The first airfield on PEI opened for business in 1931 on Upton Farm. This entertaining story by Syd Clay is about about the airfield and the part it played in the first airborne wedding in the Maritimes. It was featured in the June issue of the Voice for Island Seniors.
An Aerial June Wedding
BY SYD CLAY
In August 1931 the first airfield on Prince Edward Island was granted a licence and opened for business with an air display and exhibition staged by many visiting aircraft and attended by hundreds of local citizens. It was situated on land bordering the North River, approximately two and a half miles northwest by road of the then boundaries of Charlottetown and was the end result of much effort and expense on the part of Doctor J. S. (Jack) Jenkins and his wife Louise. They had cleared and levelled a portion of their “Upton Farm” and erected a small hangar in a far-sighted venture to establish air travel to and from the province. Mrs Jenkins was also the first licensed woman pilot in the province, owning her own plane which, by special dispensation of the federal aviation authority, bore the registration – CF-PEI.
Three years later, at ten o’clock on Friday morning, the 8th of June 1934, a plane lifted off from the grass field and slowly turned and climbed in a south-easterly direction. The “Fairchild” had already earned a reputation as an outstanding “bush” carrier of freight and passengers, helping to open up the vast reaches of the Canadian North and the type was now being used by Canadian Airlines Ltd. to link Maritime centres, operating the first licensed air mail services between Prince Edward Island and the mainland from the Upton Airport. In the winter, fitted with skis, it used the ice-covered harbour off Victoria Park.
On this sparkling, blue-skied June day, the “Fairchild” followed the south coast of the Island down the Northumberland Straits, piloted by W. W. Fowler, the Maritime Superintendent of Canadian Airlines Ltd. His “load” comprised four passengers, Margaret Littlewood and Russell Lent, both of Granville Ferry, Nova Scotia; Mr Walter Grant, Manager of the Island Telephone Company and President of the PEI Flying Club, and the Reverend J. G. Wakeling, North River, PEI. As Mr Fowler climbed the plane to 5000 feet, the land and seascapes lay in all their glory for all to see.
Although almost “state-of-the-art” by the standards of its day, the “Fairchild” was small and primitive in comparison of those of today. Of metal and wood construction, covered in tightly stretched linen with no insulation or soundproofing, it was powered by a single air-cooled engine in the nose and thus very noisy and prone to chilling draughts. The pilot sat alone in the cockpit with the passengers seated quite close together behind him in the cabin in which it was not possible to stand.
After following the coast for a while, the pilot changed course over the open water and within minutes Pictou Island, Nova Scotia, appeared. Climbing still further to 7000 feet, he throttled back the engine to reduce the noise level and circled the small island in a gentle glide in the smooth air. It was the signal for the minister to commence the ceremony which united Margaret Littlewood and Russell Lent as man and wife. In short order, the vows were recited and the marriage documents signed and witnessed.
Within five minutes it was all over, the course set for return to Upton Airport where the party was met by a “throng of people” upon landing after almost two hours in the air at 11:50 a.m. The accounts in the “Guardian” and the “Patriot” newspapers record that the bride wore a blue ensemble with hat to match. Immediately after landing, the couple entered their automobile and motored back to Granville Ferry.
It was claimed that it was the first airborne wedding in the Maritimes and possibly Canada.The choice of aircraft was dictated by it being the only one in the Maritimes with the necessary passenger-carrying capacity and it was based at the Upton Airport. A good deal of planning must have been undertaken, even to acquire the services of a minister to officiate. Unlike the prospective bride and groom, the Reverend Wakeling had never flown before.
Superintendent Fowler offered similar services to anyone wishing to be married “up in the air” while it was even suggested that a gramophone and records playing the “Wedding March” and “Here Comes The Bride” be added to the ceremony! Apparently there were no takers, then or since.
Another piece in the lore of Upton Farm which has been much in the news of late.
**Thanks to the “Carl F. Burke, MBE” Chapter of the PEI CAHS for the historical photo of Upton Airfield.