Pilot Wilfred ‘Leigh’ Brintnell is in the Spotlight during Veteran’s Week


Wilfred Leigh Brintnell, better known as Leigh, was born in Belleville Ontario in 1895. He joined the Royal Flying Corps, part of the Canadian Air Force in 1917 as a pilot. Leigh eventually became a flight instructor and worked in Borden, Fort Worth, Texas and with the Royal Air Force in Upavon, England.

After his discharge from the military, Leigh became a commercial Pilot with various civilian airlines. In 1927, he worked for Western Canada Airways, quickly rising to the position of Manager. As a Canadian aviation pioneer, he was involved in several historic events between 1928 and 1931. These included piloting the first multi-engine return flight from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Vancouver, British Columbia; the first flight around Great Bear Lake; and the first over-the-mountains flight from Aklavik, Northwest Territories, to Dawson City, Yukon Territory. He also flew a historic 9,000 mile trip from Winnipeg across the Northwest Territories to Alaska.

Leigh left Canadian Airways Limited, the successor company of Western Canada Airways, soon after being appointed Assistant General Manager in 1931 to form his own company, the Mackenzie Air Service Limited in Edmonton, Alberta. He eventually sold the company to the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1940, but stayed on to help expand the business into Canadian Pacific Airlines.

During World War II (WWII), Leigh became a manager at Aircraft Repair Limited, overseeing the effort to maintain Canadian military aircraft. He helped ensure the Royal Canadian Air Force had safe and properly working equipment during wartime. For this service he was awarded the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) Civil in 1946. In the acknowledgments upon receiving this Order, it was stated,”The dedication of his exceptional skills as both airman and operations manager during the inception of this nation’s commercial flight operations and airmail services, his pioneer flights across unmapped territories and his self-set standards for perfection that fostered the highest operational standards within those under his command, have been of outstanding benefit to Canadian aviation.”

In 1952 following WWII, Leigh operated Arctic Air Lines, an aerial photographic business. Arctic Air Lines helped map the North for pilots, especially those who flew mail and supplies into local isolated communities. Within the growing bush pilot community, who flew into remote areas in the North, Leigh had become an innovator. He not only flew on trips himself but helped other pilots who operated in remote areas thanks to his photograph and mapping services. In 1963, he was featured in a story produced by the CBC about bush pilots.

Leigh Brintnell died in Edmonton, Alberta in 1971, and was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 1976. As a memorial to Leigh, a neighborhood near Edmonton was named Brintnell in his honor. As of the 2005 Census, 154 residences live in Brintnell, Alberta made up of mainly single family homes that feature community parks, where the streets have aviation themed names.

On November 11th, we pause to remember Leigh Brintnell and all of Canada’s Veterans. Their courage, service and sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Discover more about Remembrance Day and Canadian military history.

Get more information on occupations available with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Find out about the training requirements to become a Forces member.

Image gallery

Date modified: