To describe Tom Lamb as a self-made man would be an understatement. His parents were pioneers who set up a fur trading post at Moose Lake, north of The Pas, Manitoba in 1900. Tom Lamb’s father, known as ‘Ten Horse Power’ Lamb, due to his industrious spirit, put his two sons to work in the family business early in life. By age ten, Tom Lamb was driving horse carts laden with fish and furs 700 kilometers south to market in Winnipeg. From these beginnings, Lamb went on to create a major airline dedicated to serving the people of the North.
Tom Lamb started his airline literally by accident. In 1930, he was hauling a load of fish across 100 kilometers of frozen muskeg to the rail station at Cormorant Lake, when his tractor unexpectedly sunk into the muck. Desperate to save his load, Lamb signaled to the pilot of a passing airplane to land. Lamb hired the pilot of the Fairchild 71 on the spot to carry his fish the rest of the way. The pilot finished the delivery in three quick trips, before Lamb had dug his tractor dug out. That same year, Lamb traveled to Winnipeg and bought his first airplane, a Stinson Reliant and taught himself to fly.
Lamb earned his commercial pilot licence in 1935 and began making chartered deliveries. He called his company Lamb Air, which was later simplified to Lambair. Lamb had six sons and would often bring one along on flights, sitting the boys on his lap so he could teach them the controls. His sons Greg, Donald, Dennis, Jack, Doug, and Conrad all became pilots and aircraft engineers. Together, the Lamb’s came to form the largest family-run airline in the world.
In the company’s early days, Lamb would often fly into the uncharted territories of northern Canada. To navigate without the benefit of maps, Greg Lamb recalls that his father would, “… sit with a piece of paper in his lap and trace out the prominent landmarks. On the return journey, he’d have his own map that would lead him back home.”
‘Do not ask us where we fly, tell us where you want to go’ was the Lambair motto and represented the company’s willingness to satisfy any customer. By the 1970s, Lambair operated aircraft of every shape and size – from helicopters to the Bristol Freighter, which had a capacity exceeding five tonnes. Lambair operated 25 aircraft and employed more than eighty people, until Calm Air bought them out in 1980.
Tom Lamb made a career of taking on challenges and developing lasting connection between northern peoples and the major cities of the south. In addition to all his accomplishments, Tom Lamb also founded Canada’s first nature conservancy in 1931 to protect a dwindling muskrat population. In 1953, Lamb began breeding Herefordshire Cattle at The Pas, establishing the northernmost ranch of its kind in the world. For his pioneering efforts, Lamb, a man with less than three years of formal education, received an honorary doctorate from the University of Manitoba in 1968.
Examples of the Stinson Reliant, Fairchild 71, and Bristol Freighter can be seen at the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada.