Bush Pilots & Barnstormers – Freddie McCall

1920 Street, In The News

With the closing of the Municipal Airport, Fort Edmonton Park joins our colleagues in commemorating the history of early Edmonton aviation – in particular the individual stories of men and women who navigated that heavenly aether as Bush Pilots and Barnstormers! 

Frederick McCall was born in British Columbia, but moved to Calgary when he was ten. That’s right…we have broken the forbidden barrier and highlighted a…*shudder* Calgarian. But regardless of his hometown or poor choice in facial hair (remember Hitler had not yet disgraced the ‘toothbrush moustache’), Freddie was a flyer to remember.

Freddie McCall – Cowtown Flyer

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Freddie McCall

Like ‘Punch’ Dickins and thousands of other Albertans, McCall fought in the Great War. He went overseas first as an infantryman with the 175th Battalion but was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps in 1917 and made a name for himself with 35 ‘kills’, seven times an ‘ace.’

Like many wartime fliers, McCall wasn’t about to give up his element after November 11, 1918. He barnstormed across the prairies and flew many mountainous routes in his birth province of British Columbia. He helped prove the utility of the airplane in search & rescue when in 1929 he flew through inclement weather with a Lethbridge doctor on board to treat and recover two oil field workers who had been injured in an explosion near Skiff, Alberta. Before he was done flying, McCall added Managing Director of Great Western Airways, World War II squadron leader, president of the Calgary Flying club to his list of accomplishments.

One of the greatest stories about McCall, and one of the reasons he is included here, has to do with his unfortunate encounter with a Midway carousel in 1919. McCall was barnstorming at the Calgary Exhibition and had two young passengers on board for a thrill ride. He was in mid-air when his engine quit, sending him and his two adolescent passengers hurtling towards the ground! McCall was able to stall his aircraft right on top of a carousel! No one was hurt, but the maypole protruded through the fabric-covered airplane and emerged right between the two boys!

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McCall’s Plane crashed atop a carousel


New in 2014: Chair-o-plane ride!

The next time you fly through Calgary, recall you are flying through an air harbour once known as McCall Field, but if you are looking for a connection closer to home, come ride Fort Edmonton Park’s carousel and imagine the scene! Every summer, our staff make paper airplanes with visiting children (based on a 1913 pattern) and then tell the story of Freddie McCall and his two passengers. The program ends with a challenge – see if anyone can ‘pull a McCall’ and get their paper airplane to land atop the carousel!

Finally, new in 2014, our Chair-o-plane ride on the 1920s Midway will feature painted panels commemorating Canada’s top aces of the Great War, including Calgary’s famous flyer, Freddie McCall! (One hopes it will depict one of his greater accomplishments, and not the embarrassing carousel crash)