Early Aviation History

by Gord Emberley CM (April 13, 2013)

Lac du Bonnet Town DockThe first recorded use of Lac du Bonnet as a base of operations for an aircraft is July of 1922 when the Canadian Air Force (pre RCAF 1924) was doing survey work in the area.

Western Canada Airways followed in 1926 and the RCAF in 1927. In 1924 Canadian Vickers of Montreal designed and built the Vedette flying boat for the RCAF and they operated a number of these aircraft out of Lac du Bonnet until 1933. Amoung many of its achievements it was the first designed and built aircraft in Canada. Due to the “depression of 1929”, cutbacks in  RCAF personnel resulted in layoffs and a reductions in Civil Operations.

In 1932 negotiations between the Dominion Government and the Province of Manitoba resulted in the RCAF turning over six Mk.ll Vedette flying boats for the sum of $ 1.00 each with the provision that the Manitoba Government would also employ five ex RCAF pilots who had been released from active service. Later two newer Mk.V Vedettes were added to the fleet.

Manitoba Government Air Service C-FMAU ...photo by John W. OlafsonThis was the start of the Manitoba Government Air Service and the construction of its main base of Operation and Maintenance in Lac du Bonnet.

The last Vedette aircraft, CF-MAG, was withdrawn from service in 1937. (The salvaged remains are on view at the Western Canada Aviation Museum, Winnipeg, MB.) The service history of the Vedette and the pilots and engineers who flew in them is well recorded in the annals of Canadian accomplishments. Residents of Lac du Bonnet worked for and with the air and ground crews and remember this part of their history.

Throughout the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s many other companies, such as Western Canada Airways (Canadian Airways), Starratt Airways, Wings Limited, Canadian Pacific Airlines, Central Northern Airways, Trans Air Limited, Wendigo Wings, Air Park and Whiteshell Air Service, operated out of Lac du Bonnet.

Today Provincial Helicopters and Adventure Air are the only two companies currently serving the community. As well many private operators made Lac du Bonnet their base of operations.

From our past history one can see that Aviation played a significant roll in the cultural, economic and social life of our community. The Vickers Vedette is a significantly unique aircraft to remind us of our past and will further enhance the cairn already in place that commemorates the existence of RCAF Station Lac du Bonnet.

Canadian Vickers Vedette

Monument Takes Flight

The monument is located at the town dock on Third Street in Lac du Bonnet.

Canadian Vickers Vedette Sculpture by Gordon Reeve

Canadian Vickers Vedette Sculpture by Gordon Reeve



Constructing the Vedette


Remembering the Vedette

Airplane replica to be placed at La Verendrye boat launch (Moved to the Town dock in 2023)

By Marc Zienkiewicz (Spring 2009 – Experience Lac du Bonnet)

Canadian Vickers VedetteA University of Manitoba professor and sculptor is set to begin building what could become a major tourist attraction in Lac du Bonnet. Gordon Reeve has been chosen by the Lac du Bonnet Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee (MHAC) to build a monument that will commemorate an historic aircraft that operated in the community in the early 20th century — the Vickers Vedette. Reeve is well-known in Manitoba for his sculpture Justice, which stands outside the Law Courts building in downtown Winnipeg. He also designed the public art project Agassiz Ice on the Portage Avenue side of the Assiniboine Park footbridge. He’s also dabbled in film, creating the 1992 documentary Moment of Light about ballerina Evelyn Hart. Reeve noted the site chosen for the monument — the La Verendrye boat launch along Hwy. 502 — will be turned into a green space that may include composting washroom facilities, and even a device that would use the river to generate power that would be used to power things located on the green space. The Vedette monument will contain a water pump that creates a mist to create the illusion of the plane taking off. “I want people to go there and get the feeling that they’re visiting a site that’s completely unspoiled,” Reeve said. “The Vedette was a flying canoe, and the canoe connects us to the entire history of man. Since it was created, the canoe’s basic design hasn’t really changed at all.” It was also the first aircraft built in Canada. “We want people to be able to picnic there and really enjoy the site,” MHAC chairman Gord Emberley said. Best of all, the green space will be as environmentally friendly as possible. “We want to emphasize the ‘green’ aspect of it,” he added. The project has been in the works for five years, and the MHAC recently began a campaign to solicit donations to help fund the project’s $37,000 first phase. There’s no shortage of people in the community who either have been or are currently involved in aviation. Emberley said project organizers found 80 people in the Eastern Manitoba phone directory who fit that description. “We’ll be approaching all of them to ask for help in funding this,” he said. If enough funding comes through, construction of the Vickers Vedette replica could begin as early as July or August. Seeing as 2010 is the 100th anniversary of the first flight in Manitoba, it seems all the more appropriate, Emberley noted.


Reeve was drawn to the project because it involves more than just a steel replica of an airplane, he said. “When it comes to my art, my goal is to not only give people something to look at, but to give them an actual experience,” he said. “My work is always site-specific. This will be a place where people will come to learn how they can better care for the environment.” With thousands of cottagers flocking to the region each summer, Reeve envisions the site becoming an educational one for those who choose to make the region their summertime playground. “No matter what we do as human beings, we have an impact on our environment,” he said. “I want to show people that as a society we have to start seriously thinking about that.” Emberley feels the Vedette itself is a good metaphor for environmental stewardship. “The Vedette was a green aircraft — it discharged its cargo from the water and left no footprint,” he said. For information on the project or to donate, Emberley can be reached at 345-8916 or e-mail vergo@mts.net.


Jim Uhlman – Pilot

Jim Uhlman – Pilot

Making Aviation History

First Arctic Coast flight made by Lac du Bonnet man

Provided By Marc Zienkiewicz (Spring 2009 – Experience Lac du Bonnet)

Lac du Bonnet certainly has a colourful history when it comes to aviation, being the site of the first airmail delivery flight in Canada, not to mention many other things. But not many know that one of Lac du Bonnet’s very own residents helmed the first Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) flight to the Arctic coast.

According to air force documents provided by area historian Gord Emberley, the late Jim Uhlman of Lac du Bonnet made the flight in 1930 at the request of Canada’s Civil Government Air Operations (CGAO), a civil service division of the RCAF. “This has never before been printed,” Emberley said. “It really is a fascinating piece of Lac du Bonnet history, in light of 2009 being the 100th anniversary of aviation.” Indeed, this year does represent a century of Canadian aviation.

RCAF Station Lac du Bonnet / Lac du Bonnet Airport

RCAF Station / Lac du Bonnet Airport

Canadian Vickers VedetteThe Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was founded on April 1, 1924, partially to meet the increased demand for civil air services, particularly forest fire patrols, in western Canada. In 1926, #1 Wing of the RCAF in Winnipeg moved its main operations from Victoria Beach to Lac du Bonnet. One building was moved onto the site where grounds and a slipway were being prepared. That year AVRO 504 seaplanes, Vickers Vikings and two Vickers Vedette flying boats conducted aerial photography, forest mapping, treaty and medical flights. As wireless telephone transmitters had been installed in aircraft in 1925, the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals established a ground station on the site. New buildings were added – including a pigeon rookery, as pigeons were carried on board the aircraft as backup communications.

In 1927, 90% of all forestry patrol work in Canada was carried out from the Winnipeg Air Station sub bases at Lac du Bonnet, Norway House, Cormorant Lake, Winnipegossis and Ladder Lake, Saskatchewan. Of these bases, Lac du Bonnet was the most active, having flown 371.20 hours on patrol. The combined extent of all these patrol areas was 23,371,533 hectares (57,752,085 acres) and 106 fires were detected during 1,344.25 hours of flying.

Airport CairnBy 1930 “Civil Government Air Operations” reached its peak of activity only to cease to exist in 1931 due to financial constraints and the transfer of natural resources to the provinces. Consequently, in 1932, Lac du Bonnet Air Station was placed on “care and maintenance” and designated a General Purpose Flight with only one Vickers Vedette flying boat.

During 1933, miscellaneous services were provided from Lac du Bonnet for various government departments including flights to the Territories and an inspection by the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police of its northern detachment.

RCAF operations ceased in 1937 and the Department of Transport assumed responsibility for the site.

The facilities were used for a short time by the Manitoba Government Air Service in 1932 and subsequently through the years by local air service operators. Following World War II (1939 – 1945) the facility was assigned to Crown Assets Disposal Corporation for its final disposition. With its purchase by the Manitoba Government in the 1970’s, the airport has been upgraded to its present standard, and is now owned by the Rural Municipality of Lac du Bonnet and operated by the Regional Airport Authority.