This Week in History


Birthday of Bush Pilot "Punch" Dickens

This story was initially published in 1998

On January 12, 1899, Clennell Haggerston Dickins, later known as "Punch," was born in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. At the young age of 18, Punch enlisted in the Canadian military, and later joined the Royal Flying Corps. During the First World War, Punch became one of the many distinguished Canadian pilots flying for Britain. After the war, Punch and a few other young Canadian pilots were able to continue flying because of their willingness to test the limits of air transportation. These men became known as bush pilots.

Delivery of Air Mail

Delivery of Air Mail
© City of Edmonton Archives / EA-10-1426

Even in the 1920s, very little was known about the Canadian north. Settlement was scarce and communication was challenging. Bush pilots travelled in planes barely resembling those of today, into territory very few people were familiar with. They flew supplies to remote areas and were particularly important in northern mining operations, where they searched for interesting rock formations in addition to transporting people and goods. Bush pilots have provided aircraft service to trappers and missionaries as well as geologists and surveyors. Since the 1920s they have also been important in transporting doctors and other health care professionals, or bringing victims of illness and accidents to medical centres.

In more recent years, the face of the North has changed. Good radio and navigation facilities and up-to-date weather information services are now available, larger settlements have landing strips, and helicopters have been introduced. These features have altered both northern Canada and bush flying, but many bush pilots continue to serve those who live in remote areas of the North. Bush Pilots are commemorated by a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque at Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Punch Dickins is also recognized as being of National Historic Significance.

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