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Rain, Shine, Sleet Or Snow

Rain, Shine, Sleet Or Snow

Heroes turned mail-boys turned heroes once more
By Herb Mathisen
Aug 02
From the August/September 2016 Issue

Oh, how the imaginations of pre-airplane Northerners must have raced—their jealousies bubbled, their doubts simmered, their hearts ached—as they waited as much as a year between letters from loved-ones on the outside.

What did the airplane do for the delivery of mail in Canada’s North? Well, think email compared to plain old snail mail. Before the first bush pilots began running mail in the late 1920s, it only got into remote communities by dogsled in winter or by canoe and ship during the few, fleeting ice-free months.

But in June 1929, Punch Dickins flew the first plane into Aklavik, NWT, on a mail run from Edmonton for Western Canada Airways. And he stopped into every community up the Mackenzie River. His earlier landmark 6,000-plus kilometre trip across the barrenlands in 1928 took him 37 flight hours over 12 flying days, which sounds like a long time today. 

But consider that Dickins estimated the trip would have been close to two years if he’d undertaken it by boat, canoe and dog team. Instant messaging, indeed.

Surprisingly, when it came time to hand out the first airmail contract in the NWT, Dickins wouldn’t get it. It would go to Wop May. Maybe you’ve heard of him?