Every morning on my way to the gym to do my work out I pass by this statue of Tom Lamb on the main floor at the Lombard Place entrance of the Richardson Building. Many people rest their belongings on the statue’s base now in winter to give themselves free hands to secure their scarves and hats before stepping out into the snowy cold air. I’ve done it myself. Today I took time to read the plaque on the statue that told me who the pilot in the statue was, and why he merited a bronze likeness by the famed Canadian sculptor Leo Mol. I was curious to learn more about Tom Lamb. I found out he’d been born in 1898 in Grand Rapids Manitoba. His British father and mother were Anglican missionaries in the north. His Dad did many different jobs but was primarily a school teacher. He moved his family to Moose Lake in 1900.
Although Tom would later be awarded an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Manitoba his formal education ended at grade three. In 1935 he bought an airplane and learned to fly it so he could go fly fishing in the north. Four years later he had founded Lambair.
The airline hauled fish and furs, trappers and fishermen. They transported Inuit families and equipment for oil rigs. They handled emergency and medical evacuations. The motto of the airline was “Don’t ask us where we fly! Tell us where you want to go.”
Tom, also known as the “Babe Ruth of bush pilots” married Jennie and they had nine children. The Lamb kids all started flying by sitting behind the steering wheel of a plane on their Dad’s lap in the cockpit.
Their six sons all became career pilots as well and went into business with their Dad. By 1959 Lambair had logged more than 1,500,000 air miles, owned twenty planes and employed 40 pilots. In 1960 Tom, who by now had earned the nickname “Mr. North” let his sons take over most of the airline business since he still had his fur trading operation to run, a 7,240 acre cattle ranch to maintain and 24 grandchildren to keep him busy.
Tom Lamb died in 1969 and his sons kept running the business till 1981. A 1981 Free Press article notes that Lambair is bankrupt and Calm Air is trying to buy the company. Only one of Tom’s grandchildren, a granddaughter Tracy took up flying. Tom’s son Jack has told the family’s story in his book My Life in the North.
Although the Leo Mol statue in the Richardson Building bears the date 1991, the original piece was poured in 1971. There is another copy of the Tom Lamb statue in the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden in Assiniboine Park. A fibre glass version sits in the airport at The Pas and there is another copy in the Canadian embassy in Washington DC.
Leo Mol said he wanted to show Tom Lamb as a young pilot and he made the propeller in his hands look a bit like a clock because he wanted the statue to take people back in time to the era when Mr. Lamb helped open up the north as an aviation pioneer.
In September of 1977 at a ceremony where Tom Lamb was posthumously admitted to the Honor Roll of the Aviation Council he was lauded as an individualist, humanitarian, multi-skilled, community minded businessman.