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Colin S. "Jack" Caldwell

Original article was posted at "personal.nbnet.nb.ca/vachon/caldwell.htm" but is no longer active.

Colin S. "Jack" Caldwell, born of Scottish-Canadian parents, grew up on a farm near Lacombe, Alberta, where he learned to repair machinery and engines at an early age. The biographical notes that follow are grouped by subject for easy reference.

Aviation Training: During the First World War, he was a Sergeant-Mechanic in the Royal Flying Corps (Canada). He rejoined the Canadian Air Force (CAF) in 1920 to take refresher courses offered to War veterans, partly to help support civil aviation and partly "to better assist them in re-entering the labour market", to borrow a phrase that labour-economists would probably use today. Jack was Flight Sergeant-Instructor, Aero Engines, at Camp Borden and this is where he met Roméo Vachon and they became close friends, perhaps because they shared farm backgrounds and a love of flying and mechanical things generally.

Jack and Roméo were project leaders for rebuilding a group of four Curtiss JN-4 trainers using spare parts and discarded components from wrecked aircraft, an important contribution since the CAF had no funds to buy replacement planes. After obtaining their Air Engineer's Certificates in 1921, they had formal flight training at the Curtiss-Wright Flying School at Dayton, Ohio. When they returned to Canada, Jack obtained his Canadian Commercial Air Pilot's Certificates in November, 1922, and Roméo secured his in March, 1923.

Forest Surveillance Flights: Beginning in 1921 and 1922 both Jack and Roméo served with Laurentide Air Services, based at Lac-à-la-Tortue, first as air engineers and then as pilots. Later, they both joined the Ontario Provincial Air Service as pilots doing forestry patrols, fire supression, and photographic forest surveys.

First Minerals Exploration by Aircraft: In 1925, Jack flew as air engineer and co-pilot with Col.James Scott Williams during the first aerial expedition for minerals prospecting in northern British Columbia and the Yukon under a contract with the Detroit Mining Co. (Vancouver). The Laurentide-owned Vickers Viking IV amphibian G-CAEB was flown 8000 miles that summer to transport 5 geologists & prospectors with their supplies into remote and unmapped country.

In 1926, a group of gold prospecting investors from Calgary, Alberta, hired Jack Caldwell as chief pilot and Irénée (Pete) Vachon (brother of Roméo) as air engineer to fly this same Vickers Viking. The machine was re-assembled at Lac-la-Biche and flown from June 25 to September 4 from northern Alberta, across the Northwest Territories, into the uncharted 'barren lands' northeast of Great Slave Lake, looking for a prospector's claim to a gold deposit, although the gold was never found. Details of these famous first flights in aviation history are well told by aviation historian Frank Ellis in his book "Canada's Flying Heritage", as well as in other references noted below.

Newfoundland Sealing: Ellis also retells the story of Jack Caldwell's involvement with the Newfoundland sealing fleet when, in order to assist in locating seal herds in 1925, he left Laurentide Air Services to replace Roy S. Grandy as seal-spotting pilot using the Baby Avro. This Avro had originally been built for Sir Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic expedition. Caldwell spent the early spring months of 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928 and 1929, flying over the ice floes off Newfoundland and the Gulf of St Lawrence in support of the seal fisheries.

Air Mail: In 1924, Jack Caldwell flew mail, freight and passengers to and from the Rouyn-Noranda Quebec goldfields for the first scheduled air service in Canada operated by Laurentide. In 1928, Jack joined Canadian Vickers but also flew a number of mail contracts. For example, when Roméo was chief pilot for CTA, Jack took part in the inaugural air mail flights of the service transporting mail to and from ships, to Rimouski and Montreal and Ottawa (May, 1928) and also the special flights organized on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the Toronto Exhibition (August, 1928). Flying for Canadian Airways, he also piloted the Ontario-Montreal legs of the inaugural mail service connecting Canada and the United States (October, 1928).

In 1929, Jack Caldwell died in an aircraft accident when his Fokker Universal hit high-tension wires over the St.-Lawrence River, near Montréal, during a flight for Canadian Vickers. The existence of these wires had previously been unknown by the aviation community.