Cracking open a ‘treasure trove’ of aviation history in northwestern Canada

Pilot and aviation historian Bob Cameron outside the old Northern Airways office in Carcross, Yukon. He’s hoping to turn the shuttered building into a small musuem. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)
Bob Cameron calls it a “treasure trove” of Yukon aviation history.

The small, unassuming building in Carcross was once the head office of Northern Airways, a pioneering Yukon company that operated in the 1930s and ’40s.

Cameron — a pilot and history buff — recently cracked open the vault to begin sorting through what’s there. It’s a lot, and Cameron is now hoping to turn the disused office into a small museum.

“I can tell you that I now know that [Northern Airways owner] George Simmons did not throw away a single scrap of paper. Believe me, everything he scribbled a note on — everything — was kept,” Cameron said.

“As far as preserving our aviation history in the Yukon, this is just a treasure trove because it gives you so much detail. You know, you see how the pilots were paid, how much they were paid, his interactions with all of his customers.”Bob Cameron, pilot and history buff
‘[Northern Airways owner] George Simmons did not throw away a single scrap of paper,’ Cameron said. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

Cameron has already found some interesting stuff, including piles of old telegrams. He’s even found one from Hollywood star Lana Turner, hoping to book a flight from Carcross to Dawson City.

“I think it was 1947. I have not found anything else to indicate whether the flight took place or not, but that caught my eye,” he said.

The office is like a time capsule.

Cameron said it’s mostly been left alone over the decades since Northern Airways folded. Occasionally, over the years, someone would stash some more boxes inside but it appears little was ever removed — including the racy 1950s pin-ups that decorate what was Simmons’s office.

“You can see he had some unique decor on the walls, which so far we’ve not disturbed at all,” Cameron said.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of interesting items in the drawers of that desk. Certainly all the, you know, Northern Airways stamps, the rubber stamps for stamping documents, are all laying there. It’s just as if [Simmons] got up and walked away from the desk.”

The Carcross office has been mostly left alone for decades. (Dave White/CBC)
‘Yukon’s first reliable air service’

In its heyday, Northern Airways was the only airline operating in Yukon, and offering regular passenger and freight service between Carcross and Atlin, B.C.

“In Alaska, the air service was going gangbusters. So the Yukon was kind of lagging behind. And of course timing was perfect for George Simmons to start the Yukon’s first reliable air service.”Bob Cameron

Eventually, Simmons had some competition, and a road was also built to Atlin so there was less demand for air service to the community. Simmons sold all his airplanes by 1950, but stayed in business for years as a trucking company.

A Northern Airways plane on the lake ice at Atlin, B.C., in front of the White Pass Hotel. (Submitted by Bob Cameron)

A few years ago, Cameron and some other aviation enthusiasts formed the Carcross Aerodrome Society to advocate for preserving the air strip in that community. Now the group is keen to turn the Northern Airways office into a museum.

Along with the contents of the Carcross office, the group has piles of old photographs and other artifacts from the airline’s heyday.

But there’s still something missing.

“Right now, the only thing we need is money,” Cameron said.

“We’ve got, you know, a lot of enthusiastic support but we don’t have any money.”

CBC News

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