Punch Dickins

The Snow Eagle

Born: 12 January 1899, Portage La Prairie, Manitoba
Died: 3 August 1995, Toronto, Ontario

Clennell Haggerston Dickins moved with his family to Edmonton when he was ten years old. Seven years later, he enlisted in the Royal Flying Corp. He flew seventy-three missions during World War I and at age eighteen, earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. He served in the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1921 to 1927 and then joined Western Canadian Airways. He convinced the company that a northern mail service was needed and on 23 January 1929, Dickins left to deliver the first airmail to the Northwest Territories. His route took him from Waterways, Alberta to Fort Simpson, NWT and then on to Aklavik in the Arctic. The Canadian goverment was impressed but, later that year, awarded a contract for the mail service to Wop May's company.

Punch Dickins was a bush pilot, often flying over unmapped areas of Northern Canada and sometimes so close to the magnetic north pole that compass navigation was impossible. He was the first pilot to fly along the Arctic coastline, he made the first flight over the Barren Lands in the Northwest Territories, and he was the first to fly the full length of the Mackenzie River, a distance of 2,000 miles which he covered in 2 days. In 1930, he flew the first prospectors to Great Bear Lake where uranium was discovered and in 1936, he conducted a 10,000 mile air survey of Northern Canada.

During World War II, Dickins managed six flight training schools. After the war, he joined DeHavilland Aircraft and, among other things, promoted the Beaver bushplane.

Punch Dickins was the second recipient of the Trans-Canada (McKee) Trophy in 1928. He was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1935, an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1968, and the Government of Canada named him one of the most outstanding Canadians of the country's first century. He was also a co-founder of the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame and was inducted as a member in 1974.

Dickins didn't stop flying until he was seventy-eight years old and when he died in 1995, his son John scattered his ashes along the Mackenzie River.

Additional trivia:

The Inuit called Dickins ‘Tingmashuk’ which means ‘birdman’.

Dickins flew a Fokker Super Universal, G-CASK, on his historic airmail trip to the Northwest Territories.

Thanks to Patricia Dickins for the correction on the Fokker's call letters.


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By Province · Alberta · Manitoba
By Claim to Fame · Aviation · Firsts

Added 17 January 2004.