Whirlwind Trip to Baddeck: Canada’s Centennial of Flight 1909-2009

Canada's Chief of the Air Staff, LGen Angus Watt, chatting in the msueum with Canadian astronaut/Silver Dart test pilot Bjarni Tryggvason.

Canada’s Chief of the Air Staff, LGen Angus Watt, chatting in the museum with Canadian astronaut/Silver Dart test pilot Bjarni Tryggvason.

November 2011 Silver Dart update: Since we posted this item more than two years ago, much has happened or little has happened (depending on your point of view) regarding Canada’s Centennial of Flight, the Silver Dart flying replica and the Bell Museum. The Canadian Air and Space Museum in Toronto became the temporary home of the Silver Dart, but this fall the CASM was served notice to vacate its premises. Before long, the Silver Dart crew disassembled their lovely airplane and moved it away.

Meanwhile, there has not been a peep about the $3 million promised by Ottawa flunkies at Baddeck that day back in 2009. We were there and heard all the promises, but we sure knew enough not to hold our breath for cheques to be written. No big surprise there.

In some ways, sad to say, Canada’s Centennial of Flight turned out to be a bit of a bust. The best things were getting the Silver Dart flying, the Vintage Wings Golden Hawks Sabre whizzing around the country, and a coast-to-coast air rally. Otherwise, what you had was one huge amount of hot air that saw Ottawa manadrins with zero knowledge of or interest in Canada’s aviation heritage jetting all around the country to events, swooshing in, scarfing down all the free shrimp, cheese ‘n crackers and booze, then jetting their way back to Ottawa never to give another thought to the subject of aviation history. Big shock, eh!

From what I can see, there have been very few lasting results. I hope at least that there were some aeronautical scholarships created in 2009. CANAV produced the only permanent record in book form celebrating the Centennial of Flight — “Aviation in Canada: The Pioneer Decades”. Needless to say, the Centennial of Flight noise makers, everyone at 101 Colonel By Drive and all my other great supporters in Ottawa showed no interest in it, zilch. I know of only one member of the top-heavy Centennial of Flight Committee who ordered a copy — just as I had predicted. So … interesting food for thought for bone fide history fans — not the jetsetting phonies. Here’s what I originally blogged …

Canada’s Centennial of Flight commenced royally in February with several days of celebrating in the fabulous community of Baddeck on Cape Breton Island. Events came one after another, culminating on February 22, when Canadian astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason made several short flights in a magnificent replica of the Silver Dart.

Why would the Silver Dart replica fly the day before the precise 100th anniversary – February 23? It was a nature thing – Atlantic Canada weather was iffy, and predicted to be absolutely rotten on the 23rd. So … when the 22nd looked good, the Silver Dart was rolled out of its hangar on the ice of Brad d’Or Lake, and soon was airborne before a crowd of enthusiastic locals and out-of-towners.

The replica is the result of years of dedicated volunteer effort headed by Doug Jermyn, a retired engineer from Pratt & Whitney Canada. His group is called “AEA 2005”, in honour the Aerial Experiment Association, the original group formed in 1907 in Halifax to conduct powered airplane experiments. Headed by Alexander Graham Bell and funded by his wife, Mabel, the AEA also included Canadians F.W. Baldwin, J.A.D. McCurdy, and Americans Glenn H. Curtiss and Thomas Selfridge. The group conducted nearly all its work at Curtiss’ facilities in Hammondsport, New York. There they designed and flew several airplanes, the last being the Silver Dart, designed by McCurdy.

Once most of the work had been done at Hammondsport, Bell, wishing to put a Canadian spin on the AEA flight experiments, shipped the Silver Dart to Baddeck. There on February 23, 1909 McCurdy made his famous Canadian first flight (all the details of the AEA are best covered in J.H. Parkin’s seminal 1964 book, Bell and Baldwin).

The gorgeous little Bell Museum in winter, when hardly normally shows up. This year was different, as hundreds arrived to take part in the Centennial of Flight fun. No one was worrying about the weather.

The gorgeous little Bell Museum in winter, when hardly anybody shows up. This year was different, as hundreds arrived to take part in the Centennial of Flight fun. No one was worrying about the weather.

Baddeck this February was in full flight in more ways than one. A banquet on the evening of the 22nd was a highlight, with tables of people related to the Bells, McCurdys and Baldwins; all sorts of top-notch Maritimers; and such others as the Vintage Wings contingent — in Baddeck to show off their magnificent F-86 Sabre in Golden Hawks colours. Astronaut Chris Hadfield flew the Sabre over Bras d’Or Lake on the 22nd, then Paul Kissman took it home to Gatineau on the 24th. VW Sabre pilots Tim Leslie and Dan Dempsey also were present, as were other history fans from the Chief of the Air Staff to contingents from the Atlantic Canada and Greenwood aviation museums, Carl and Sonia Mills (Carl did a Silver Dart PowerPoint lecture) and a group of Air Canada Pilots Association enthusiasts. It was great meeting everyone, and renewing acquaintances with people whom I had met decades ago. The latter included an ACPA pilot whom I had first met when he was a sprog flying a Norseman in Red Lake, another who was a junior C-130 pilot struggling through CF Staff College about 20 years back.

Good news was announced on the 23rd — the AEA 2005 was donating the Silver Dart to the Bell Museum at Baddeck, and $3 million would be provided for an addition to house the plane. Canada Post at the same time unveiled its Silver Dart postage stamp. This is a dramatic-looking collectors’ item, so be sure to get some while they last. This in spite of the fact that the artist seems to have missed the rear empennage altogether — his Silver Dart soars minus a rudder! (This reminds one of the great Canada Post stamp featuring an Air Canada 767 that has no engines! People chuckle about this. At Air Canada they told us “No sweat … that’s one of our extended-range 767 ERs.” Except that for Canada Post reasons it’s a 767 ER as in “engines removed”. Maybe Canada Post should consider checking with the experts before they do their next aviation commemorative.)

If you ever get the chance, there are two spectacular museums to which you should detour … the Bell Museum in Baddeck and the Glenn Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, New York. They’ll knock you out!

Larry Milberry, publisher

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5 responses to “Whirlwind Trip to Baddeck: Canada’s Centennial of Flight 1909-2009

  1. Fantastic post Larry. I’m looking forward to reading more from CANAV.

    Amanda

  2. Karen Dudzinski

    I’m so excited to have found your blog – Kate ‘told’ us about it via Facebook!! Great site 🙂

    Cheers,
    Karen

    • Great to hear from you, and hope life goes well, Karen.

      Things are ticking along as always down this way. Drop by “51” if you’re ever slumming along Queen.

      Larry

  3. Pingback: Apollo 11 40th Anniversary « CANAV Books Blog

  4. Hi Larry, I just discovered your blog. It was a good question when you wondered why we flew the Dart on the 22nd. Mother Nature produced winds on the 23rd that would have been too dangerous to fly. I was the Air Boss for the event and I guess my satisfaction of flying on the 22nd outweighed any disappointment over the high winds on the 23rd. Don Peters

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