The man who used to drop out of the sky in remote Yukon communities to check on his constituents will now be remembered by travellers.
This week, the Whitehorse airport has been renamed the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport in recognition of the Yukon’s longest-standing MP.
Nielsen, who flew more than 50 sorties in a Lancaster bomber during the Second World War, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross “for his high skill, fortitude and devotion to duty,” said Premier Dennis Fentie during a tribute in the legislature on Monday.
A pilot for more than 50 years, he bet his son he wouldn’t be able to get his pilot’s licence in 30 days.
His son did it in 29.
“Erik advocated for and was responsible for the construction of the new airport terminal at the Whitehorse Airport, replacing the old World War II hangar,” added Fentie.
Nielsen was also a favourite in Old Crow, where, during shortages in caribou meat, he was credited with arranging shipments of buffalo and reindeer meat from the Northwest Territories, said Fentie.
Nielsen was also “responsible for signing the first territorial funding formula agreement, which, today, provides approximately 65 per cent of the Yukon government’s revenues,” he added.
It was also Nielsen who advocated for the northern-living tax for Yukoners.
In 1952, Nielsen was called to the bar in the territory and moved to Whitehorse to practise law.
“He was appointed to Queen’s Counsel in 1962, in recognition of his outstanding work in the legal profession and his contribution to the constitutional development of the North,” said Fentie.
Elected to the House of Commons in December 1957, Nielsen served Yukoners as their member of Parliament until January of 1987, and was deputy prime minister from 1984 to 1986.
“As the member of Parliament for Yukon, Erik served Yukoners well,” said Fentie.
“He was a friend and confidante of prime minister John Diefenbaker whose government created the Roads to Resources program that led to the building of the Dempster Highway, the Skagway Road and upgrades to the Haines and Alaska highways.
“The development of self-government in Yukon owes more to Erik Nielsen than to any other single individual.
“Erik made the first federal proposal to allow the Yukon and Northwest Territories a seat each in the Senate.
“He fought to protect the sanctity of Yukon’s political boundaries from provincial boundary expansion.”
Nielsen championed First Nation rights, added Fentie.
And he was dedicated to ensuring First Nations the right to vote, which finally happened in 1960.
“Erik was a war hero, a great parliamentarian, a great Yukoner and a great Canadian. We remain forever in his debt,” said Fentie.