The below story will continue coinciding with future editions of Town Talk. Our thanks to the Stratford Heritage Sub-Committee for bringing this story together.....



First Canadian Transatlantic Flight Takes Off from Tea Hill, Stratford

PART I

Just before supper on September 13, 1930, Reginald MacLean and his cousin Alfred McNeill were returning from a Saturday afternoon swim at MacRae’s shore at Tea Hill. As they approached the top of the farm, the boys were amazed at an airplane landing a short distance away. They approached the aircraft and saw two occupants dressed in caps, goggles, tunics, and breeches. One of the two men from the plane asked the boys where they were, and the boys replied that this was Tea Hill, Prince Edward Island.

The aircraft was a Bellanca monoplane, christened Columbia, and piloted by Capt. Erroll Boyd and navigator, Lieut. Harry Connor. Captain Boyd, a native of Toronto, was a celebrated pilot of the Great War. In fact, Boyd learned to fly under the tutelage of John Alcock , who was to gain fame with Brown in 1919 for the first nonstop Atlantic crossing. The second occupant was Lieut. Connors, noted to be one of the most talented navigators in the United States.

Image of plane and 3 people

Bellanca monoplane Columbia at Tea Hill, Stratford (1930). Photo courtesy of Aggi-Rose Reddin.

The pair of aviators, Boyd and Connors, left Montreal early that morning. Their intended destination was Harbour Grace, Newfoundland en route to England to attempt the first Canadian transatlantic flight. At first, Erroll Boyd had planned his transatlantic flight to take off from Old Orchard Beach, Maine where the hard, wet sand would be ideal. However, he had a change of mind; since Lindbergh had crossed the Atlantic from United States, Boyd decided to start his flight from his native Canada.

The plane was suited with the latest in navigation instruments including a sextant, aero-chronometer, various compasses, a Sperry artificial horizon, inclinometer, thermometer, and tachometer. It was the very plane that three years earlier had carried the first transatlantic passenger, just two weeks after Lindbergh’s famous flight. Captain Erroll Boyd expressed his confidence in the aircraft: “She’s the same ship that took Chamberlin and Levine across and she’s just the ship to do it again”.

In advance of the flight, the Columbia was rechristened the Maple Leaf in honour of Canada and the song “The Maple Leaf Forever”. Despite history-in-the-making, Boyd received little monetary backing due to the onset of the Great Depression. With minimal financial support, Boyd and Connor took off, leaving behind Montreal, as well as some unpaid bills. 

Montreal to Tea Hill

The journey began from St. Hubert Airport in Montreal just after 8:30 am. For six hours the plane flew through continuous rain until they were well over New Brunswick. Flight navigator Harry Connor recorded: “the ceiling was 1000 ft. to 1500 ft. accompanied by strong head winds and rain. Visibility was poor, but due to the skillful piloting of Capt. Boyd we managed to ‘sneak’ through the mountains. Personally, I much prefer flying over oceans to mountains in such weather!”

The fliers circled over Charlottetown at 3:15 pm, the first city of any size since leaving Montreal. They continued to East Point and onto Cape Breton. Averaging a speed of 80 miles per hour in the face of prevailing headwinds, the flyers were concerned about a night landing in Newfoundland at an unlit airport. So, an hour after passing over Charlottetown, the pair decided to turn around. “The flat land of the Island looked good so we decided to come back,” Boyd later commented. Boyd and Connor made their unplanned landing at Tea Hill at 5:30 pm. 

PEI Welcome Fliers

It wasn’t long before a small crowd gathered at the landing site. Among the curious was Dr. J. S. Jenkins of Charlottetown’s Upton Farm. Jenkins invited Boyd and Connor to stay with him and his wife Louise at their home, where he hosted a welcome party late into the night. News of Boyd and Connor’s unexpected arrival on PEI spread far and wide. Even a South Carolina newspaper reported the Tea Hill landing in a front-page story. 

Upon arriving on PEI, Boyd and Connor were distressed to learn that their flight manager was being held by the Montreal police for non-payment of the pair’s hotel bill - a bill made larger by Navigator Harry Connor’s newly acquired suit that he had charged to the room. Eventually, the financial situation was resolved to satisfaction, while a Charlottetown haberdasher presented Capt. Erroll Boyd with a new outfit so that the pilot was “no longer shabbier than his navigator.”

Boyd and Connor intended to spend just one night on PEI, however, weather conditions on Sunday were unfavorable for continuing the flight to Harbour Grace. Warnings came from both Toronto and Halifax to stay put until forecast conditions improved.

Boyd and Connor made the most of their time on PEI. On Sunday afternoon, they paid a visit to PEI’s Lieutenant Governor, F.R. Heartz, and were officially welcomed by Charlottetown’s mayor. That evening, the pair were dinner guests of Dr. Jenkins.

While Boyd and Connor enjoyed Charlottetown’s social scene, the monoplane remained in the field at Tea Hill. A police officer was stationed to guard the plane, and soon discovered that he had to erase the names of some visitors who had left their mark on the aircraft. Later in the week, Boyd and Connors inspected the monoplane and found the mechanism to be in perfect condition. They took extra precaution to anchor the plane and protect it from the elements.

On Thursday afternoon, Boyd and Connor enjoyed a cruise in Hillsborough Bay. And on Friday, their 7th day on PEI, they were guests at the Rotary luncheon. The pair expressed their appreciation of the courtesy and hospitality shown them during their stay.

A member of the Jenkins family recalled that their two guests were always supposed to depart “the next day”. Dutifully, each evening, Louise Jenkins would prepare sandwiches of peanut butter, bacon and whole wheat bread for Boyd and Connor to take with them on the next leg of their flight.

With the passing of each day, the risk of bad weather over the Atlantic increased. One weather expert suggested that Boyd and Connor stay on PEI, postponing the flight until the following spring. Many years later Boyd wrote that he and Connor had considered the idea of staying; however, “after several days of reveling in this hospitality, Harry ran afoul of one of the town’s social debutantes, so I decided it would be wise to make a quick departure.”

To be continued with Part II in the January 2020 edition of Town Talk. . .

 


1 Letter to the editor, “I witnessed this event” Guardian, 23 Sept 2005, p.
2 Charlottetown Guardian, 15 Sept 1930, p. 1.
3 The Lindbergh of Canada: The Erroll Boyd Story, by Ross Smyth. Published by General Store Publishing House, Ont., 1997, p. 2.
4 Charlottetown Guardian, 15 Sept 1930, p. 3.
5 The Lindbergh of Canada: The Erroll Boyd Story, 1997, p. 77.
6 Charlottetown Guardian, 15 Sept 1930, p. 3.
7 Charlottetown Guardian, 24 Sept 1930, p. 3.
8 The Lindbergh of Canada: The Erroll Boyd Story, 1997, pp. 80-81.
9 Harbour Grace Airport Log, by Harry Connor. Found at http://www.planecrashgirl.ca/2017/11/09/columbia-nx237/
10 Charlottetown Guardian, 15 Sept 1930, p. 3.
11 Spartan Herald, 15 September 1930, p. 1.
12 The Lindbergh of Canada: The Erroll Boyd Story, 1997, pp. 83-84.
13 Charlottetown Guardian, 15 Sept 1930, p. 1.
14 Charlottetown Guardian, 16 Sept 1930, p. 1.
15 Charlottetown Guardian, 15 Sept 1930, p.3.
16 Charlottetown Guardian, 17 Sept 1930, p. 1.
17 Charlottetown Guardian, 19 Sept 1930, p. 1
18 Charlottetown Guardian, 19 Sept 1930, p. 1.
19 Charlottetown Guardian, 20 Sept 1930, p. 11.
20 The Lindbergh of Canada: The Erroll Boyd Story, 1997, p. 85.
21 The Lindbergh of Canada: The Erroll Boyd Story, 1997, p. 87.