Jock Palmer – The Grandfather of Alberta Aviation

John Enderby “Jock” Palmer was born in Cambridge, England in 1898 and moved to Lethbridge in 1905. In 1911 it is said that he observed E.B. Ely’s Curtis biplane being assembled at the Exhibition Grounds for what was the first flight of an aircraft in Lethbridge. He was educated in Toronto and Lethbridge.

In October, 1914 Jock joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force where he served in the 10th Battalion. He was awarded the DCM for gallantry as a corporal machine gunner at Festubert in May, 1915. In June, 1916 Jock was wounded and when released from hospital, transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. After becoming a pilot, he flew observation aircraft over the trenches in France, was credited with nine “Victories,” and instructed in England in 1917 and 1918 where he also flew “channel patrol” flights. Upon the formation of the Royal Air Force, he was automatically transferred and served with the RAF until November, 1919 when he returned to Lethbridge.

Between the wars, Jock flew extensively as a barnstormer, commercial pilot, and instructor. From 1920 until 1922 he was involved with the Lethbridge Aircraft Company, test flying the company’s Curtiss JN-4 after it arrived in the city by train. He then proceeded to take the first passengers for flights and gave a flying expedition over the city to advertise the Locklear film, “The Great Air Robbery” that was showing at a local theatre. He was issued with a Commercial Pilot Certificate #64 in September, 1920. By the end of 1921 the Lethbridge Aircraft Company reported that they had flown over 30,000 miles during the year and that they would be giving up exhibition flying in favour of operating a school to train new pilots.

In 1922 he organized the first mail plane flight from Lethbridge to Ottawa to advertise the City of Lethbridge and promote his company’s flying school. However, the aircraft was wrecked in Minot, North Dakota when a car was driven in front of it during a landing. An investigation revealed that the car had been operated by a woman learning to drive, and that she was unaware that she had driven in front of the airplane.

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Mayor Hahrdie of Lethbridge with Standard J-1 airplane circa 1924.J.E. Palmer, pilot, is seated in the cockpit.

Palmer had learned about radio during the war and in 1926 he obtained a license for the first radio station in Lethbridge, forming a partnership with Bill Grant to get a license. He was assigned the call letters CJ by the license office and used the letters OC to make it sound like his nickname, “Jock.” CJOC radio began its broadcasts from the kitchen of Jock’s mother’s house but was soon moved to a shed behind the house. He sold the station in 1928 but it continues to broadcast today.

In 1927 Jock returned to flying with Lethbridge Commercial Airways. He appears to have had lots of interesting ideas to promote his business. For example on September 12, 1927, in order to publicize a weekly flight to Waterton National Park, Jock dropped tickets over the City of Lethbridge. The person who picked up the winning ticket was to receive a free flight to Waterton. Another money-maker was advertising for the local brewery by having, “Drink our Beer -Without a Peer” painted on the bottom of his wing.

Jock flew the first six-place cabin plane to be used in western Canada. It was purchased by Emil Sick of the Associated Breweries and for some time they operated the plane for the brewery. Jock then moved to Calgary flying with Great Western Airways until 1930. Later he formed two companies of his own, Western Flying Service and Skyways, but both fell victim to the difficult economic times. In 1937 he moved to the Windermere Valley where he spent six weeks cutting down over 200 trees and grading a runway. With others, he operated a flying service in the Columbia Valley until war broke out.

Jock Palmer with Cirrus Moth at Calgary circa 1929.

Original flight instructors at #5 EFTS at Lethbridge.(l-r) Joe Patton, Homer Thompson, Bill Roy, Jock Palmer, Bill Smith, Ken Piper, Frank Hawthorne, Fred Lasby.[ Glenbow Archives NA 1170-3 ]
After his years as a barnstormer and commercial pilot he was able to claim to have flown 9881 hours on 98 types of aircraft when he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force after war broke out again. He attended Flying Instructor School in Trenton, Ontario in June and July, 1940 and became one of the first flight instructors at the newly formed No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School in Lethbridge. When the school was transferred to High River, Jock went with it and a newspaper article written when it was opened indicates that he was by then the assistant chief flying instructor. The article goes on to say that Jock, “is believed to have rolled up the highest number of flying hours of anyone in Canada. He has officially logged 9782 hours and put in about 1500 more hours that he didn’t take time to log.”

On October 26, 1943 he was awarded the Air Force Cross, a medal presented to Officers and Warrant Officers for an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying but not in active operations against an enemy. The citation read: “Having been connected with flying training for the past twenty years, this officer, for the past two years, has capably fulfilled his duties as an Assistant Chief Flying Instructor and a Chief Flying Instructor. His experience and unfailing devotion to duty have inspired confidence and respect in both trainees and Instructors. Through his untiring efforts as Chief Flying Instructor all courses graduated on time with all sequences completed despite the difficulties that had to be overcome.

After becoming Chief Flying Instructor, he was the commanding officer of the School for time. The No. 5 EFTS History notes that, “Jock was well-known and liked by all the staff and by hundreds of students who passed through his hands.”

After the war Jock remained at High River where he had an electrical business. He ended his flying career in 1955 with over 18,000 hours, receiving the unofficial title “Grandfather of Alberta Aviation”. In 1988 he was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.

Jock Palmer died at High River on November 19, 1964.