Vivian Wilson

Oil on Canvas, 24 x 30, 1983
Vivian Wilson
Kwakiutl (also known as Kwakwaka’wakw)

Vivian Wilson
  • From Bella Bella, British Columbia.
  • Built an all-Indian airline named Waglisla for the purpose of emergency medical evacuations from small coastal towns.

Vivian Wilson was a determined entrepreneur. As a 16-year-old from Bella Bella, British Columbia, Wilson purchased a fishing boat, the first step in a business that would grow to include three generations of his family, a small fleet of boats and his own fish-processing plant. His fishing legacy was one of stability and quiet determination. However, Wilson’s dreams flew higher than Coastwide Fishing Ltd. He became one of the first people to found a First Nations-owned air taxi service — “Waglisla Airlines” or “WagAir,” named after the Kwakiutl word for his home community. Along with two partners, Wilson created WagAir in1982 to increase transport to and from small coastal B.C. villages for travel and medical emergencies, a service that was desperately needed. Despite Wilson’s good intentions, the airline was not as successful as his aquatic endeavours and it closed after about 20 years of service. Several other small First Nations-owned air taxi services were also founded in the ’80s and ’90s, primarily for small, underserved populations like the Alert Bay and Bella Bella communities. These firms included the Sechelt, B.C. shíshálh Band’s Tyee Airways Ltd. and the Cree’s Air Creebec Inc., a regional carrier spanning northern Quebec and northern Ontario.

For more information about First Nations in B.C., resources available at UBC, or information about these individuals, visit the Resources section.