by J.Pinsent

Wesleyville, NL native, Eric Blackwood, is mainly known in Newfoundland as Managing Director, pilot and founder of Eastern Provincial Airways. In 1949, Blackwood, a bush pilot and Royal Canadian Air Force veteran from World War II, with the backing of C.A. Crosbie, founded the company and began operations from St. John’s NL. Blackwood left the company to pursue other business opportunities while James Lewington became the Managing Director in 1954.

Eastern Provincial Airways, now known as EPA, purchased a De Havilland Beaver and was successful in being awarded the public health and mail contracts by the Newfoundland Government. Jack Fennell, an aircraft maintenance engineer, Marsh Jones, Bill Harris and Don Patey joined the company.

In 1953 the company had moved its main base 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 Hangar 20, the original hangar at Gander built in 1938, 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. The company moved its operations base to Hangar 22 in 1959 and Hangar 20 was dismantled.

The purchase of a PBY Canso amphibian aircraft in 1953 allowed EPA to take larger charter jobs, and a converted Canso allowed water-bombing flights on behalf of the government. With the addition of a larger Douglas DC-3 and Lockheed Model 10 Electra twin prop aircraft, EPA commenced regular passenger services between St. John's, Gander and Deer Lake in 1955-56.  Meanwhile with the purchase of additional DeHavilland Beavers and Otters, a contract with Canadian Post Office provided mail service to many provincial communities.

In 1960, regular passenger services was added to include Wabash, Churchill Falls (known then as Twin Falls) and Goose Bay in Labrador. Curtiss C-46s were leased for the routes with the first Handley Page Dart Herald twin turboprop aircraft being purchased in 1962.

In 1963, EPA purchased Maritime Central and the two companies merged to form Eastern Provincial Airways (1963) Limited. The amalgamation allowed for a strong regional carrier to compete against Trans Canada Airlines (Air Canada). This extended their passenger service to include the Maritime provinces. Later a Carvair aircraft, a converted version of the DC-4 which could transport passengers & freight, was purchased to provide an additional service to Labrador.

By 1970, EPA's bush operations were sold to some senior staff as a separate airline - Labrador Airways.The number of passengers carried grew dramatically every year from 1969 until 1973. EPA decided to standardize as a passenger airline with Boeing 737-200 jetliners. The airline acquired seven of the jets from Boeing adding to their fleet of three Handley Page Heralds and two DC-3s. The Heralds were responsible for flights into Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec and Charlo, Chatham and Fredericton, until 1974 when they were sold to British Air Ferries. A HS 748 twin turboprop was acquired to replace the Heralds on the flights to Iles-de-la-Madeleine.

The company expanded, starting jet services into Saint John and Fredericton NB and Stephenville NL. This service was now provided throughout Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island as well as far west as Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. New employees were hired and EPA was successful in obtaining a Foreign Air Carrier Permit for the United States. The company began to fly charters to Florida and the Caribbean in 1974.

Born in Musgrave Hr. NL, Harold R. "Harry" Steele, OC, a former navy officer of 24 years, began working as vice-president of marketing for Eastern Provincial Airways and took control of the airline in the mid 1970s.

In 1981 and 1982, EPA acquired three more HS748s These planes were used from Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Saint-Pierre/Miquelon to feed their jet services out of Moncton & Charlottetown. In 1982 EPA set up Air Maritime as a wholly owned subsidiary to operate the 748s.

In 1983 EPA's headquarters and base were moved from Gander to Halifax. This allowed EPA to make Halifax a hub of operations. Soon afterwards, CP bought EPA and by 1986 EPA was no more as its operations were merged into CP Air. A new corporate personality soon was unveiled for CP and operated as Canadian Airlines International before being acquired by Air Canada.

Eastern Provincial Airways played a significant role in the history of Gander Airport, its town and to aviation in general. It set a standard of service in the industry that was second to none. The company trained airline captains, dispatchers, flight attendants, AMEs, maintenance workers and airline administrative staff from the local population on a per capita status that was the envy of towns across Canada.

Eastern Provincial Airways operated the following aircraft types during its existence:

Jet aircraft
Boeing 737-200

Turboprop aircraft
de Havilland Canada DHC-2T Turbo Beaver
Handley Page Dart Herald
Hawker Siddeley HS 748

Piston aircraft
Beechcraft Baron
Consolidated PBY Catalina (PBY Canso) - Amphibian aircraft
Curtiss C-46
de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver
de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter
Douglas DC-3
Douglas DC-4 (including Aviation Traders Carvair aircraft)
Lockheed Model 10 Electra
Sikorsky S-55 – Helicopter

Destinations in 1982

According to the airline's route map dated April 5, 1982, Eastern Provincial was serving the following destinations with scheduled passenger flights primarily operated with Boeing 737-200 jetliners although a Hawker Siddeley HS 748 turboprop service was also being operated at this time as a feeder provider:

Charlo, New Brunswick
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Chatham, New Brunswick
Churchill Falls, Labrador
Deer Lake, Newfoundland
Fredericton, New Brunswick
Gander, Newfoundland
Goose Bay, Labrador
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec
Moncton, New Brunswick
Montreal, Quebec
Saint John, New Brunswick
St. John's, Newfoundland
Stephenville, Newfoundland
Sydney, Nova Scotia
Toronto, Ontario
Wabush, Labrador

Editors Note: Information obtained from Gander Beacon newspaper, internet Wikipedia & aviation columns written by F. Tibbo

Contributed by GAHS

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