I recently had the privilege of visiting the town of Harbour Grace, Newfoundland and Labrador. This little town is an amazing place to see for travelers with an interest in aviation history, Amelia Earhart, and feminist history.
History of the Airfield
The airfield was built in 1927.1 Fred Koehler identified the area as an ideal location, the Harbour Grace community raised funds to build the airport, and the Newfoundland government contributed an additional $14,500 for it construction.2 Its location in the easternmost region of Canada made it a crucial launching point for transatlantic flights from North America to Europe. In fact, it was the first airport designed specifically as a starting point for circumnavigation. It saw 9 years of use for its intended purpose and 20 attempted flights (two crashed upon takeoff and two were aborted). During World War II, the Royal Canadian Navy used the airfield as a High Frequency Detection station for intercepting secret messages on the movement of enemy submarines. The airfield was abandoned after WWII but was restored and reopened to visitors by the Harbour Grace Historical Society in 1999.3
First Nonstop Transatlantic Flight to England
On August 27, 1927, pilots Edward F. Schlee and William S. Brock made the first nonstop transatlantic flight to England in The Pride of Detroit. This was the airfield's inaugural flight.2
First Aerial Circumnavigation to Cross the Equator Twice
Charles Kingsford Smith, Charles Ulm, James Warner, and Harry Lyon landed the Southern Cross at the Harbour Grace Airfield during their 1930 return across the Atlantic from England.4
Wiley Post's First Flight Around the World
Wiley Post and his navigator Harold Gatty stopped at the Harbour Grace airfield in 1931 during his first flight around the globe in the Winnie Mae. Post later became the first man to fly solo around the world.5
First Transatlantic Solo Flight by a Woman
On May 20, 1932, Ameila Earhart began her famous transatlantic flight and became the first woman to make the journey alone. The flight lasted nearly 15 hours and ended in an emergency landing in Northern Ireland.6
Used by Famed Fighter Ace Eddie Rickenbacker
The famed WWI fighter ace, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, landed on the airstrip on September 20, 1936 in a a DC-2 airliner.7
Visiting the Airfield
Finding the airfield is rather challenging. Google Maps was absolutely necessary for my visit. You can find GPS directions on the map toward the end of this article. Harbour Grace also has signs that help to guide the way, but as you can see in the photo below, many of them are overgrown and difficult to find. The drive is a little bit perilous; one has to navigate two pitted and poorly maintained gravel roads to get to the site. The total time I spent driving off of paved roads was only about 15 minutes, though, so the airfield is still pretty accessible by car.
The site itself was deserted, except for a field of horses next door. The gravel roads and isolated location of the airfield mean you will likely have it all to yourself, a rare pleasure for lovers of national historic sites.
Walking through the grass, I imagined what Ms. Earhart must have thought and felt while preparing to take off, relying on her decoy to escape being mobbed by her fans and the press. On the quiet airfield, it was easy to conjure up images of bustling activity; a chattering, excited crowd, idling motorcars, noisy aircraft engines.
Was she nervous? She was already an experienced aviator by this time, and I like to imagine she approached the endeavor with a calm and practical demeanor. Once airborne, was she initially, privately elated? Was she alternatively bored, focused, and, very occasionally, frightened? I imagine the sound of the aircraft engine, her constant companion during those 15 hours. I look forward to reading her autobiography in my next chunk of free time.
The Amelia Earhart Statue
Harbour Grace also has a statue of Amelia Earhart that fans won't want to miss. It's located only a short way from the airfield. You'll find it slightly south of the intersection of Water St. West and Harvey St. (you can see it marked on the map below). The statue is accompanied by a plaque commemorating her most famous flight. Her statue stands next to The Spirit of Harbour Grace, a 1940s aircraft that was donated to the town in 1993, and the ruins of the SS Kyle, a 1913 steamship, can be seen in the bay beyond.
Harbour Grace Airport and the Amelia Earhart Statue
- Harbour Grace Airfield Plaque (pictured above). Government of Newfoundland & Labrador.
- Higgins, Jenny. Aviation: The Pioneer Period. Heritage Newfoundland & Labrador, 2012.
- Harbour Grace Town Council. History. The Town of Harbour Grace, 2014.
- Sherman, Stephen. Charles Kingsford Smith: First to Fly Across the Pacific. Acepilots.com, 2003.
- May, John D. Winnie Mae. Oklahoma Historical Society, 2018.
- Ware, Susan. Charting Amelia Earhart’s first transatlantic solo flight. Oxford University Press's OUP Blog, 2014.
- Roberts, Terry. A salute to Claude Stevenson and the Harbour Grace airstrip. The Compass, 2014.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on August 02, 2018:
It is sad that not many visit the area due to its isolated location but Canadians know and love her. She is a great woman, a pioneer in her field.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 01, 2018:
It sounds as though this is not an area heavily trafficked if you had to drive on unpaved roads for 15 minutes in order to find it. Nice however that it is being preserved. Thanks for showing it to us.
Liz Westwood from UK on August 01, 2018:
This is an interesting and well-illustrated article. I'm surprised that you found no one else there.