January 22, 2019,
On this day 70 years ago, Squadron Leader Frederick (Freddie) Robert Gordon McCall, DSO, MC & Bar, DFC, WW I Flying Ace and “The Father of Calgary Commercial Aviation" died.
Freddie McCall was born in Vernon, British Columbia, on December 4, 1896 and relocated to Calgary with his family when he was 9 years old. He enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1916 and served in France as a sergeant before receiving his commission as a lieutenant pilot trainee in the Royal Air Force in March 1917. In December 1917, he joined the RAF’s No. XIII Squadron. Though initially flying reconnaissance, McCall began shooting down enemy aircraft and was awarded commendations for his "conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty". On June 30th, 1918 he downed five German aircraft on a single day for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. A few days later, he and wingman William Claxton were attacked by a formation of at least 40 German fighters. McCall and Paxton took the group on and both survived, though Paxton was forced to land and taken prisoner. By the end of the War in November 1918, McCall had 35 victories to his credit making him one of Canada's top fighter aces.
McCall returned to Calgary and combined aviation with entrepreneurial spirit to start several businesses. He bought a surplus Curtis JN-4 "Jenny" and began barnstorming across Western Canada, dropping coupons for businesses, and acting as personal pilot for Santa Claus on behalf of the Hudson Bay Company. On July 5th, 1919 at the Calgary Exhibition he suffered an engine failure just after take-off and famously spot-landed his JN-4 on top of a merry-go-round rather than crashing into the crowd on the midway. McCall and the two young passengers in the front seat were uninjured. A contemporary of McCall, Joe Patton, described him as “…a natural pilot. He could fly anything.” That same year McCall helped form the first Calgary Aero Club.
Through the 1920's, McCall created a number of aviation companies and pioneered the establishment and growth of commercial aviation in Calgary. He formed the McCall Aero Corporation in 1920 and flew commercial passengers and freight across the country. He started the first commercial air service to Banff and the Eastern B.C. Interior. Later, he founded Great Western Airways. His adventures in this period included flying a doctor to a remote oilfield in bad weather to treat injured workers and flying a shipment of the highly volatile explosive nitro-glycerine from Montana to Calgary. In 1927, he became the founder and the first president of the re-formed Calgary Aero Club which still exists today - some 92 years later - as the Calgary Flying Club.
Upon the outbreak of World War II in 1939, McCall volunteered for the Royal Canadian Air Force and took the rank of Squadron Leader with commands at several bases in Western Canada. He died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 52 on January 22, 1949.
McCall’s legacy to Calgary was the foundation of an aviation industry in the City. Calgarians know the name McCall even though they may not know who Fred McCall was. A street, a lake, a golf course, a business park, and a provincial electoral riding are named after him. And an airport – because Calgary International Airport was originally named “McCall Field” (and some still argue the official name should be “Calgary McCall International”).
Look for a new exhibit about Freddie McCall to open later this year at The Hangar Flight Museum at 4629 McCall Way N.E.
(Contributed by D.L. Mapplebeck)