Chief Thunderbird

“Chief Thunderbird” is about Andy Cruickshank who brought commercial air service to Yukon in the 1920s. I went through school with his granddaughter and it is through her that I learned about him. Her family shared documents and information about his life and I wrote this song.

From what I understand, he was referred to as Chief Thunderbird because some of the First Nations people referred to the Northern Lights as Chief Thunderbird so when they saw his plane in the skies, they said it made them think of Chief Thunderbird.

There is a replica of his Queen of the Yukon in the museum in Whitehorse. I took this photo on a visit there in 1998. Its sister ship was Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis and according to family records, Andy was given the “Lucky Dollar” that Lindbergh carried with him on his momentous flight.

Queen of the Yukon
Queen of the Yukon, Whitehorse, YT (Photo: John McLachlan)

Chief Thunderbird from John McLachlan on Vimeo.

Chief Thunderbird

The blue porcelain sky in the midnight sun
Is shattered by a sound on the wind
Chief Thunderbird in the Queen of the Yukon
It’s here the story begins
Andy Cruickshank a bold pioneer
He flew the first plane in the cold Yukon air
A Ryan monoplane built for the frontier
A plane with spirit, a pilot without fear

She had an air cooled Wright Whirlwind 230 horse
Could cruise at a hundred miles an hour
The Spirit of St. Louis was the Queen’s sister ship
Andy carried Lindberg’s lucky dollar
1927 when his plane touched down
The City of Whitehorse and all the other towns
The drone of that engine brought everyone around
All through the North he would gain great renown

Chief Thunderbird high in the sky
It’s the name they called you when you would fly by
Chief Thunderbird like a god in the sky
You’ll not be forgotten, your fame will not die

Andy was a man who was tender at heart
With a will, steadfast and true
All those who knew him had to agree
He was the best pilot the Yukon ever knew
Transporting miners and all manner of things
In a land of snow and ice came his silver wings
To those that were lost great relief he would bring
Of Chief Thunderbird, many praises they’d sing


The blue porcelain sky in the midnight sun
Is silent but for the sound of the wind
Chief Thunderbird and his Queen of the Yukon
Will not be seen or heard from again
In July of ’32 near Lake Mazenod
The plane he was flying crashed in the fog
On his way from Fort Rae just doin’ his job
Young Andy Cruikshank’s life had been robbed


© John McLachlan (SOCAN)