Robert Starratt was one of leaders in the aviation business of Northwestern Ontario but, never held a pilot’s license.
He was born and raised near Moncton, New Brunswick. In 1926 the Hudson’s Bay Company recruited him to manage a transportation network in Northwestern Ontario. He purchased Hudson Bay Transport in 1928, Red Lake Transport in 1929 and moved to Hudson, near Sioux Lookout, Ontario where he started the Northern Transportation Company with tugs, barges and sleighs..
Originally the business was to transport goods to the mining development in the gold country near Red Lake and Uchi Lake.
He arranged for the purchase of a deHavilland DH60 Gipsy Moth aircraft to scout the trails and aid in equipment repairs. Before too long he had a fleet of fifteen aircraft. The purchase of these had resulted in the formation of Starratt Airways in 1932. It was at the time one of the largest air transportation companies in the world. In one year it moved 12,604 passengers and 6,583, 804 pounds of freight making it at that time, the world’s largest airline.
His interest in technological changes convinced Robert Starratt to acquire the most modern aircraft available at the time. Fokkers, Stinsons, Travelairs, Foxmoth, Fairchild 82, Beech Staggerwing, and a Nooduyn Norseman were added to the fleet. In 1937 he purchased the first Beech 18, ever sold commercially in Canada and promptly fitted it with both skis and floats becoming, the first person to do so.
Pilots for his airline were required to check out prospectors to check if they were safe, flying out of their way to do so. They also flew missionaries of all faiths to remote settlements, many times carrying Christmas gifts for the residents, these acquired at his own expense. His airline was also the first to fly hockey clubs to exhibition games collecting only a small portion of what the flight cost in return.
The start of the Second World War forced him to sell most of his fleet of aircraft to the military. He sold his company to the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1941. It was later reformed, along with eight other bush companies from around the country, into Canadian Pacific Air Lines .
To his employees, Bob, as he was simply known, was not just an employer but also a friend. “Bob was President of the Company and inspired such loyalty that each employee felt a vital part of it,” recalled one employee, C. William Cook, at a Starratt Airways reunion in 1967. After selling their company, Bob and Iris retired to Florida, where they remained until Bob passed away in 1967. Today, the Starratt family continues to call Hudson, Ontario home, where they operate Lac Seul Floating Lodges.