Best-known, respected and honoured for his considerable and authoritative contributions to Canada’s aviation history through his prolific writings on the subject, Frank Ellis was, by no means, just a chronicler. While his book Canada’s Flying Heritage (1954; revised and reprinted, 1961) remains the gold standard on the subject, there is another Frank Ellis that perhaps few people know. At various stages in his 86 years, he could legitimately have claimed to be: a model airplane builder, an airplane builder, a self-taught pilot, a mechanic, an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company, a records clerk with the City of Toronto, a parachutist, a barnstormer, a photographer and cartoonist, a bus dr iver with the West Vancouver Municipal Transit System, a poet, journalist and author. He was also a certifiable packrat.
In 1920, Ellis, now in Winnipeg and with the Canadian Aircraft Company, found himself on an Avro 504K, chartered by the Winnipeg Free Press to fly reporter Cec Lamont to the site of a bank robbery. This was the first time a plane had ever been used for such a purpose. Bandits had come over the U.S. border and robbed the Union Bank of Canada in the town of Winkler, Manitoba. The front page of the October 13, 1920 edition, said: “The bandits, after demolishing the vault and safe with nitroglycerine, got $19,000 in cash and $2,000 in cheques. They left $25.35 only. Police believe they were bootleggers engaged in running whiskey across the border near Haskett, Manitoba – 12 miles south of Winkler. Dozens of automobiles are in the whiskey-running business there… and a fast car from Winkler could reach North Dakota unchallenged within 20 minutes of the robbery.” Ellis speculates: “ it was quite a scoop for the Free Press. First time, apparently, a paper in Canada had ever used an airplane to get a scoop like that.”
The Press reported that the bandits were never caught. Anyone with information on their whereabouts is asked to call Crime Stoppers.