Davide Montebruno, Curator, Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada
The first airplane to fly over Winnipeg took off from the Dufferin Avenue fairground on a July afternoon in 1911. Among the observers was 14 year old Konrad Johannesson. Konnie, as he was known to friends, snuck away from the crowd to get a close look at the Curtiss Pusher ‘flying machine’ and, before he was chased away by a mechanic, a deep fascination with flight was born in the young man. Upon graduating from Kelvin High School, Johannesson studied engineering for two years at the University of Manitoba. In 1916 stories of the First World War fighting airplanes enticed Johannesson to enlist with the Royal Flying Corps.
Johannesson began his flight training at Ismalia, Egypt, on a Farman MF.7 Longhorn, which was similar to the first plane he had seen fly in Winnipeg. After 10 hours of flight time on the Longhorn and ten days of ad hoc training on various fighter planes used in the field, Johannesson was moved to ‘Pool,’ where replacements pilots waited for active duty. It was in this ‘Pool’ that military flight training began to formalise into the School of Aerial Fighting. Konnie Johannesson was in the right place at the right time, and, being one of the few fully-trained pilots in the ‘Pool,’ he was appointed a Pilot Instructor in the new school.
In 1919 the war was over in Egypt, and Johannesson was on his way home to Winnipeg. In 1919 flying jobs were few and far between, so instead, the athletic young Johannesson joined the Winnipeg Falcons hockey team as a defenseman. Johannesson would become best known for the Winnipeg Falcon’s gold medal victory at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics in Belgium, Canada’s first international hockey victory.
At age 31, Johannesson retired from pro hockey, and in 1927 the city of Winnipeg hired him as the first Airport Manager. Under his supervision, Winnipeg’s Stevenson Field grew from a nearly vacant airstrip to one of western Canada’s busiest air centres, following the construction of large hangar facilities by Canadian Airways Limited in 1931. By 1934 Johannesson was tired of desk jobs and decided once again to pursue a more active career. He bought a de Havilland DH.60 Moth and opened a passenger flying service which he operated out of Stevenson Field and a dock on the Red River near the Redwood Bridge.
‘Johannesson Flying Service’ was an instant success. Johannesson personally transported about 150 passengers each year into central Manitoba with his two-seater biplane. With a new threat of war looming in Europe and the demand for airline pilots growing at home, Johannesson expanded his business to flight instruction. Johannesson was recognized in 1937 for his role in the original First World War School of Aerial Fighting as a “Master Flying Instructor of the British Empire.” His expertise and notoriety both as an athlete and a world-renowned instructor made Johannesson one of Winnipeg’s most sought-after flight trainers. After the war, Konnie Johannesson established ‘Rivercrest,’ a floatplane base in the Municipality of West St. Paul, which he operated until his retirement in 1965.