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An aeroplane in Kootenay Lake, 1919

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

The postcard below is part of a sequence showing Lieut. George Knopp Trim’s flight around Nelson during the fall fair of 1919 — and crash landing in Kootenay Lake.

(Greg Nesteroff collection)

Originally the Nelson Agricultural and Industrial Association asked Capt. Fred McCall of Calgary to perform acrobatic flying at the fair but he was forced to cancel due to engine trouble and suggested they approach the Vancouver Aerial League to send someone in his place.

Trim (often misspelled Trimm) got the job. He had already been impressing audiences in the Okanagan that month with his derring-do. The Nelson Daily News announced on Sept. 23 that Trim left Kamloops bound for Penticton in a Curtis JN-4 “Jenny” biplane:

Lieut. Trimm, during his thee-day engagement here [in Kamloops] was easily the great attraction of the fair … and his nose dives, spirals, Immelmann turns, and loops were thrilling in the extreme to the spectators. His reputation obtained in the Puget Sound Deby, and in the time flights between Vancouver and Victoria was fully maintained, in the opinion of critics in Kamloops.

It took Trim just under two hours to reach Penticton. Then he proceeded to Grand Forks, which took another hour and 15 minutes. The mayor declared a civic holiday and Trim put on a show.

Next it was on to Nelson, where Trim circled over the city, “giving an exhibition in which the graceful maneuvering of his machine came in for loud applause from the citizens and visitors who had gathered at every vantage point to witness the flight.”

He landed on the CPR flats to a hero’s welcome, “which it was stated would almost make the Prince of Wales envious.” (In fact, the prince was in Nelson a week later. No one made any postcards of his visit that I know of, although photographs and a film survive.) “It has been one continuous handshake for me,” Trim said, “and I have used both hands until I am now afraid they will both be out of commission.”

Although Trim’s plane was not the first in Nelson — American pilot Walter Edwards visited in 1912 — he did deliver the city’s first airmail. Letters from Grand Forks Gazette editor T.A. Love were passed on to fair manager George Horstead and Nelson Daily News editor F.F. Payne. Dawn Hume also received a letter from a friend. The letter from Love to Payne read:

Greeting to Nelson on this the first aeroplane flight from Grand Forks to Nelson through courtesy of Lieut. Trimm. I can congratulate you securing Lieut. Trimm for your fair. He has given us an excellent exhibition here. T.A. Love

The letters were dated 1 p.m. and the last one was delivered by 3:30 p.m.

The unfortunate event that Trim, then 24, would be remembered for in Nelson took place on Sept. 25. Here’s how the Daily News reported it the following day:

Crowds at fair disappointed – machine damaged and will be shipped to Vancouver
Although Nelsonites and fair visitors waited patiently for a considerable time yesterday to catch a glimpse of the stunting aviator Lieut. G.K. Trim and his plane they were doomed to disappointment. Upon taking off for his flight the machine ran into a a calm spot in the atmosphere with the result that there was not sufficient length of runway to allow him to rise and he landed about 75 feet out in the lake.
As the undercarriage and lower part of the fuselage struck the water the machine upended and turned over and then fell back sticking in the mud at an angle of 75 degrees. The aviator, though badly shaken up for the time, was not submerged and loosened himself from his seat. Ropes were then secured by the crowd which had collected to see the airman rise and the machine after considerable difficulties had been overcome was pulled ashore.
An examination showed that the propeller had been broken, the axle of the undercarriage broken,the steering gear bent and the wings punctured in several places. There was also considerable water in the cylinders of the engine and as a result of the mishap Lt. Trim found that he would be unable to make further flights until his plane had been shipped to the coast and thoroughly overhauled.
Prior to essaying the flight yesterday arrangements had been made for the first aerial mail delivery between Nelson and Vancouver. A congratulatory message was sent by Mayor J.A. McDonald to Lieut. Trim on his flights in Nelson and a message had been given him by the Mayor to be delivered to Mayor Gale of Vancouver at the conclusion of the flight to the coast.
The machine will now be shipped to the coast as soon as it can be loaded and made ready for transportation.

One follow-up story appeared on Sept. 27:

Lieut. G.K. Trim whose plane met with a mishap on Thursday spent yesterday dismantling his machine prior to shipping it to the coast. The damage was not as great as had been anticipated and Lt. Trim was yesterday of the opinion that he would be able to fly with it again in about a week’s time.
Kirby Grenfell, head mechanic at the Nelson Transfer company, is credited with having lent valuable assistance to Lieut. Trim when he landed in the lake on Thursday. Mr. Grenfell, who was at the scene of the mishap, immediately rushed into the lake and made sure that Lieut. Trim was in a position to save himself in the event of his having been submerged. He also assisted valuably in saving the machine.

Here are two more postcards in the series, which might have been the work of multiple cameras:

(Above and below, both Greg Nesteroff collection)

At a glance I didn’t see anything in the Daily News that revealed who photographed Trim’s flight and accident — the photos did not appear in the newspaper, which was not yet using local pictures — but the message on one of the cards seen above is intriguing:

Note the postmark: Sept. 30. So the card was ready for sale within days of the incident. The writer had some personal knowledge of the plane, although I don’t know if he was also a pilot. The 1920 Vancouver directory reveals James S. Braidwood, a Hudson’s Bay Co. executive, lived at 1799 King Edward. Sadly, his son Donald, to whom the postcard was addressed, died in Victoria in 1929, age 17.

The Vancouver Postcard Club has an idea about this:

There are several other cards in this series, showing both Trim’s aerial maneuvers and his plane in the lake. Touchstones Nelson has one of the latter, reproduced in the late Henry Stevenson’s article “Planes Over the Kootenays,” published in the Fall 1991 edition of British Columbia Historical News.

Trim was a member of the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. Here’s a photo of him (left) with Capt. Earl Godfrey, taken at Beamsville, Ont. in 1918.

(Courtesy Lincoln Public Library/Vineland, Ont.)

And here’s a Royal Air Force cover from 1970 for sale on eBay that he appears to have signed, indicating his experience as an instructor at Halton in 1917-18:

George Trim went on to become managing director of the Pacific Aviation Company. He died in Oak Bay in 1982, age 87, survived by two sons, John and George, both of whom have also since died.

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Greg Nesteroff
Greg Nesteroff
Nov 11, 2020

Sorry for tardy reply. I own the card, but it's more than 100 years old, so public domain.


Do you have copyright on the photo of Trim's plane in the lake?

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