The Spirit of Harbour Grace

Flanked by the S.S. Kyle and Otterbury Schoolhouse, just off the Harvey Street intersection, stands a monument to Amelia Earhart, undoubtedly the spirit of Harbour Grace aviation history. The first woman to complete a solo transatlantic flight, best-selling author, and social worker was born in Kansas and aspired to the airborne feat from her early twenties. She was a passenger on a flight with Frank Hawks, a famous air-racer, and was captured by destiny. She emerged from that flight in late 1920 determined to be a pilot. In 1922, she became just the 16th woman in the United States to be issued a pilots’ license.

Amelia Statue

Amelia Earhart Monument, Harbour Grace

In 1928 Mrs. Frederick Guest of London, the American wife of an Englishman who was Secretary of State for Air under Prime Minister Lloyd George, contemplated the glorious title of first woman to cross the Atlantic. She hastily purchased a tri-motored Ford plane and began the intensive preparations for a transatlantic flight. Her children, sensing to their surprise that she was serious about the treacherous flight, pleaded with her to abandon it. Reluctantly, Guest agreed, however the flight, designed to foster amicable relations between the United States and Britain, was going to continue despite her concerns, another American woman had to be found quickly! On recommendation from retired Rear Admiral Reginald Belknap, who had met her years earlier, Amelia Earhart was called on an aluminium dial-up phone and asked a question most aviators at the time could only dream of. “Would you like to fly the Atlantic?”

It was early June 1928, when Earhart arrived in Trepassey as a passenger in the “Friendship” hydroplane with pilot William Stultz and mechanic Lou Gordon. The three were quickly introduced to Newfoundland’s unpredictable climate, attempting three times to begin the transatlantic flight over two weeks, only to be stymied by the pelting rain and seemingly impenetrable walls of fog. They successfully departed on June 17, 1928. Earhart was reportedly calm and confident during her time in Trepassey, unaware that a mere 170 kilometres away the “Queen of Diamonds,” Broadway actress Mabel Boll sought to depart Harbour Grace and become the first woman to cross the Atlantic. Unfortunately for Boll, in the early morning hours of June 18 Earhart and the “Friendship” crew landed in Burry Port, Wales. At 29, Earhart was the first woman to aerially cross the Atlantic. Unlike Stultz and Gordon, who were ecstatic to reach the annals of history with their successful transatlantic flight, Earhart seemed disheartened. The historic flight and bravery it took to complete were lost to Earhart, as in her own words, she felt like “baggage on the trip.” Visibly disappointed with having the mundane task of “lying on her stomach and taking pictures” during the flight, she asserted that day, on the field in Burry Port, that someday she would “try it alone.”

Mabel Boll

Mabel Boll

NYT Amelia

NYT Article, Earhart’s Transatlantic Accomplishment, 1928

May 20, 1932 was Earhart’s opportunity. She had contacted famous pilot Bernt Balchen and her mechanic Eddie Gorski after securing a single-engine Lockheed Vega monoplane totally equipped for a transatlantic flight. The three arrived in Harbour Grace from New Jersey, with a rest stopover in Saint John, New Brunswick, at 2:00pm on May 20. Balchen had flown the distance to this point, so Earhart could save her energy for the ever-daunting transatlantic flight. Reinforcing this desire, she was taken by enthusiastic town officials to Archibald’s Hotel, formerly Cochrane House, to rest before the flight, which was planned for that evening. Like numerous trailblazers before her, Earhart was well accommodated during her stay at Archibald’s Hotel, even getting a themos full of Rose Archibald’s delicious beef and veggie soup for the journey. At 7:20pm, waving to Balchen, Gorski, and crowds of inspired residents including young girls beaming with pride for this heroic woman, Earhart opened the engine of the red and gold monoplane, gliding into the sunset.

Earhart at Archibald's Hotel

Earhart (Centre) at Archibald’s Hotel

Earhart in Harbour Grace

Earhart at the Harbour Grace Airport.


Preparing to Depart, 1932


Earhart’s Hydroplane, 1932

This is the riveting description of the nearly 15-hour flight across the Atlantic in Amelia Earhart’s own words:

“For the first four hours everything was lovely. Then suddenly, I ran into rain squalls and heavy wind. Then my exhaust manifold burnt out and bright red flames began shooting out the side. I was not frightened, but it is not any fun to have those flames so near you. Then my altimeter went wrong. There was nothing for me to do but start climbing. Then I discovered my tachometer had frozen, so I knew I was high enough. Ice formation on my wings made me drop lower. It was only twice after that I caught a glimpse of the ocean. When the morning of Saturday came, I was flying between two layers of clouds. The one below me was composed of little white woolly ones. After a while they all joined and formed a great white blanket like a snowfall stretching in every direction. When the sun broke through the blanket above me it was so blinding that, even with my smoked glasses, I had to come down and fly in the clouds for a while so I could see again. When I got into the squalls, I suppose I was to the south and kept correcting to the north. I had plenty of fuel and could have kept right on to Paris, maybe further, but my motor was straining so after sighting land, which I knew must be Ireland, I decided to come down. I could see peat bogs and thatched huts beneath me. I headed North along the railway track and after a while flew over Londonderry. Fifteen minutes later I had landed.”

The international reaction to Earhart’s landing in Londonderry was raucous. The British Prime Minister welcomed her and commended her courage, she received medals of gallantry from the King of Belgium and the government of France, and she was scheduled upon her return to the United States to receive the Congressional Medal of Honour. The financial support to continue her flying career poured in from all corners of the globe while the typewriters in New York furiously churned out glowing articles about the ace airwoman. Most people would probably accept the fame and retire from the dangerous hobby that was early aviation, but Amelia resolved to establish more “firsts for women” as she called her record-making flights. Over the next five years Earhart set three additional records, fastest flight from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey, for a woman pilot, first person to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to the mainland United States, and first person to fly from LA to Mexico City to Newark. Her ambitions did not stop there.

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Earhart Reaches Londonderry, 1932

Having been gifted a twin-engine Lockheed 10 E Electra plane from Purdue University, the most advanced civilian aircraft at the time, Earhart departed California on May 30, 1937 to become the first person to circle the world flying along the equator. Navigator Fred Noonan accompanied her as she soared through Arizona, Florida, Puerto Rico, South America, Africa, the Middle East, India, Thailand, Singapore and Australia. Upon arriving in New Guinea, the expansive Pacific faced Earhart down as the second last leg of her endeavour. Over Howland Island in the South Pacific, Earhart radioed to ships below “we are on a line of position 157 (degrees) to 337 (degrees). We are running north and south.” These were the last words ever heard from Amelia Earhart.

Howland Island

Location of Howland Island, South Pacific

While there are numerous theories as to what happened to Amelia Earhart, her legacy is unchallenged in the history of aviation and of women’s advancement. The monument that stands near the entrance of Harbour Grace is not only a tribute to the woman who flew across the Atlantic solo but represents higher ideals. Earhart represents striving towards achievement, the necessity of self-sacrifice, and the spirit of trailblazing bravery. The pilot’s goggles and flight suit were never hung up during Earhart’s life, and undoubtedly would never have been discarded as long as there were boundaries to conquer and people to inspire.


Authored By: Francis Finlayson


Memorial University Digital Archives Initiative

Parsons, B. and B. Bowman 1983 “The Challenge of the Atlantic: A Photo-Illustrated History of Early Aviation in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland.” Robinson-Blackmore Book Publishers: Newfoundland.

Lineup for the Concert in the Park This Wednesday, August 26!


Event: Concert in the Park Series (Wednesdays in August)

August 26 Lineup:

12:00 p.m. – Long Drung 

12:45 p.m. – John Lilly 

Time: 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Location: Conception Bay Museum Grounds, 1 Water St E, Harbour Grace, NL


  • Weather permitting! We will post at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays if the concert is a go!
  • Social (physical) distancing required: please follow separate enter and exit locations.
  • No concessions will be sold this season. 
  • Max capacity: 50 people. 

Claude Stevenson

*Based on a conversation with Heather Moores

Researching and writing about the aviation history of Harbour Grace is eye-opening because of the heroic and daring endeavours undertaken by transatlantic aviators. It is almost unimaginable that so many were eager to climb into aircrafts characterized at the time by unreliable engines and flimsy fuselage to fly over the treacherous Atlantic Ocean. Whether they succeeded or failed, the stories of those aviators are well-documented as part of the history of Harbour Grace. What is not often talked about are the stories of those who took it upon themselves to maintain the airport and continue its soaring legacy. One of these unsung heroes was Claude Stevenson.

Claude, a native of Harbour Grace, grew up in a similar way as many Newfoundlanders, bobbing on the lopping waters of Conception Bay in search of the day’s catch. As a young man he travelled to Toronto to complete a motor disassembly and rewinding course, quite the distance in the mid-twentieth century. While taking the course, he secretly left Ontario every weekend, travelled to Nova Scotia, and took pilot lessons on a rural farm. Keeping the lessons hidden from his family and friends was surprisingly not overly difficult, as unlike today, where everyone is constantly connected and accessible, Stevenson was unreachable while in Nova Scotia. He eventually bought his own second-hand plane, training with it in Nova Scotia, and after each lesson, a local farmer hid it in his barn until the following weekend. This continued for an astonishing two years. Stevenson returned to Harbour Grace after completing his course, to the shock of his family and friends, he descended from the sky in his second-hand plane and landed at the Harbour Grace Airport. They had no idea he knew how to fly a plane.

Shortly after Claude returned to Harbour Grace, he had made his mark on the history of the Harbour Grace Airport. In the 1960s and 70s Claude crushed stone, trimmed bushes, and mowed the grass of the airport, keeping it perfectly shaped for his favourite hobby and for the benefit of the community. One funny incident from his time maintaining the airport happened at the start of the winter, when Claude would normally remove the windsock flying above the airport and repair it by hand in anticipation of the spring. The Town sought to remove the windsock and sent its own officials to climb the pole for it. Using ladders and safety equipment from the Harbour Grace Volunteer Fire Department, they reached, stretched, strained, and climbed. They could not reach the windsock. After hours, Claude showed up at the airport, laughing at the struggling workers. He approached the pole, unlocked a small latch at the bottom, and began turning a small handle, which lowered the windsock in seconds.

In the late 1970s and 80s, Claude frequently took his nieces and nephews flying above Conception Bay, Trinity Bay, and the historic regions of Harbour Grace. Guy Moores was a primary school student in the late 1970s when Claude took him flying. Guy had done a project in September of the fourth grade, the teacher had each student write about their favourite summer activities. When Guy wrote that he had soared over Conception Bay on summer days in his uncle’s small monoplane, the teacher could not believe it. When asking Heather however, she was told it was all true, to her amazement. Claude would take them flying from 5am to 7am and have the young kids at school for 8am.

Claude Stevenson never sought recognition for his decades of maintenance and contributions to the Harbour Grace Airport, not even after building a wooden plane hanger that still stands at the airport today. Many pilots since have made use of Claude’s hanger. He continued to maintain and fly from the Harbour Grace Airport every year until his passing in 2013, at 87 years old. In 2014 he was posthumously awarded the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association President’s Award due to being an “enthusiastic caretaker” of the Harbour Grace Airport. His legacy remains pertinent, as without him, the Harbour Grace Airport would not be as accessible and usable as it is today, perhaps not usable at all.


Claude Stevenson

Authored By: Francis Finlayson


Conversation with Heather Moores

COPA President’s Award Winners


Lights Installed at the Grounds

Let there be light!

Check out the latest addition to our grounds: outdoor lighting! These are activated by a timer – they come on in the evening and turn off around 12 a.m. Drop by some evening and have a walk through!

Notice: Today’s Concert in the Park Postponed Until Friday, August 21




August 19, 2020: 

Notice RE: Concert in the Park at the Conception Bay Museum, Harbour Grace

Today’s Concert in the Park has been postponed until Friday, August 21 – same time, same place! The show starts at 12:00 p.m., with Alishia Mahaney as the opening act and Driftwood Cross hitting the stage at 12:45 p.m.

Bring a blanket or a lawn chair and drop by this Friday!


Windswept Tail

            Captain John Henry Mears was dismayed, an experienced and ambitious navigator, he never anticipated such a wasteful accident. As its engine sputtered and black smoke curled from the fuselage, the “City of New York” had lost the glamour of its namesake. A botched diagonally oriented departure from the Harbour Grace Airport had ripped the control levers from pilot Harry Brown’s hands, dragging the aircraft to the left and onto the south edge of the field. After cutting the engine in desperation, the inertia pushed the two off the edge, the plane leapt approximately 10 feet before crashing into the jagged rocks and prickly bushes characteristic of Newfoundland. Dizzily stumbling their way out of the wrecked plane, Mears and Brown found themselves staring at the shocked faces of Magistrate John Casey and the townsfolk. Aside from mild disorientation and Mears’ stinging shoulder, the two were luckily unharmed. Wasteful, yes, a setback, yes, but nobody was permanently hurt. Like a startled child, Mears began frantically sorting through the cockpit, he was missing something. Tailwind was gone!


The “City of New York” veering off course

201627 - City of New York

The Wrecked “City of New York”

Months before the “Winnie Mae” made its famous global round-trip, Mears sought to break the record set by the “Graf Zeppelin” of fastest around-the-world flight, a record previously set by himself. Mears was not only angered at his record being beaten, but also by the idea of a non-American owning the record, as he was a fierce patriot. So, he and pilot Harry Brown would depart Roosevelt Field in New York City on August 2, 1930, intent on stopping in Harbour Grace, Dublin, Ireland, England, Belgium, Poland, Stansvik (Latvia), Lithuania (Russia), China, Japan, cross the Pacific, and return via Canada. Moments before leaving, as the engine hummed and the propellers began rotating, a voice called to Mears from the gaggle of reporters and flight officials’ intent on seeing the historic departure. A woman with curled brown hair and piercing dark eyes, dressed in a burgundy silk dress with a leather coat, approached the plane holding a scruffy light-coloured terrier. This was Mary Pickford, a nationally famous, Canadian-born actress known as “America’s Sweetheart.” She presented Mears and Brown with the fidgety terrier named Tailwind as a good-luck charm for their flight.


John Henry Mears, 1930


Mary Pickford, 1929

It was a still summer day in Harbour Grace, blue skies and the freshly cut Airport grass swaying in a light breeze. A substantial gathering of curious onlookers populated the grounds near the Airport in anticipation of the visitors from New York. Almost immediately after the rumor had been spread that a plane was landing in Harbour Grace, an excited shout emanated from the crowd “There she is!” As the tiny plane got progressively larger the words “City of New York” could be read on the side of its maroon-coloured fuselage. With a graceful touch it landed at the Airport around 15 minutes after it had first been spotted. Judge Casey and Frank Archibald, representative of the Prime Minister of the Dominion of Newfoundland, greeted the two trailblazers. While the crew was embraced by the town officials, the observers admired the Lockheed Vega Monoplane. With cream wings and a maroon fuselage, it was strikingly sleek. It was claimed that it could travel at a speed of 160 miles per hour and perhaps as high as 200 miles per hour with a tailwind. It was equipped with a 420 horsepower Pratt and Witney Wasp Engine and carried 450 gallons of gas and 30 gallons of oil. The trim cabin was equipped with an expensive two way-radio generally seen in affluent aviation clubs.

200957501 - City of New York

The “City of New York”

Mears determined, at the disapproval of the Harbour Grace Airport Trust, that the “City of New York” would depart in the wee hours of the next morning, before a speck of daylight could be seen. Encouraged by the silver ray of moonlight at the Airport, and the golden embers of signal flares illuminating its west end, Mears and Brown eagerly climbed into their monoplane. With the help of a slight southwest wind and signals from the nearby headlights of parked cars, the “City of New York,” with a timid Tailwind in Mears’ arms, rocketed forward.

As he informed the onlookers of Tailwind’s vanishing, Mears wondered how the crash happened. Perhaps it was too hasty, perhaps he should have waited until daylight, or maybe the flares disoriented Brown during the takeoff. No matter, finding Tailwind was the top priority. Mears subsequently announced in the Harbour Grace Standard that he would pay $100 to anyone that safely returned Tailwind to him. Feeling sorry for Mears, residents combed through Harbour Grace, from the airport bluffs to Bishop’s Field (St. Francis Field) to Water Street. Hours passed and Mears grew worried, Tailwind was an adorable pup and a sentimental gesture of goodwill. Thankfully, a resident of Harbour Grace named George Hunt eased those worries when he returned to Mears with Tailwind at his side, ensuring the dog was safely with him once again.


Mears holding Tailwind (centre), and Brown (right), waving before the departure

While Tailwind was found, the “City of New York” was unrecoverable, as the damage from the accident was far too extensive to be repaired. Any parts that were salvageable, such as the radio equipment were immediately crated and sent back to New York for future use. Mears and Brown remained steadfast in their desire to complete the around-the-world flight, but it was not to be. Interestingly, it is said that the family members of at least three modern residents of Harbour Grace took souvenirs from the wrecked “City of New York,” but this remains unconfirmed. Whatever the case, the stories of the “City of New York” and that of the later “Winnie Mae” would soon be drowned out, as a young woman who had crossed the Atlantic from Trepassey less than two years earlier was waiting in the wings.

Authored By: Francis Finlayson



Parsons, B. and B. Bowman 1983 “The Challenge of the Atlantic: A Photo-Illustrated History of Early Aviation in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland.” Robinson-Blackmore Book Publishers: Newfoundland.


Racing against time was rapidly gaining speed among aviators in the early 1930s, continuing the ever-accelerating sprint to modern aviation. Transatlantic flights, while still undeniably treacherous and popular among aviation enthusiasts, were no longer the fad. Successful around-the-world flights completed at an ever-faster pace dominated the imaginations of North American aircraft crews. The record for circling the earth in a heavier-than-air machine was held by the Graf Zeppelin, which made the trip in 21 days. This record remained unchallenged until June 23, 1931 when Wiley Post, Pilot, and Harold Gatty, Navigator, took off from New York in the “Winnie Mae”, on the first leg of what they hoped would be a ten-day flight around the world.

The “Winnie Mae” hovered over a newly landscaped Harbour Grace Airport on the surprisingly hot and still June morning. It was 10:42am when the crew glided to a graceful landing, reminiscent of the effortless perching of the bald eagles sometimes spotted around the community. Unlike the peaceful descent, when Post and Gatty emerged from the “Winnie Mae,” the airport became hectically intense. Walking towards Magistrate Casey with frantic vigor, the crew flatly refused a formal announcement and dismissed the townsfolk, grimacing as if straining to get away from the prying eyes of the public, subsequently powerwalking down the nearby dusty dirt descent determined to depart Harbour Grace quickly. Like many aviators before them, Post and Gatty went to Cochrane House, but they just ate hurriedly. The slightly disappointed residents trickled away from the airport, surely mumbling in aggravation.

2009067 - Winnie Mae

Post (right), trying to get away from town officials

Local mechanics tinkered with the sublimely constructed “Winnie Mae.” With a wingspan of 41 feet, length of 27-feet 8 inches, height of 8 feet 6 inches, and a 550-horsepower cylinder engine, the monoplane was steadfast. Residents surely remembered the flimsy and comical “Gipsy Moth,” which was a pipsqueak in comparison. Along with its sturdy make, the “Winnie Mae” was adorned with first-class technologies, courtesy of the obsessive Post. Its fuel capacity was 645 gallons, it had a Sperry Automatic Pilot apparatus, Radio direction finder, earth induction compass, and it was previously flown for under eight days. In short, the “Winnie Mae” longed for a strenuous, record-breaking flight, eager to flaunt its abilities. It would only take a positive weather report to set such a flight in motion, which came about three hours later, at 2:00pm.

2009930 - Winnie Mae

The “Winnie Mae” in Harbour Grace

High winds combined with pelting rain and a wall of dense fog North of the Azores threatened to delay Post and Gatty, but because that was the only concern, the crew decided to simply fly above the weather system. After just four hours in Harbour Grace, most of it spent impatiently waiting at the Cochrane House for the weather report from New York, the “Winnie Mae” was soaring above Water Street, bound for England. Characteristic of Newfoundland, the “Winnie Mae” encountered pestering tailwinds for the first 600 miles of their transatlantic connection. It is easy to picture Post and Gatty, intent on setting a new record for quickest round-the-world flight, fiddling with their top-notch equipment in a tedious effort to shake loose the tailwinds and anticipated cloud systems. Their persistence remained, and despite any minor obstacles, at 8:45am on June 24th they landed at the Royal Air Force Airdrome near Chester, England.


Location of the Azores

As if seeking to top the leaderboards in every category, the “Winnie Mae” landed in Chester, England after 15 hours, 48 minutes, which was 12 minutes less than it took Alcock and Brown to make their transatlantic crossing in the iconic “Vickers Vimy.” The usually focused and unrelenting Post leaned out of the cockpit with an exacerbated wheeze. As the damp fog and sprinkling drizzle hit their faces, Post and Gatty slowly gained their footing, legs feeling like Yorkshire pudding, and trudged through the muddied airfield. It is said that some locals volunteered to help the two walk to a resting area, as exhaustion gripped their cramped and stress-inebriated muscles. For most aviators, completing the transatlantic journey and dealing with all the physical or mental strain that comes with it would be enough, but Post and Gatty pushed onward, departing England that same day, and arriving in Hanover, Germany in the afternoon.

Over the next eight days, the “Winnie Mae” embarked on an excursion that would make even the worldliest contemporary travellers turn green with envy. On June 25, Post and Gatty reached Berlin, Germany, soaring over the famous 18th century Brandenburg Gate. After spending a night in Berlin, the aviators landed in Moscow at approximately 1pm, where they were invited by Soviet aviation officials to a lavish banquet at the imposing Leningradskaya Hotel. The following day they journeyed to Irkutsk, Siberia, 2,600 miles away. They followed the trans-Siberian railway route, flying over the jagged snow-capped Ural Mountains. Astonishingly, Post reported that the “Winnie Mae” “functioned perfectly” during this perilous stretch. On June 29th, the two landed at the nearly deserted fields known as Solomon, Alaska, after an energy-sapping 16-hour flight over the North Pacific. Suddenly, in a scary incident, Gatty was struck by the plane’s propeller after carelessly jumping from the cockpit upon landing in Solomon. Luckily, he was a sufficient distance from the propeller to receive only a cut requiring minor stitching. As if nothing happened, the “Winnie Mae” was spotted landing in Edmonton, Alberta, the following day.

Aerial View of Berlin, Brandenburg Gate (right)

Berlin, Brandenburg Gate (right)


Leningradskaya Hotel, Moscow


Ural Mountains

Nome, Alaska, near Solomon

Nome region, Alaska (incl. Solomon)

On July 1, 1931, at 10:17am the blasts of high-pitched sirens, thunderous applause, and blinding camera flashes greeted Post and Gatty as they descended into their newfound fame. The seductive skyscrapers of New York City enveloped the “Winnie Mae,” confirming the triumphant completion of the eight-day, 15 hour, and 51-minute round-the-world flight, crushing the previous 21-day record set by the Graf Zeppelin. New York Mayor James Walker welcomed Post and Gatty, declaring that they had joined the aviation greats and set new heights for human accomplishment. Among the crowds of reporters and civilians at Roosevelt Field that morning to greet them were some of those aviation greats, Charles Lindbergh, Chamberlain, Burt Acosta and William Brock. Post would go on to break the record once more in the “Winnie Mae,” but it was this flight in 1931 that wrote his, and Gatty’s, names in the aviation history books.

Speaking in NY after flight

Post speaking after arriving in New York, signed.

Authored By: Francis Finlayson


Parsons, B. and B. Bowman 1983 “The Challenge of the Atlantic: A Photo-Illustrated History of Early Aviation in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland.” Robinson-Blackmore Book Publishers: Newfoundland.


A speck of dust, puny, measly, insignificant, the single-seater biplane known as the “Gipsy Moth” was confusing to transatlantic aviation enthusiasts. Shipped to St. John’s in a series of crates from Liverpool, England, the biplane could muster a comical 85 horsepower, less than half of the 200 horsepower of the monoplanes used for transatlantic crossings, and its Captain, Harry C. MacDonald always mustered far more. MacDonald was known as a firebrand, a Royal Navy reservist, he served in the Battle of Jutland as part of the HMS “Warspite” crew, during which his boldness was on full display.


The “Gypsy Moth” in Harbour Grace

The HMS “Warspite” crashed through the jagged waves of the North Sea, its deck barraged by a torrential downpour and its signals obscured upon encountering a taunting fortress of dense fog. Flanked by the HMS “Malaya,” the “Warspite” uneasily scanned for enemy vessels, unaware that German submarines lurked beneath the desolately deep darkened depths. With a thunderous boom the “Warspite” trembled, its hull contorting and contracting reacting to the piercing sting of a German torpedo. She was hit. Cannons opened, alarms blared, the Battle of Jutland began. The largest naval engagement of the first world war, the Battle of Jutland pitted 151 British ships against 99 German and resulted in approximately 10,000 casualties total. Harry C. MacDonald, a deck hand on the “Warspite” would have been one of many servicemen dazed by the blast and selflessly tending to the damaged areas of the hull. It is easy to picture the pointed shrapnel and scorched steel threatening to injure the crew, all the while hearing panicked shouts of another imminent strike. That day, the “Warspite” was holed 150 times by submerged torpedoes, battleship barrages, and anti-personnel mines. Nonetheless, the British claimed victory.

Jutland location and battle lines

Battle of Jutland Theatre


HMS “Warspite” (left) Flanked by HMS “Malaya” (right)

Invincible Blowing Up

HMS “Invincible” Torpedoed

MacDonald’s experiences that day undoubtedly stayed with him, as the bold audaciousness he exemplified during the Battle of Jutland accompanied his aviation exploits. Before arriving in Harbour Grace in October 1928, MacDonald toured France, Italy, Egypt, Arabia, ancient Mesopotamia, and Spain in his tiny “Gipsy Moth.” Soaring above ancient civilizations and enduring the radical weather changes in the separate regions, MacDonald piloted his biplane as an ace would, despite only having an astonishingly low eight hours of previous flying experience. His decision to conquer the Atlantic in the “Gipsy Moth” came with no reservations, reflecting the trailblazing spirit possessed by those transatlantic aviators before him. MacDonald arrived in Harbour Grace with the intention of following Alcock and Brown’s famous 1919 pioneering transatlantic route. Intentions, however, are often unintentionally subverted.


An Arabian Sandstorm, MacDonald Avoided Storm Systems.

As Alcock and Brown discovered when departing St. John’s in 1919, a mixture of high winds, erratic precipitation, and faulty early aviation technology, posed a grave risk to transatlantic pilots. While Alcock and Brown reached Clifton, Ireland successfully, it was not without nearly ruinous dangers. As noted in “The Handley Page “Atlantic” at Sea Level,” the ambitious aviators travelled through a blinding curtain of fog laced with pillorying ice shards. At one point, they flew in a nauseating, disorienting upside-down fashion to avoid storm cloud formations. When considering the monstrous size of the Handley Page “Atlantic,” weighing 14 tons with a wingspan of 126 feet, and shipped in 15 over-sized crates, it is impossible to think the minuscule “Gipsy Moth” would remain sturdy during the relentlessly repetitive retribution of the elements.

Alcock and Brown Cross Atlantic

New York Times Report on Alcock and Brown Successfully Completing their Transatlantic Flight.

Handley Page Atlantic

The Enormous Handley Page “Atlantic.”

While in Harbour Grace, MacDonald endured a three-week delay because of uncertain weather, advised by the Department of the Air Ministry of the United Kingdom to remain grounded while storm systems subsided off the coast of Newfoundland. While not having extensive preparation to tend to, MacDonald did, as did numerous transatlantic aviators before him, allow the townsfolk to refuel and clean his aircraft. Magistrate John Casey supervised the maintenance, according to one report, he was visibly perplexed at the notion that such a flimsy and puny plane would attempt a transatlantic crossing. Picturing Casey, one can imagine the anxiety he felt while observing the hearty tradesmen of Harbour Grace, many of the same men who prepared the “Sir John Carling” and “Royal Winsor,” laboriously tweak the fuel cylinders and wipe down the visor of the “Gipsy Moth.” He must have realized the potential for disaster awaiting MacDonald, should even the slightest obstacle face his single-seater biplane. Nevertheless, on October 17, 1928 MacDonald departed the Harbour Grace Airport at 1:21pm, bound for Croydon, England, his plane seemingly hopping down the runway.

2009937 - Gypsy Moth

Harry C. MacDonald (left) Preparing to Depart Harbour Grace

The following morning, he was spotted 700 miles East of Newfoundland, by the Dutch steam ship “Hartenburg.” If the “Gipsy Moth” continued as intended, MacDonald would arrive in England in a few short hours. Unfavourable rainstorms had cleared up over Galway shortly before he was scheduled to arrive. As his family and friends waited for the triumphant landing, the minutes ticked by, then minutes became hours. Unreasonably late, MacDonald’s family began to rationalize, avoiding the horrible conclusion that felt increasingly likely. Perhaps MacDonald had gotten lost and landed in an area with nobody to communicate with. After all, he brought no wired communication apparatus on the flight, they reasoned. A day passed, and on October 19, flares that had been lit to guide MacDonald to Croydon were extinguished. Eventually, with no sighting of MacDonald for weeks, it was acknowledged that he was another unfortunate victim of the swallowing Atlantic. Harry C. MacDonald was never seen again, nor was any trace of the feeble “Gipsy Moth,” ever found. The conclusion implicitly expected by Magistrate Casey and the aviation enthusiasts of Harbour Grace upon first seeing the biplane became reality, the “Gipsy Moth,” was simply no match for the treacherous endeavour.

Despite the recklessness exhibited by MacDonald’s transatlantic flight attempt at first glance, it can be assumed that his foolhardiness may have saved future lives, as traffic at the Harbour Grace Airport slowed dramatically in the following year due to new safety concerns. Regardless, Harbour Grace would host its most historically significant and daring flights since the Handley Page “Atlantic” in the coming years.

Authored By: Francis Finlayson


Memorial University of Newfoundland – Digital Archives Initiative,

Parsons, B. and B. Bowman 1983 “The Challenge of the Atlantic: A Photo-Illustrated History of Early Aviation in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland.” Robinson-Blackmore Book Publishers: Newfoundland.


Concert in the Park Series Starts This Wednesday, August 5!


Event: Concert in the Park Series (Wednesdays in August)

August 5 Lineup: 12:00: Paul Stevenson; 12:45: Phillip Clarke

Location: Conception Bay Museum Grounds


  • Weather permitting! We will post at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays if the concert is a go!
  • Social (physical) distancing required: please follow separate enter and exit locations.
  • No concessions will be sold this season. 
  • Max capacity: 50 people.