The ‘Good Old GHX’

When I read in the September CAHS newsletter that Gord McNulty had visited the North Atlantic Aviation Museum, I just had to respond. Because one aircraft that wasn’t mentioned was the Douglas C47 whose nose graces the front of the museum and whose tail takes you out.

The C-47 has been called The Greatest Aircraft of Its Time and the people from a small uranium mine on the shores of Lake Athabasca in northern Saskatchewan in the 1950s and ’60s would agree.

Nestled into a rocky bay, the town of Gunnar Mines was 400 miles from the nearest centre - Edmonton. Our lifeline was a battle-hardened C-47 that had carried American troops and supplies in the fierce battles against the Japanese in WWII, then helped rescue American and European prisoners in the Philippines.

Relieved of its war duties, it flew cargo in the Philippines, United States and northern Ontario before landing on the ice of St. Mary’s Channel in 1953. Its war-time camouflage had been replaced by a sleek silver and what a beauty it was. The great old workhorse carried mining supplies, employees, families, and food to and from the mine. Passengers sat along the sides in the original troop seats until forward-facing seats were finally added. But the aircraft’s most important role was to carry cargo. When ice returned to the lake, and tugs and barges could no longer transport the barrels of uranium concentrate destined for the United States for its Cold War battle against the Soviet Union, the barrels were simply tied into the centre of the plane, alongside the passengers.

Known by its call-letters GHX and distinguished by its lack of creature comforts (bare fuselage, no heating, calamitous plunges in air pockets, air sickness bags, and noise), nonetheless this plane’s arrival and departure was marked by the town’s residents as if it were an old friend. The GHX faithfully and safely (with no small credit going to its pilots) made daily flights back and forth to Edmonton, weather permitting, until the mine closed in 1964.

As one of those former Gunnar residents, I like to think of this important contributor to world and Canadian history as still in flight, mounted as it is on the NAAM.

Article contributed by Patricia Sandberg, former passenger on GHX and kid at Gunnar, and author of Sun Dogs and Yellowcake: Gunnar Mines, A National Story. For more details, see

 7 A 2 Cockpit 3 GHX 2015 Courtesy North Atlantic Aviation Museum

GHX’s cockpit has been restored to its familiar green. Photo courtesy of North Atlantic Aviation Museum

 enhanced Courtesy B Schorn

The flight out to civilization – Edmonton – was full of anticipation. Everyone dressed their best, regardless of the weather. Photo courtesy of the Schorn family

GHX courtesy J Botsford 

GHX taxiing on a runway in Alberta – Photo courtesy of J Botsford

 7 A 6 Tail of GHX Courtesy North Atlantic Aviation Museum

As described by one former Gunnar resident, the ‘good old GHX’ now bears the colours and initials of Eastern Provincial Airways and is permanently on the NAAM flightpath. Photo courtesy: North Atlantic Aviation Museum