Clennell Haggerston “Punch” Dickins logged more than one million miles of flight over Canada’s northern wilderness. But before he became a legend in the North and earned the local nickname of ‘Snow Eagle,’ Dickins was one of few bomber pilots to be named an ace in World War I, having downed five or more enemy aircraft—seven, in his case.
Dickins was born in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, and grew up in Edmonton. After the war, he would open up the country’s first airport in 1927, be the first to fly over the barrenlands in 1928—without maps and few landmarks—and operate the first commercial flight over the Mackenzie basin to destinations north of the Arctic Circle. He was a confident pilot, and it’s said he wouldn’t admit to being lost, but would instead land the plane and have a cup of tea and re-establish his bearings.
He was one of 80 bush pilots surveyed by de Havilland in 1946 as they gathered input on Northern and Arctic flying conditions to inform future aircraft designs. Dickins provided a wealth of advice on technical changes that could be made to their aircraft and was invited to join the company as a consultant. He’d help the company pioneer short-takeoff and landing aircraft—such as the iconic Beaver bushplane and the Otters, Buffalo and Dash-7—which, under the helm of expert pilots, opened up the North.
Dickins flew until he was 78 and died at age 96 in Toronto in 1995.