Flying Ace in The Fort
Frosty morning on the frozen muskeg;
A pilot named Punch shows up to the Snye
with his mechanic, Parmenter, and a bush plane packed
with a sack.
His cargo, a special delivery – one that would be life-changing,
and rewarding, for an already awarded,
and mighty World War fighter-flyer
of a man.
The river in McMurray, his starting point;
The launch pad to his historic journeys
along the Mackenzie into territories,
On-task to map out remote destinations;
To deliver handwritten-letter mail by air.
First of its kind in the Fort,
in Western Canada.
Months following the first drop, his published words came
in Maclean’s on Canada Day in Nineteen-twenty-nine.
He spoke of the Arctic Air Express, simply
put with divine:
“Put your pencil on any point
in the map of Canada and we’ll
get you there – if you can
Ask the man of flight: What happened on the first
comeback day? When local folk in the Fort
began conversing on the Flying Ace’s
time arrival delay.
“All talk about taking our lives in our own hands
and that sort of drivel…” and recalled they had
no fear: “There wasn’t anything to it. We damaged
our landing gear.”
Nothing short of victorious, glorious; he claimed,
But the twelve-day jaunt over the little-known North
Will be forever remembered,
About the poem
Canadian aviation pioneer Clennell Haggerston “Punch” Dickins made his mark in the Wood Buffalo region for delivering the first airmail to the Northwest Territories in January 1929.
At age 18, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in the Royal Flying Corps and flew 73 missions during World War I. Following his Royal Canadian Air Force service, he joined the Western Canada Airways.
During his time as a pioneer bush pilot, Punch logged more than 1.6 million kilometres, which included flying over remote reaches and unmapping areas of the Canadian North. One of his most historic flights tallied up over 6,000 km in 37 hours over 12 days.
He continued flying until the age of 78. In 1995, Punch passed away, and his ashes were scattered alongside the Mackenzie River by his son, John.
Today, Clennell “Punch” Haggerston Dickins legend lives on by his name found within one of the Fort McMurray’s subdivisions, schools and streets, which are Dickinsfield, Dickinsfield School and Dickins Drive.
In October 2019, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo held a ceremony in his honour with a plaque recognized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. The monument sits at the Snye Point Park alongside the river Dickins had landed his floatplane, once upon a time.
Photos courtesy of Canadian Encyclopedia, Alchetron, Historic Winga and Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.