris and when the Great War broke out, de Lesseps joined the French Army Air Service, helping to defend Paris. In addition to reconnaissance, de Lesseps is credited with attacking German Zeppelins, and piloting low level bombing runs. His wife Grace was also recognized for her help as a volunteer nurse. After 1918, de Lesseps worked on techniques for aerial photography and became involved in forestry surveys. 1923 was a bad year. His father-in-law, now sir William MacKenzie, died, the MacKenzie family wealth was dissipated, Benvenuto was sold for taxes, and his marriage failed.

In 1926, his company was commissioned by the Quebec government to do aerial surveys in the Gaspe. He went back to Canada to take charge using a Schreck seaplane. His main seaport was located on the waterfront in Gaspe with a secondary waterfront facility further west at Val Brilliant on Lac Matapedia. His family had moved back to Canada and his children, who went to school in Oakville, were able to visit him in Gaspe. During 1926 and the following year, he took thousands of aerial photographs not only of the Gaspe, but also of places like Montreal and Quebec City as well as the numerous villages between Montreal and Gaspe. Hundreds of his glass plates negatives were used to make photographic postcards. Much of his work has survived in museums, especially in the Gaspe.

The Canadian government had jurisdiction over the nascent aircraft industry stipulated that all companies in the industry had to be Canadian while the pilots were required to be British citizens. De Lesseps met the first criteria by registering his Gaspe operation as a Canadian subsidiary. He was working to gain his citizenship so he could continue flying but the issue dragged on. In late 1927, he was to attend a meeting at Val Brilliant on his citizenship. He intended to fly from Gaspe to Val Brilliant the day of the meeting, October 18th. The weather was bad, nevertheless he started out with his mechanic. An hour later over Val Brilliant his aircraft could be heard but the weather had turned so bad he could neither land nor be seen. He decided to fly north to land near the south shore of the St Lawrence River at Matane and return by land. His seaplane crashed while landing and he and his mechanic where thrown into the water. The fuselage stayed intact and searchers found it three days later. His body drifted with the currents, coming to shore 48 days later at Stephenville, Newfoundland. His mechanic's body was never found. De Lesseps was buried in Gaspe on December 14, 1927. Five years later friends designed and dedicated a monument in his name at Gaspe while Ontario named a lake and river about 90 km east of Sioux lookout after him.

His wife took vacations in Cuba after her family grew up. In poor health, she died there on her last visit in 1946 at the age of 56. Due to a lack of visits and a deteriorating cemetery, Carl suggested it would be a worthy project to bring her body home to lie with her parents at Kirkfield, Ontario in the Kawartha Lakes region.

Carl added many more details and anecdotes about that exciting year in aviation history - the first year of air shows in North America. Meets that brought famous pilots and their machines to our two largest cities.

de Lesseps aerial photo
Aerial Photo c1927
Schrek Seaplane
Schrek Seaplane
de Lesseps boys at school
Oakville school
de Lesseps last flight
Last flight
Lake de Lesseps, North-Western Ontario
Lake de Lesseps
McCurdy and model of the Silver Dart
McCurdy Silver Dart
Closing the Night - a NEX-5 panorama image
Closing the night - Mr Mills has left the building. A panorama shot using a Sony NEX5 camera with in-camera auto-stitching

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Bob Carter

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