A terrific trio active during the early days of aviation in Québec: Ernest Anctil, Gustave Pollien and Percival Hall Reid, part 2

The biplane made by Gustave Pollien (left) and Ernest Anctil, Cartierville, Québec. Anon., “L’aviation chez nous – Un jeune aviateur canadien-français, Ernest Anctil, vole avec succès sur un biplan construit au pays.” La Presse, 27 September 1912, 1.

Hello again and welcome back, my reading friend. Hopefully things are still going well in your corner of the Milky Way galaxy.

Your presence in these parts leads me to believe that you wish to continue our exploration of the aeronautical work of our terrific trio of Québec aviation pioneers. Wunderbar! Let us continue.

The first articles mentioning the biplane that Ernest Anctil built in Montréal, Québec, with the help of Gustave Pollien… Uh, yes, my reading friend lifted by enthusiasm and a slight lack of patience. The biplane in question was indeed the one whose photograph was at the beginning of the first part of this article. May I continue? Thank you.

The first articles mentioning the biplane that Anctil built in Montréal with the help of Pollien, or vice versa, say I (type I?), a biplane which looked a lot like the machines made in France by the Société des avions Caudron, appeared around mid-June 1912. The two men had indeed decided to unite their altogether limited forces and resources in order to built an aeroplane. They set up shop at their employer’s place, a small automobile repair firm / workshop belonging to Alphonse Barreyre and a certain Dachez / Daches / Daché.

It should be noted that Anctil and Pollien could still count on the very precious support of the Frenchman Georges Husson. It was indeed to the director of the Franco-American Automobile Company of Montréal that they owed their engine.

When journalists visited Anctil and Pollien, the precious machine was largely finished. A first flight should take place before too long.

Said flight took place on 26 September on the grounds of the defunct Montreal Polo Club, in Cartierville, Québec. Said land, or part of the said land, still belonged to a farmer by the name of Gervais Cousineau. Anctil was initially at the controls of the two-seater biplane, a machine whose exact identity escapes me. Was it an Anctil, Pollien, Anctil Pollien or Pollien Anctil aeroplane? Ahh, the joys of hair splitting, a pastime I rarely indulge in given my ever decreasing supply of hair follicles, but I digress.

It should be noted that Anctil and Pollien could count on the support of the aforementioned Cousineau which allowed them to use a shed to protect their machine from the elements – and onlookers.

And yes, when I say (type?) that Anctil was initially at the controls of the biplane, I imply that Pollien took these same controls a little later in the day. On the other hand, he might have been only be a passenger.

The journalist from the important Montréal daily La Presse who wrote about the events of 26 September admitted having felt a certain skepticism before the flights of the Montréal aeroplane. As passionate as they were, budding aviators in Canada’s metropolis did not always fly very high.

The journalist also remembered the 3 days in September 1912 during which the American aviator George Alphonse Gray, probably far more experienced, was unable to leave the ground, to the chagrin of increasingly frustrated spectators who had come to see a human fly at Lafontaine Park in Montréal.

The flights scheduled for 29 September by Anctil and / or Pollien unfortunately could not take place. A snowfall indeed played the spoilsports. On 6 October, Anctil took to the air in Cartierville in front of several hundred people who had come to admire him. Some of them organised an impromptu fundraiser to help the young aviator.

On 9 October, Pollien remained in the air for many minutes. He even allowed himself the luxury of flying over Cartierville. That inveterate smoker quickly realised that he had forgotten to extinguish his pipe before placing it in a pocket of his pants. Fear not, the burns he suffered were quite light. It should be noted that the propeller of the biplane suffered some slight damage on landing.

The flights scheduled for 13 October unfortunately could not take place. A storm came to play the spoilsports.

Several nogoodniks attracted on that day by the presence of many people attracted by the flights of Anctil and Pollien extracted about $ 100 dollars, or approximately $ 2 550 in 2022 currency, from people who believed they knew the location of the playing card they had chosen after one of the nogoodniks, the dealer / master of the game, had manipulated three cards placed on a tablet or large cardboard that could serve as a table. A deep-pocketed but slightly scatterbrained young man lost around $ 35, or almost $ 900 in 2022 currency. Alerted to what was happening, the owner of the land, quite possibly the aforementioned Cousineau, forced the rogues to skedaddle.

Would you believe that this scam, find the lady / three card monte, etc., has been practiced for centuries, with playing cards or with 3 cups and 1 ball? But back to our story.

On 20 October, Anctil took to the air a few times. He damaged a wheel of the aeroplane during a landing. This repaired, Pollien took place on board and took off. He flew over Cartierville. The engine having misfires, Pollien returned to his starting point. As he neared it, the engine misfired again. The biplane hit the top of a telephone pole and flipped over. The branches of a tree slowed down its fall a little, however. Pollien pulled free and hit the ground near a barbed wire fence which had torn through the fabric of the biplane’s wings. He only had a few bruises but the aeroplane was badly damaged.

Yours truly must admit that I did not find any traces of any flight between October 1912 and September 1913. Anctil and Pollien might not have had the financial resources to fix up their machine.

Mind you, Anctil moved to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, around May 1913. He rented a local garage which had opened in 1912, Saskatchewan Auto Works Limited. This being said (typed?), Anctil wished to continue his work in aeronautics. Having no aeroplane at hand, he was now looking for partners to obtain a new machine. That project was seemingly unsuccessful, however, and Anctil disappeared into the mists of history, but back to Pollien.

Aware of the public’s interest in aviation, a major daily newspaper in Canada’s metropolis, The Montreal Daily Star, contacted the owner of the Blue Bonnets Raceway in Montréal. Would the latter be interested in offering an aeronautical demonstration to horse racing fans? Of course, stated the Montreal Jockey Club. On the strength of that positive response, the daily contacted Pollien, who in turn submitted a positive response.

Several male Montrealers and a female Montrealer subsequently contacted The Montreal Daily Star in order to be able to lift off with Pollien, one at a time of course.

The flights scheduled for 13 September 1913 unfortunately could not take place. A good rain came indeed to play spoilsports. Montrealers who had contacted The Montreal Daily Star were probably very disappointed, even though there was no evidence that Pollien was ready to fly with anyone.

It should be noted that Pollien seemed to have christened the biplane he used L’Étoile, unless it was The Star. One wonders if he did so to flatter the management of the Montréal daily which had sponsored (and financed?) his activities above the racetrack. Anyway, let us move on.

As promised, Pollien took to the air on 20 September, but strong winds near Cartierville prevented him from reaching Montréal. Rocked to the point of fearing for his life, and for the structural integrity of his special craft (Hello, EG!), the aviator returned home. The landing gear of his machine was damaged when the biplane touched the ground.

On 24 September, the Automobile Club of Canada, an organisation mentioned in a March 2020 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee, organised an automobile ride for approximately 450 young orphans who circulated through the streets of Montréal and surrounding towns aboard approximately 105 automobiles. There was obviously a distribution of gifts and sweets. Pollien joined the party but a strong wind in Cartierville limited his contribution to the activities to 3 or 4 short flights at low altitude near the aerodrome. Most of the young people having never seen an aeroplane in action, they were nevertheless delighted.

On 5 October 1913, Pollien took to the air without checking the condition of his engine. Luck had it that it ceased to function correctly while the biplane was at low altitude. The aeroplane hit a hedge and flipped over. Pollien got free without too much difficulty but the aeroplane was badly damaged.

In the spring of 1914, the National Sporting Club of Montréal organised a major aviation competition which took place in Maisonneuve Park on 27 and 28 June. Said contest was to pit Pollien against Lincoln J. Beachey, an otherwise better known American aviator mentioned in November 2018 and September 2020 issues of our you know what.

National Sporting Club president Maxime “Max” Daoust, a well-known Montréal real estate agent and founding president of Daoust Realty Limited of Montréal, also a major aviation promoter, invited members of the press to come to Coteau Rouge, in Montreal South, near Longueuil, Québec, to see Pollien fly on 25 June. Interestingly, the aviator used land which was part of a farm purchased by Daoust Realty to do that. He remained in the air for a good 15 or so minutes.

Incidentally, Daoust was mentioned in March 2020 and November 2021 issues of our you know what, but I digress.

Pollien was admittedly not as successful as Beachey on 27 June. Engine problems indeed kept him grounded, while the American aviator took to the air 3 times. Beachey even allowed himself the luxury of looping the loop during his third flight. The crowd roared wildly. The race mentioned in advertisements in The Montreal Daily Star and elsewhere before 27 June obviously did not take place.

The crowd was not particularly huge. According to a journalist from the Montréal daily Le Nationaliste, the failures of many local and foreign airmen over the previous months and years had stung the Montréal public, some of whom now preferred to keep their distance.

Pollien may not, I repeat may not, have had better luck on 28 June. Pity. Yours truly does not know if Beachey flew that day.

His engine problems solved, Pollien returned to the sky. On 5 July, for example, he took to the air alone twice at Coteau Rouge. Pollien traveled to Montréal on at least one occasion and remained above the city for nearly 20 minutes. The aviator also made 2 shorter flights with a passenger. The second flight, in which a Montréal jeweler and president of the Société nationale suisse de Montréal, Georges Méroz, took part, ended in an emergency landing caused by an engine problem itself caused by fouling of the engine itself caused by a badly cleaned gas can.

If Pollien and Méroz escaped unscathed, the aeroplane suffered serious damage.

Running out of resources, the aviator asked his admirers to lend him a hand. Various people, including a dentist, a dental mechanic / prosthetist and a doctor, G.A. Bélanger, G. Poitras and L. Asselin, immediately formed a committee to raise funds. The results achieved by that initiative did not seem particularly stunning.

In any event, the context in which Pollien flew had evolved rapidly.

On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand Carl Ludwig Joseph Maria of house Habsburg-Lothringen, heir apparent to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated in Sarajevo, capital of the condominium of Bosnia and Herzegovina, along with his morganatic wife, Sophie Chotek, Duchess of Hohenberg. The person responsible for the attack, Gavrilo Princip, arrested on the spot, was a member of a student revolutionary group favorable to the creation of a South Slavic nation centered on a neighbouring country, Serbia / Servia. That group had close ties to elements of the Serbian military intelligence community.

The Austro-Hungarian government quickly asked its Serbian counterpart to open an investigation. In July, increasingly annoyed by what it saw as a lack of response, the Austro-Hungarian government sent the authorities in Belgrade a message which was later dubbed the July ultimatum. Fearing an invasion, the Serbian government mobilised its army. Austria-Hungary mobilised a good part of its own army and declared war on Serbia. An infernal process got under way which sucked in most of the other great European powers one after the other: German Empire, Russian Empire, France and United Kingdom. The First World War was beginning.

And yes, the United Kingdom having declared war on the German Empire on 4 August, Canada, the Canadian Militia and the Royal Canadian Navy were automatically mired in that abominably senseless conflict.

You will note here the absence of any mention of the Canadian air force and… Hmmm, yours truly has once again reached the limit of my weekly quota. I am afraid you will have to wait until next week to uncover the end of our story. Profuse apologies.

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Rénald Fortier