Beavers Love Flying
Tom Lamb, founder of Lambair, once shuttled 16 beavers as part of a program to restock beavers into lakes around The Pas. It was the 1940s and, hard as it is to believe today, beavers had become almost extinct across Manitoba.
As he tells the tale, at 6,000 feet, the critters started escaping from their gunnysacks. The cabin was soon filled with curious beavers. They clambered over Lamb’s feet, stood on hind legs to inspect the control panels, and hopped onto seats for a better view—while Lamb tried to navigate his five-seater Stinson.
It got worse.
When Lamb arrived at his home in The Pas for a stopover, his three daughters invited their classmates over to help dress the beavers in petticoats and baby clothes. (It seems the beaver is a bit of a cuddler and, despite the fantastic choppers, doesn’t bite the way a muskrat does.)
When Tom’s plane finally started landing on lakes to restock, another problem arose. The beavers wouldn’t get out of the plane. They were like dogs in cars. They loved it. Tom would push them into the water and they’d scramble back up onto the pontoons.
Tom Lamb started Lambair Ltd. in 1935 – the first northern air service to provide everything from supply drops to medivacs. All six of his sons – (from left) Greg, Donald, Dennis, Jack, Doug and Conrad – would eventually become pilots and join him. He and his boys wandered all over the arctic in their float planes and ski planes and endured many narrow escapes in those pioneering days.
As employees in Lambair, the family would spread out across Northern Manitoba as far away as Baffin Island. Mom Jennie would take roll call by radio every morning. The rule was that if a family member didn’t report within 48 hours, the others dropped what they were doing and flew out to look for them.
The Last Great Frontiersman
Lambair Ltd. never suffered a single fatality in 46 years of operation. “It’s extremely doubtful that any other bush airline has equalled these passenger and mileage safety records,” said Leland Stowe, the Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist who penned the biography of Tom Lamb called, The Last Great Frontiersman (1982).
Lambair Ltd., went out of business in 1981 when it was caught by 22 per cent interest rates. Calm Air took it over and continues flying many of its Manitoba routes.
The Nunavut government honoured the Lambs, who all learned how to speak the Inuit language, with a ceremony in Rankin Inlet in 2007. The Manitoba Aviation Council honoured the surviving members of the Lamb family with its 2008 Pioneer of Flight Award.