The Ayling and Reid Flight

The de Havilland Dragon biplane flown by Ayling and Reid. © Wasaga Beach Archives / 001.5. Trail of the Caribou

For the week of Monday, August 8, 2022

On August 8, 1934, James Ayling and Leonard Reid took off in a De Havilland Dragon biplane from the shores of Wasaga Beach, Ontario. They were headed for Baghdad, Iraq, hoping to break the long-distance record of 9,105 kilometres (5,657.6 miles) held by French aviators, but were forced to land in England after more than 30 hours in the air. Although they never reached their destination, their nonstop transatlantic crossing represented an important achievement in the history of Canadian aviation.
There had been considerable technological advancements since 1909, when Silver Dart made the first powered flight in Canadian history. A few years later, the First World War accelerated innovation and new aircraft were capable of carrying heavy loads over long distances.

Aviators pushed these aircraft to their limits to fly nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1919, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown of the Royal Air Force made the first successful transatlantic flight, a 16-hour journey from Newfoundland to Ireland. In 1930, Erroll Boyd became the first Canadian to fly across the Atlantic, with the support of his American navigator Harry Connor. They took off from Newfoundland—which did not become part of Canada until 1949—and landed on the Isles of Scilly in southwest England.
Planning to make their own transatlantic flight from Wasaga Beach, Jimmy Mollison and Amy Johnson of Britain acquired a DH.84 Dragon in 1933. It was a lightweight, relatively fast, fuel-efficient aircraft, which had to be fitted with extra fuel tanks for the long-distance flight. However, their attempt failed when the plane was damaged on takeoff.

In 1934, Ayling and Reid decided to take up the challenge by flying from Wasaga Beach to Baghdad. They purchased the Dragon aircraft from Mollison and Johnson, which had been in storage at De Havilland Aircraft of Canada near Toronto, and renamed it The Trail of the Caribou. De Havilland Canada readied the plane, changing the engines and removing equipment that could be spared, so the Dragon could carry extra fuel.

Crowds gathered on Wasaga Beach to watch The Trail of the Caribou takeoff on August 8, 1934. Ayling and Reid climbed to a high altitude to gain fuel economy, enduring frigid temperatures that froze the throttle in a fully open position, increasing their fuel consumption. Eventually, they had no choice but to make an emergency landing at the Heston airport in Middlesex, England, on August 9. They had been flying for just over 30 hours. While they did not break the record for the longest continuous flight to date, Ayling and Reid became the first aviators to take off from Canada and land in Britain.

The Ayling and Reid Flight and the Alcock-Brown Transatlantic Flight were designated as national historic events in 1949 and 1950, respectively. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) advises the Government of Canada on the commemoration of national historic events, which evoke significant moments, episodes, movements, or experiences in the history of Canada.

The National Program of Historical Commemoration relies on the participation of Canadians in the identification of places, events and persons of national historic significance. Any member of the public can nominate a topic for consideration by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Learn how to participate in this process.

Learn more about Parks Canada’s approach to public history by checking out the Framework for History and Commemoration (2019) on our website.