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The Birdman's 1914 Visit to Chilliwack

posted by: The Royal Hotel Chilliwack on: June 26, 2019 03:29:48 PM


Model of Billy Stark's bi-plane
image credit: Royal BC Museum - BC Archives
July 1, 1914 was warm and sunny but also very windy as crowds of residents, both local and visitors gathered at the fairgrounds on Spadina Avenue for Dominion Day celebrations. The day’s events included a procession of 50 decorated automobiles and a flotilla of wagons, carriages and festooned floats; foot races and sporting games like lacrosse and baseball - along with children’s activities and a luncheon for the “old timers”. Two brass bands and a bugle band entertained the crowd. But arguably the most exciting portion of the program was the special appearance by Vancouver aviator Billy Stark and his American made Curtiss bi-plane.

Chilliwack Progress, June 25, 1914
The Vancouver News-Advertiser described the event:
“The wind was tricky, and but for the fact that the proposed flight had aroused great interest in the Fraser Valley, particularly among the old timers, Stark would have declined to ascend. After the performance he described it as the riskiest trip he had ever made, although [as the reporter added naively] it appeared quite safe from the ground.”
The Chilliwack Progress was there and reported in their July 9th paper, “The wind was gusty and with difficulty Mr. Stark arose and flew over the town and field shortly after 2 o’clock and at eight o’clock he made another flight, a beautiful one, soaring away to the south and around over the town at the rate of about 60 miles an hour.”

Billy Stark's pilot's licence photo.
image credit: City of Vancouver Archives (the Major Matthews collection)

Chilliwack Progress, July 9, 1914

Billy Stark; sometimes referred to as “Birdman” was a race car driver turned aviator who earned his pilot’s licence from the Curtiss Aviation School in San Diego, California in 1912.

After completing his training Billy Stark purchased the latest Curtiss airplane from the factory and had it shipped to Vancouver. The aircraft was fabricated from wire, bamboo and spruce and covered with stretched fabric, making it lightweight. A six cylinder gasoline engine powered the aircraft and between the wings were flying wires that required regular tightening.

In April, 1912 Billy’s wife, Olive, made history when she became the first woman airplane passenger in Canada – as she took flight in the passenger seat of her husband’s open cockpit Curtiss bi-plane.


Canadian Museum of Flight

British Columbia Historical Quarterly - October of 1939. It describes how and when William (“Billy”) M. Stark made Canadian aviation history.
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