In the year 1930, one man and one airline stood between Canadian air independence and the looming threat of American buyouts. This was James A. Richardson, who had created Western Canada Airways in 1926 to open up and develop the North. Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight in 1927 had opened the eyes of American industrialists to the value of flight on an international scale and they started buying up many small aviation companies in eastern Canada. Richardson recognized Canada’s need for a national airline and, using Western Canada Airways as the nucleus, he created Canadian Airways Limited in 1930 with federal government assistance that came in the form of airmail contracts. One Ottawa insider of the depression era remembers Richardson as being, “… in himself, the only nationally unifying force in air planning in the country.”
Unfortunately, the economic depression of the 1930s resulted in the federal government cutting the airmail contracts it had given Canadian Airways. Faced with a harsh economic climate Richardson once again turned north, knowing that at stake was the livelihood of his employees and perhaps the entire Canadian air industry. Western Canada Airway’s fleet of Fokker and Fairchild bush planes was ideal for prospecting and servicing the mines of the north. However, heavy iron boilers and milling equipment exceeded the approximately 2,000 lb. capacity of these planes and these loads had to be transported over land, often by portage at astronomical cost. Richardson had already envisioned a way over this hurdle, an enormous aircraft which could access the remote corners of the Canadian Shield.
The depression was also taking a toll on airplane manufacturers around the world. In Germany, aircraft giant Junkers began drastic revamps to give buyers more bang for their buck. The result was the largest all-metal aircraft of the era, the JU-52 or Iron Annie, as she was affectionately known in Germany. Most JU-52s were built with three engines but Richardson ordered his to be fitted with a single Rolls-Royce Buzzard 850 hp engine, which was more powerful than the standard 685 hp BMW engines normally used by Junkers. It was one of only six single-engine Annie’s ever to be constructed.
When Richardson’s JU-52, registered CF-ARM, arrived in Canada in 1931, it was not only the largest airplane in the country but the largest single-engine aircraft in all of North America. The big Junkers was known in Canada as the ‘Flying Boxcar’ and, with a capacity of nearly 8,000 lbs., it was a boon for those who needed to transport ungainly or heavy items. CF-ARM took off on floats or skis from the Brandon Avenue Base at the foot of Winnipeg’s Brandon Avenue on the Red River carrying everything from mining equipment to cattle. This gave Canadian Airways Limited an edge – typical of the innovation for which Richardson had become famous.
The Flying Boxcar was just one example of how northern freight service was revolutionised by Richardson and Canadian Airways Limited. In 1985, the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada, thanks to the Richardson Foundation, purchased a tri-motor Junkers 52, which Bristol Aerospace reconfigured into a single engine version. The plane was painted with the Flying Goose emblem and colours of Canadian Airways and is now on permanent display in the museum’s collection.