In the early 1920s, the Canadian North was a vast, largely unexplored tract of land thought to contain an unlimited abundance of natural resources. Getting around this uncharted wilderness took time by canoe or sled; a more efficient means of travel was needed.
The airplane had demonstrated its military value during the First World War, but the bombers and fighters developed during this conflict were totally unsuited for northern use. Canada’s Air Board recognized their limitations and sought new aircraft capable of fulfilling the fledgling Canadian Air Force’s civilian roles of forest protection, survey flying and aerial photography. What was needed was an airplane able to land on snow, water and ice, with short takeoff capabilities from northern lakes. The answer was the Vickers Viking – the first new aircraft ordered by the Canadian Air Force.
The Viking was amphibious, which meant it could operate off water or land. It was a single-engine biplane with a nearly flat-sided hull. It was manufactured in Canada by Canadian Vickers utilizing durable, seasoned Canadian timber. Eight Vikings were ordered by the Canadian Air Force in 1923 and were operationally deployed from 1924 to 1931.
But the first Viking to fly in Canada was British-built. In June 1922, Laurentide Air Service Ltd. of Quebec imported Viking G-CAEB. It operated across Canada and in 1926 was purchased by Northern Syndicate Ltd., a group of Calgary investors, for mineral exploration in the uncharted territories east of Great Slave Lake. This aircraft did visit Edmonton briefly in 1926 but it spent most of its time traversing the North, greatly facilitating prospecting in the wilderness.
The Vickers Viking was to prove the value of aircraft use in the North and helped pave the way for the bush pilots who opened the North to economic development. The Museum’s 7/8 scale replica of Viking G-CAEB is on loan from the Bomber Command Museum in Nanton and was originally built for the 1993 movie “Map of the Human Heart.”