Categories: Stories From Our Past
Roland J. Groome- Regina's Aviation Hero
During spring time, the skies in Saskatchewan stretch endlessly into the horizon, prompting daydreams of travel and adventure. I thought it would be a good time of year to look back at one of our early aviation pioneers, a man who looked at the same Saskatchewan sky, and decided he belonged there. This is the story of Roland J. Groome, a Regina resident who became the first licensed pilot in Canada.
Roland J. Groome was born in 1899 in Britain and immigrated to Canada with his family as a young boy. He became fascinated with flying after watching an aerial performance at the Regina Exhibition in 1911. During WWI, Groome trained as a pilot, and became an instructor in Ontario, training young British and Canadian soldiers for combat overseas. After returning from the war, Groome partnered with fellow pilot Ed Clarke, and mechanic Robert McCombie, forming the Aerial Service Company in 1919 (at what is now Hill Ave and Cameron St.). The planes carried passengers and freight as well as offering flying lessons. Return Trips to Fort Qu’appelle cost 80.00, Moose Jaw 70.00, and one way to either cost 50.00. For thrill seekers with money to spare, they also offered airplane rides over Regina for 10.00.
Prior to 1920, commercial flying was largely unregulated in Canada. After 1920, the Dominion Government had inspectors appointed to examine pilots and inspect airports. Groome had to fly a cross country test flight in a storm, and after successfully doing this, was granted the first pilot’s license issued in the Dominion of Canada. Because of Groome’s skills in the cockpit, Regina also became home to the 1st airplane registered in Canada, and Groome’s engineer, Robert McCombie earned the first engineer’s license. The Aerial Service Company was the first registered air harbor in the country.Most of these early years were devoted to travelling around to fairs throughout the province, “barnstorming” for crowds. This early venture proved difficult to maintain in the recession stricken prairies, where folks did not have the disposable income to partake in “joy rides” in an airplane.
This all changed in 1927, when Groome and Jack Wight started Universal Air Industries, Ltd. At the spot on Albert street where the Golden Mile Centre stands today. In 1927, the Regina Flying Club was also formed, and R.J. Groome was instructor, responsible for training pilots to become licensed. The Club itself required considerable investment, and many local businesses offered support of this venture through donations. In June of 1928, the Flying club received its’ first plane courtesy of the Federal Government, a DeHavilland Moth, and classes were started.
In 1930, the Lakeview airport was closed and the Regina Municipal Airport was opened on the current site of the Regina Airport. On the afternoon of Sept 20, 1935, Groome and his student, Arnold Sims were tragically killed when the Avro Avian plane they were flying, came apart mid-air. They crashed to the ground just north-east of the Regina airport. The death of Regina's foremost pilot caused an outpouring of grief throughout the city, and the Groome family received condolences from air men located throughout the Dominion. During his career, Groome personally taught 175 people how to fly, and was a crucial early promoter of air travel. To honor his countless contributions the Regina airfield was renamed the Roland J. Groome airfield in 2005. Next time you see a plane flying the Regina skies, take a moment to think of Roland Groome and his partners, who took to the skies and made history almost a century ago.
Written By: S. Hay
Note- All reference items used for researching this article can be found in the "Aviation" section of the upright files in the Prairie History Room of the Regina Public Library.
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