1946-58

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Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement July 23, 1986

 

 

EPA’S Jim Lewington

To see the best days of the Gander airport in terms of Newfoundland airline industry growth is not to see beyond “Jim Lewington”, as he is commonly known and respected.

Though Eastern Provincial Airways no longer exists, which is another story, this airline, nevertheless, had such an exciting history at Gander that its sudden and impressive emergence is among highlights of the airport.

And to trace these is to present Jim Lewington, a small, unpretentious man, but a familiar figure at Gander, and how he became involved and is credited with much of the success that was EPA’s.Lewington

Arthur James Lewington, 78, is a native of Oshawa, Ontario and went to work as an office boy there in 1924 with General Motors of Canada, whose president was Col. Sam McLaughlin.  He earned $9.00 per week.

Two years later he decided to pursue further education so he left for the United States.  The pursuit took him from Ithaca, N.Y. to Los Angeles, California, and finally, to becoming a wireless operator.

In the interval, he experienced his first aeroplane ride and undertook flying instruction from the owner of a JN4.  This owner was pleased to accept fuel from Mr. Lewington for the aircraft compensation, which allowed Lewington to build up flying experience fro a higher rating as a pilot.  Of interest to note, Mr. Lewington returned to Canada in 1928 and found employment as a wireless operator on the Great Lakes for the Canadian Marconi Co.

Then for a very short time he worked as an engineer for Roy Thompson (late Lord Thompson of Fleet) at a radio station in Kirkland Lake, Ontario.  Later, he ended up in the Keewatin district of Northern Ontario, where he worked as a radio operator for the Ontario provincial air services and became acquainted with many of the original bush pilots.

In 1937 he joined the federal Department of Transport in Winnipeg as a radio Operator/technician, worked on the installation and calibration of radio range stations across the Prairies.  These were the stations that delineated the airways across Canada and were necessary for the startup of Trans Canada Airlines that same year.  At the same time, Mr. Lewington took more flying instruction and qualified for a first flying license.

In 1939 he was sent to St. Hubert, P.W. to join the first group in training as traffic controllers and obtained the ATC license No. Six.  He then returned to Winnipeg to open the first traffic control tower there.

Meanwhile, the last world war was declared – he enlisted in the RCAF but didn’t report for duty until April 1940.  After training at Malton and Trenton he became a flying instructor.  The next two years were mostly spent at Calgary and he went overseas in 1942. 

The next three years Mr. Lewington spent with Six Group Bomber Command in Yorkshire, except for four months in North Africa during the Sicilian invasion.

While overseas he completed two tours training aircrews and two tours on operations with bomber command.  His last tour was as commanding officer of 433 Squadron at Skipton On Swale in Yorkshire. 

In June of 1945, Mr. Lewington returned to Canada and joined the Tiger Force which was re-equipping and re-training for operations in Okinawa.  Once the Japanese surrender came, he retired from the Air Force with the rank of Group Captain DRC and Bar.

The winter of 1945-46 was spent flying in the bush of northern Quebec and in the spring he was engaged in ferrying the C-47 or Dakota aircraft, which were surplus to military requirements, from the southern United States to Canadair in Montreal.  There, these aircraft were converted into DC-3s for Trans Canada Airlines.  He flew one of the last DC-3s, manufactured by Douglas from Montreal to Paris for Air France.

At the time he made a refueling stop at Goose Bay, Labrador, and this turned out to be his first acquaintance with Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Lewington rejoined the federal Department of Transport, but in Ottawa, in 1947, as an inspector of airways, airports and ground aids.  Among other things duties included calibrating radio range stations and ferrying government VIPs around the country.  This is how he first came into contact with Gander, for in 1949 he flew members of the Air Transport Board, under chairman, John Baldwin, to Gander for hearings on an application by Carl Burke and Eric Blackwood.

He left DOT in 1951 to go with building contractor, Fraser Brace, which was engaged by the U.S. Corps of Engineers to build a chain of radar stations known as the Pinetree Line, that went from St. John’s to Frobisher.  The occasion marked his arrival in Gander as Transportation and Communications Manager for the Company.

It was during this stay in Gander that he became acquainted with the late Ches Crosbie, who owned EPA, and was invited to join EPA, which he did and spent the summer and fall flying the first Otter the company owned.  Flying was out of Goose Bay under contract to the Bell Telephone. 

After leaving the province for a short while he came back and rejoined EPA in 1954 as managing director.  The company was formed by Eric Blackwood in 1949, being incorporated in March of that year.  Among original employees were Marsh Jones and Bill Harris, who stayed with EPA until it was sold to Harry Steele.

Lewington said that in spite of valiant efforts by Mr. Blackwood to raise funds by selling shares to businessmen and others at outports around Newfoundland, the company was having financial difficulties from the very beginning and eventually Mr. Blackwood approached Ches Crosbie, a businessman with “some romance in his soul,” as former Premier J.R. Smallwood put it.

Mr. Crosbie took keen interest in the fledging company, then purchased it by gathering around him Phil Lewis, Edgar Hickman, Charlie Bell, F.M. O’Leary and Bernard Parsons, a group of St. John’s businessmen.

Thus the creditworthiness of the company was well established and there was no difficulty in purchasing the first Beaver to carry out a contract for the provincial Department of Health.

In 1953 the company had moved its main bas of operations from St. John’s to Gander in order to escape adverse weather that severely hampered flying from St. John’s.  At Gander EPA was established in a round roof hangar with a large door, which served as a landmark for many years.  Progress for the company would be astronomical.  On first coming to Gander, revenue was just less than one half million dollars and 30 years later it would be more than 70 million.  The number of employees would go from 70 to 900.

In the mid 1950s the main sources of revenue were government contracts for mail and health-care services as well as from construction companies involved in building the Pinetree and Mid-Canada defense systems.  There was also considerable activity in transporting geological, timber and hydro crews throughout the province, in carrying out surveys.

EPA lost out to Maritime Central Airways in its first application for a class two specific point, unit toll air service between Carol Lake, Goose Bay, Gander and St. John’s, so it carried on under a lesser license while managing to compete in some degree with the larger airline, MCA.

The first airplane EPA acquired, which was not in the bush type category, was a Lockheed 10 but the company was not successful in establishing a viable air service across the island, however, this aircraft did perform well on a St. Pierre service and until it was replaced by a DC-3.

The iron ore developments in Western Labrador, which brought on the communities of Wabush and Labrador City; the hydro development at Twin Falls, then Churchill Falls kept the company fully occupied.  The fleet included DC-3s, C-46’s, Carvairs, Canso aircraft as well as single engine bush type machines.

For instance, in one winter operation more than six thousand pounds of mail was carried to outports, Wareham, Wesleyville, Lumsden and Musgrave Harbour, which are now just a nice drive away, were isolated and were points of call.

In 1960, the company commissioned Knox Hawkshaw of Field Aviation to convert a Canso into a water bomber.  The conversion was a great success although not available for the wide spread forest fires in the Gander area that year.  EPA had a fleet of six when they eventually sold to the provincial government.  It was that year that the Danish government approached EPA to do ice reconnaissance on the east coast of Greenland for the Danish ships making their annual voyage to pick up since ores fro the home markets.  Captain Benny Rivard made such an impression in his handling of the Canso in ice-filled waters that it led to a five year operation on the west coast of Greenland carrying passengers, mail and goods between the various communities.  The Danish government then formed their own airline to these services.

At the beginning of the ‘60s MCA and EPA were flying almost wing tip to wing tip in serving the Labrador communities and it was obvious to all concerned that there was not room for two carriers at that time in that area, recalled Lewington.  Discussions took place between Ches Crosbie and Carol Burke on several occasions with a view to reconciling their interests.  Discussions also took place between Quebecair and EPA with the same objectives in mind.  Ches Crosbie died in December of 1962 and after his son, Andrew Crosbie took over as chairman, the two companies got together and to the surprise of many people EPA bought MCA, said Lewington.

EPA had already committed itself to buy two Dart Heralds from the Handley Page Company and acquired a third in the deal.  About the same time, the Hon. J.W. Pickersgill, as Minister of  Transport, brought out a new Transportation Act and a regional air policy which eventually designated EPA as the regional carrier for the Atlantic region.

Mr. Pickersgill took “as very keen interest in all things in Newfoundland and this included the struggling airline.  His sympathy, solace and support were freely offered whenever they were sought.”

Substantial sums of money were necessary for aircraft purchases and Mr. Smallwood persuaded his government to endorse a bond issue put out by the company.  At the inaugural of the Herald service in Wabush, the premier said that “If there had been no EPA, his government would have had to form one to maintain communications within the province,” said Lewington.  Subsequently, the company went to the public with a share offering to raise further funds.

It became apparent that the small bush type aircraft and the larger twin engine aircraft were making conflicting demands on operations, administration, engineering and maintenance to the detriment of the service as a whole.  The decision was made to sell the entire bush operation to company employees who moved it all to Goose Bay and set up as Labrador Airways.  Other regional carriers in Canada began to acquire jet aircraft and it became obvious that public service in Atlantic Canada demanded the performance that these new aircraft could deliver.  The first Boeing 737 arrived in Gander in 1969 and the fleet was increase to six of that type plus three Handley Page Heralds, serving all of the Atlantic area and Montreal and finally Toronto.

The company moved its base of operations from the old round-roof hangar to Hangar 23 when the passenger facilities in that building were moved to the present terminal building in 1959.  Under the direction of B.G. Jones, that hangar was turned into a first class maintenance and engineering facility with commodious administrative offices and staffed with well trained technicians.  All of these activities were centered on Gander International Airport now celebrating its 50th anniversary.  The airport has many highlights to celebrate but among them must be the EPA story.

“From the frosty-fingered joes out in the bush to the smiling girls who trod the aisles of the jets all the way from Gander to Montreal, every last man and woman took a personal pride and interest in the activities, the ambitions and the successes of the airline.  The feelings were reciprocated in a very large measure by the Newfoundland public.

“To those who spent so much in tears and sweat it was a sad day when the airline faded from the Gander scene.  The highly professional skills in administration, maintenance and aircraft operations that went with it are a loss that the Newfoundland community could ill afford.  In the words of Jack Pickersgill “It wasn’t supposed to happen that way,” said Mr. Lewington.

Nevertheless, there is inevitability in the evolution of global economics that reaches down to the smallest enterprise.  The universal demand is for the highest product at the least cost in order to survive, he noted.  The demand is spurred on by consumer advocates insisting on lower prices, especially in air fares.  From the very early days, bureaucrats and others were urging EPA to move its base in the name of efficiency and now deregulation for greater competition is speeding up the process.  “It seems to be compete or perish,” he said.

“Gander International Airport is not likely to see another EPA but there are bound to be other enterprises, including the new commuter airlines just getting airborne.  Although the loss of Air Canada overseas flights was another economic blow to the town there are business opportunities with other carriers, especially in air freight,” he felt.

He is married to the former Margaret Sylvia Morris of Harbour Grace.  They have two sons who were born in the old Banting Memorial Hospital on the airport.  Jamie is an aerospace engineer with Canadair and Geoff is doing post-graduate work at Concordia.

Mr. & Mrs. Lewington reside at Gander.  He retired in 1976 as President of EPA.

Researched by Carol Walsh

 

 

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