How much would you pay to see the first airplane in Lethbridge? Would you pay more if you realized that we hosted the first airplane flight between Winnipeg and Vancouver?
On July 14, 1911, Eugene B. Ely flew two short flights over the Lethbridge Exhibition. The entrance fee to the event was 75 cents, which with inflation would be approximately $15 today. However, in addition to the gate admission, many people relied on a special train run by the Alberta Railway & Irrigation Co. to get out to the new exhibition grounds by Henderson Park. The train fare was $1 or approximately $20 today. For train and admission, that would be the equivalent of $35 today.
Would you pay $35? Many did. We don’t know how many people took the train, but it is estimated that 10,000 attended the demonstration, which almost didn’t take place.
The plane, a Curtiss Biplane, had to be brought in on the train from the United States. When it arrived at the border, Canadian customs almost refused it admission. Ottawa was wired, and the plane was allowed into Canada but only on the condition that it left the country immediately afterwards.
Ely made two short flights at the Exhibition using the infield of the racetrack as his runway. The first flight lasted seven minutes. The plane’s engine was allowed to cool, and a second 13-minute flight followed. For most, this was their first opportunity to see and hear an airplane. The noise of the machine was described as “droning like a great partridge.”
There were supposed to be three flights that day, but Ely canceled the third as he said the air was “so full of holes” that it was too dangerous. He also refused to take a passenger up with him on either of the flights.
The advertising for the day promised that “the ingenuity of man has never contrived a more thrilling, a more awe-inspiring spectacle.” Hopefully, visitors weren’t disappointed. It would be seven years before another airplane came to Lethbridge.