Last year’s Northwestern Ontario travels took me to Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout, Lake-of- the-Woods and, finally, Red Lake. It all really came together with support from Porter Airlines, Bearskin Airlines, Rich Hulina, Northwest Flying Inc, Red Lake Airport, the Sinkowskis and others. The following photo album completes my brief coverage of this busy and productive aviation history-gathering pilgrimage.
Having begun on July 19 with a Porter Airlines flight from Toronto to the Lakehead, then on later in the day to Sioux Lookout on Bearskin, I overnighted at the Hulinas. Next day Rich and I enjoyed flights in his Cessna 206 and one of Northwest’s spiffy Beech 18s. Back in Sioux Lookout that afternoon, I connected with Bearskin again for the half- hour hop over to the historic gold mining town of Red Lake.
Speeding along in Bearskin Metro C-GJVW and watching the great Canadian Shield rolling out below, got me thinking of the pioneers confronting this massive Canadian region, the first aviators included. As early as 1925 some Ontario Provincial Air Service Curtiss HS-2L flying boats operating from Kenora, carried men and supplies into what soon would become the Red Lake mining district.
When news of a strike leaked out, the Red Lake gold rush was on. Over the winter of 1925-26 the first few airplanes were serving the region, mainly from the railroad town of Hudson, near Sioux Lookout. A couple of war surplus Curtiss JN-4s, an impressive little Curtiss Lark and the first new Fokker Universals soon were transporting men and supplies into the area, so that the prospecting could begin. The first claims were staked, then, beginning with “The Howey”, the mines started producing in 1930. None of it could have happened without the airplane and those stalwart pioneer aviators – Jack Elliott, “Doc” Oaks, J.R. Ross, etc. As our Metro started its decent, I also thought of my own dad, Basil Emerson Milberry (1901-1948), who had done his bit around here, starting in the gold rush era and finishing at the Uchi Mine, before moving c.1935 across to the Kirkland Lake and South Porcupine gold mining camps. His name still appears on Kenora District claims maps. History, eh … we live it and we love it. Ruth W. Russell has written a history of the Red Lake gold rushes. Pick up a copy — North for Gold: The Red Lake Gold Rush of 1926. Also, see if you can find copies of the late Donald F. Parrott’s Red Lake books – The Gold Mines of Red Lake, etc. As to the general aviation history of the region, you can’t do better than with Air Transport in Canada and Aviation in Canada: The Formative Years.
When the usually noisy Metro cabin suddenly got quieter and the flaps and gear came down, I returned to the present and soon was stepping off Bearskin at the Red Lake terminal. Meeting me was Joe Sinkowski, who was keen to provide a quick airport run-around. A long- serving bush pilot, in his “retirement” Joe’s on the airport staff doing a host of interesting jobs. He had taken me on my first Norseman flight back in 1995. Today, he introduced me to some of the local operators and for the next three days I had great fun photographing around Red Lake airport — a.k.a. “YRL”.
Red Lake Airport Photo Tour, July 22-24, 2017
Red Lake is one of the great Canadian (and global) gold mining centres. Flying over in the summer of 1995 in a Green Airways PZL Otter, I took this photo that has Red Lake written all over it.
Joe Sinkowski provides this basic map to explain what you see in the aerial view. The mine photo is from Balmertown looking slightly northwest about 300 degrees towards the airport. As you look here, Red Lake would be back over your left shoulder about 4
On the same flight, I snapped this view of Red Lake Airport. Pretty well at the centre, that looks like a Beech 99 at the terminal. This old building has been replaced by today’s modern one. Near the bottom, you can spot an Apache and an Aztec, two of the standard types serving the area (they’ve all but disappeared, even the Beech 99 has faded). Notice the big yellow MNR Canadair water bomber sitting on forest fire standby.
The daily scene at YRL terminal includes several arrivals by the ubiquitous Bearskin Airlines Metro. Shown on July 22 is C-GJVH. Built in 1996 and operated with Merlin Airways for a number of years as N898ML, “JVH” has been in the Bearskin fleet since May 2007. Bearskin belongs to the Exchange Income Corporation of Winnipeg. EIC’s other aviation holdings include Calmair, Custom Helicopters, Keewatin Air, Perimeter Aviation and Provincial Aerospace. Just today (April 20) comes news that EIC has added Bearskin’s traditional competition in Northwest Ontario — Wasaya Airlines. On the right in the top photo sits Norseman CF-LZO, which has graced the terminal for several years.
For any visitor to Red Lake airport there’s no shortage of subject matter on a typical day. What’s common to see for the locals will be exciting for the out-of- town “plane spotter”. Let’s start with the DC-3, a plane that’s no stranger to Northwest Ontario, except that today’s DC-3 is vastly different from yesterday’s. Now known as the Basler BT-67, it’s powered by PT6 turbine engines. It carries pretty well twice the payload of a standard DC-3, so is much more efficient and profitabler by comparison. Shown is one of the Baslers brought to Canada by Frank Kelner of Caravan and PC-12 fame. Initially, he operated under the Cargo North and North Star banners, but has sold this part of his operation to the Northwest Company of Winnipeg. Shown at Red Lake on July 21 is C-FKGL. Notice the extra wide doors. Even that bulky motorboat got squeezed in. When you watch an operation like this you might wonder about all the babble about bush flying being so “romantic”. Mostly it’s simply about hard, grubby work done by a tough bunch guys and gals who can take the worst of it and keep showing up day after day.
North Star Air’s Basler C-FWUI began in 1945 as RAF KN511. It then operated as such with the RCAF until its identity changed in 1970 to 12926. It retired in 1974, then became C- GWUH. Having flown for several northern operators, it became N707BA in 1985, mostly flying for US courier outfits. Converted by Basler in 2005, it essentially became a completely new airplane. Nonetheless, its heritage dates back almost 75 years.
For those who aren’t sure about DC-3s, this is more what they looked like “in the old days”. I shot C-FFAY at Red Lake on July 15, 1991, while it was doing some freighting. “FAY” is an old bird – serial number 4785 built in 1942. Postwar it spent years in South America, then came to Canada in 1972 for a Red Deer outfit called Astro Aviation. From 1973-81 it was with Lambair of Winnipeg, then was here and there with Perimeter Airlines of Winnipeg, Buffalo Airways of Hay River, etc. In recent years it’s been sitting dismantled back at Red Deer.
Here I am beside the Red Lake terminal’s Norseman CF-LZO in a shot taken by Joe Sinkowski.
Other aircraft types come and go daily at Red Lake airport, the indispensable Cessna Caravan included. Here, Superior’s C-FYMK arrives from one of the northern reservations that it helps keep supplied with the daily essentials. The bulky belly pack carries much extra cargo. Built in 2010, “YMK” spent its early days in Italy, but mainly has been in Canada.
“YMK” loads up for another trip. Due to the steep cost of air transport, a liter of milk, dozen eggs, bottle of pop or bag of chips gets ridiculously expensive by the time it reaches Bearskin Lake, Muskrat Dam, Big Trout Lake, Pikangikum, etc. Note that those last two belly bays carry up to 550 lb.
Superior’s “amphib” Caravan C-FYMT gets back to base after another trip. In this configuration “YMT” can get in and out of less accessible spots, and cater to the seasonal fly-in fishing or hunting markets.
Also seen pretty well daily at YRL is the Pilatus PC-12. Its roles are varied, whether carrying passengers, freight or, as shown, working as a speedy air ambulance. Air Bravo’s PC-12 C- FTAB was transferring a patient to Red Lake clinic on this July day in 2017. “TAB” previously was C- FMPO of the RCMP, which had acquired it new in 1999.
One of the great unsung workhorses of the Canadian north is the 1960s-vintage Hawker 748. Last summer Northwest Ontario, where “The Hawker” once ruled the skies, had only one left. Although expensive to operate in the 2010s due to its “gas guzzling” Dart engines, former Wasaya Airways C-FFFS still was piling up the hours hauling groceries and all sorts of other supplies to the region’s isolated communities. Having begun in the Philippines in 1969, “FFS” eventually showed up in Canada in 1989 with Northland Air Manitoba. Kelner Airways had it on lease in 1991, then it was sold to Wasaya in 1996. The Hawker’s main advantages are how it probably doesn’t carry a mortgage, but it does carry a hefty payload – 12,000 pounds, and it’s fairly speedy, cruising at around 200 mph. No doubt, however, the more recent arrival of BT- 67 and Dash 8 freighters soon will see “FFS” shunted off to the boneyard.
Another classic in and around Red Lake for decades has been the Piper PA-31 Navajo and Chieftain. Here, Superior’s Chieftain C-FVWY sits at YRL after a day’s work. Built in 1982, it originally was N4110N. It came to Canada from Hawaii in 2008.
Chieftain C-GAJT looking a bit worse for wear at YRL. Built in 1981, it operated in the US as N800SA until migrating to Canada in 2003. As it sat last July, “AJT” didn’t seem to have great prospects. Some such aircraft sometimes return to life, but more often than not progressively get cannibalized, then go for pots ‘n pans.
Also “in the boneyard” at Red Lake last summer was this Piper PA-23 Apache – C-FLQN. One of Canada’s leading light twins of the early postwar years, the “Plain Jane” Apache gave excellent service as a private, corporate and commercial plane. “LQN” came to Canada in 1959 for Reimer Express, a leading Manitoba trucking company. There it served for years before passing on to a string of Manitoba and Northwest Ontario owners. “LQN” may or may not ever get back into the air. If not, it sure could make a nice little acquisition for any serious aviation museum. Who knows, eh, but it would be sad to see this historic little Apache carted off for scrap.
A steady stream of transient aircraft visits YRL, often just to refuel, but sometimes to drop off or pick up business travellers or sportsmen. Here, SOCATA TBM-850 N851MA from KABO Aviation in Kentucky arrives on a charter last July.
For last summer’s Norseman Festival, the Canadian Harvard Aerobatic Team flew in from Southern Ontario. They were the icing on the cake for the week’s festivities. Here are pix of the CHAT Harvards at the airport. In decades gone by many an RCAF Harvard used to stop at Red Lake for fuel.
Round and About Red Lake in Norseman Festival Week 2017
For this part of today’s blog, let’s start with a few Red Lake pictures from “way back”, when the Norseman Festival began. I’d only been casually following the Norseman scene since I got interested in airplane photography back in the late 1950s. It took 3-4 trips to Northwestern Ontario starting in 1974 to get me keen on it. Still, I’d never had a ride in one ‘til I visited Red Lake in 1995 and Joe Sinkowski took me flying on July 15 in Chimo Air’s CF-KAO. Later that day Joe McBryan invited a few of us for a flight in his beautifully- restored CF-SAN. Here’s a shot of “KAO” from our flight. Joe was delivering sport fisherman that evening to their lodge on Culverson Lake.
Joe’ McBryan’s pride and joy in 1995. He still flies “SAN” from his base in Yellowknife.
The scene from above at the original 1992 festival. Just as we flew over the head of Howey Bay there were nine Norsemans (and one Beaver) at the docks. This was the Norseman Festival at its peak. As the years passed, the number of Norsemans gradually dwindled, but they’re still out there. So come on … fill up your tanks, Norseman people, and fly on over to Red Lake this year.
Some of “ye olde tyme” Norseman people around Red Lake in 1992. Joe Sinkowski is shown with Bob Green on his left, Bob’s brother Jack Green on his right. Then, Norseman technical wizkids Whitey Hostetler and John “JB” Blaszczyk of Whitey’s famous Red Lake Seaplane Service, where Red Lake’s “town Norseman” CF-DRD was restored in 1991-92.
When Red Lake started talking over the idea of a Norseman festival and the idea got wheels, the town acquired the hulk of CF-DRD. This is how I saw it in 1991 soon after it had arrived at Whitey’s hangar. Then, here it is beautifully mounted in 1992 at Red Lake’s Norseman heritage park.
To get a true sense of Northwest Ontario you need to bundle up and visit in winter. I did that a number of times in the 1980s-90s while laying all the groundwork for Air Transport in Canada. This is how I saw Norseman “JIN” one winter. Then, a view of the Howey Bay main docks shot from Sabourin Air’s Cessna 185 C-GDSJ on March 26, 1992.
Joe Sinkowski took the time to put some labels to my aerial shot. Joe flew all the planes in the Green Airways cluster. He got along fine with them, but had a special love for Beech 18 CF-GNR.
Let’s have a quick look at some of last year’s Norseman Festival scenes in downtown Red Lake and around and about. Here some folks get ready for their flight of a lifetime in Norseman “KAO”. Then, “KAO” pushing off. Sightseeing passengers get to see Red Lake and area from on high, and definitely get to feel, hear and smell “the wonders” of the Norseman first hand. You get your money’s worth, no doubt about it. Last year there also were Otter and Caravan rides.
Chimo’s Norsemans “JIN” and “KAO” last summer. Even though the festival was on, they still had to do their daily trips, mainly going back and forth among the many local fishing lodges.
Turbine Otters “ODQ” and “RRJ” also were at Chimo last July. They represent the future of bush flying here, especially since the Chimo Norsemans were damaged last year by a furious hailstorm.
“JIN” at the dock. Note “DRD” up behind in Norseman Park. Then, a view from the park overlooking down at the docks.
Lots of other bushplanes call Howey Bay home, including another indigenous Canadian plane – Found FBA-2C1 Bush Hawk “EJM” of Canadian Fly-In Fishing.
Beavers at the famous Viking Outpost base on Howey Bay. Then, Green family Norseman CF-ZMX. Many years earlier Harvey Friesen had started up Bearskin Airlines with “ZMX”. Except for showing up annually at the Norseman Festival, “ZMX” is based at Selkirk (downstream from Winnipeg on the Red River).
Last year I decided on a flight in Chimo’s “Steam Otter” C-GYYS. I blasted off a lot of frames during our 20 minutes with bush pilot Alex Moore. Here are a couple of shots of the great Goldcorp Mine at nearby Balmertown. Still one of the world’s most productive gold mines.
Several other operators call the Red Lake region home. In nearby Cochenour is Faron Buckler’s base from where he operates Otter C-FODJ mainly to support of fishing camps, and bear and moose hunting trips under the Excellent Adventures brand. “ODJ” is powered by a 1000-hp Polish PZL engine. Then, Joe Sinkowski and Faron talking shop.
The pilot’s front office in “ODJ”. The PZL Otter conversion gained a bit of popularity in the early 1990s, Green Airways operating two. Eventually, however, most became turbine Otters.
Amik Outpost’s PZL Otter C-FHXY roars away from its base at Chukuni bridge on Hwy 125 on the way to the airport.
Drive up Red Lake’s Forestry Road to the end and you’ll find the Ministry of Natural Resources main district fire base. The fire threat last July was low, so there was only one helicopter on standby — Heli-Inter’s Bell 205A C-GLHE “Tanker 2” flown by Swiss pilot, Steve Feuz. In the control centre scene, Randy Crampton of the MNR briefs Joe Sinkowski and George Holborn about the day’s fire situation.
There’s always a load of great Norseman Festival fun at Centennial Park, kids “Norseman rides” included. Each of these little carts is done up in the registration and paint job of an actual Norseman. That’s “JIN” first.
Last year there even was a Norseman/Bush Flying/Northern Ontario tattoo contest. Here are a couple of the entrees. Far out, eh!
- For the total “history nut” a walking tour of the Red Lake Cemetery is a must. The history of the town and region is here in a unique way. Joe Sinkowski gives a fascinating cemetery tour, relating stories galore of the old days, of so many great names and families from prospecting and mining times, of famous bush pilots and air engineers, local doctors, teachers, shopkeepers, trappers, town drunks, you name it. And it’s a very peaceful hour or two. Here’s the grave marker for World War 1 pilot Frederick Carroll, who found himself in Red Lake after the fighting ended and prospectors were pouring into the region. Looking in Royal Flying Corps and Canadian Expeditionary Force records, Hugh Halliday has found a bit about Carroll. It’s known that he was born in Newbrdge, Curragh, Ireland on August 5, 1891. Pre-war he had been a rancher “out west”, then joined the CEF in Winnipeg in September 1914. He was wounded in action on March 17, 1915, then was gassed on April 26. In October 1917 he joined the RFC and a year later was posted to 8 Squadron to fly the FK.8 2-seater on observation and bombing duties. So far we don’t know what had drawn this keen Irishman to Red Lake or what he did there over the years.
Here’s Whitey’s marker with a Norseman motif. Such other legendary aviators as George Green (Green Airways) and Jake Siegel also lie here.
James Lindokken’s stone features a Cessna T-50 Crane. His father, Oscar, ran a store at Deer Lake north of Red Lake. James died in a 1964 plane crash.
Every visitor needs to drop in to Lamar Weavers’s “Treasure House of Red Lake”, the best spot in town to find a good book, a nice pair of hand-made moccasins, or a Norseman cap or T- shirt. Here I am perusing the aviation book section, where Lamar features Rich Hulina’s wonderful Bush Flying Captured and my Norseman books.
What can one do on a little blog but maybe inspire visitors to look deeper into whichever topic. If you want the best treatment not just about bush flying in Northwest Ontario, but all around Canada, you definitely need a set of Air Transport in Canada. The world’s biggest ever aviation history book (1040 pages, 3000+ photos, 2 volumes, 6 kg, etc.) is on sale at $60.00 off. Regularly $155.00, yours for CDN$95.00 + $16.00 flat rate postage anywhere in Canada + $5.55 tax = $116.55. Do yourself your biggest book favour ever and order up. Having sold about 3500 sets, I’m down to the last 250. ATC will give you decades of enjoyment – there’s nothing like it in aviation literature. Meanwhile, Aviation in Canada: Noorduyn Norseman is still available. Both beautiful big volumes at $115.00 + $16.00 Canada Post + tax $5.65 = $136.65. For Richard’s spectacular book is $50.00 + $14.00 + $3.20 = $67.20. See http://www.canavbooks.wordpress.com for more info about these great Canadian aviation heritage books,
Finishing up this little Red Lake tour, here’s a photo of last year’s Norseman Festival special guests, the Canadian Harvard Aerobatic Team, doing their thing over Howey Bay. For updates about this year’s festival google Annual Norseman Festival, Red Lake, Ontario http://www.norsemanfestival.on.ca/
Something always pops up at the very last, as did these two old slides. First, a photo taken by my late old pal, the great Les Corness of Edmonton. Passing through Kenora on August 20, 1983, Les visited Kuby’s maintenance and parts base. Among the usual variety of old wrecks that used to fill the yard was Norseman CF-DRD of Wings Aviation. “DRD” sat there for many more long years until rescued by Red Lake in 1991. Here’s another shot I took of it in 1992 at the first Norseman Festival — looking very fine indeed under the spotlights.
Norseman News … Norwegian Project
Our good UK supporter, Trevor Mead, visited Bodo, Norway this spring. In the local Norwegian Aircraft Museum, he came across Norseman LN-PAB, which had begun as US Army 44-70546. It served with US forces in Europe following D-Day. Surplus at war’s end, it went to Norway in 1947 — first with Polar Fly, then with Wideroes. Following an accident in September 1952, “PAB” was stripped of useful parts and abandonned. In 2002 the wreck was recovered by volunteers from the Bodo museum, which gradually has been doing the restoration. So far so good by the looks of Trevor’s photo.
Famed NW Ontario Airline Sold
Published on April 20, 2018, this press release describes a big air transport takeover for Northwest Ontario:
Wasaya Group, its shareholders and Exchange Income Corporation (EIC) have successfully closed the transaction that was first announced on Feb. 1, 2018. Completing this milestone is one of the most significant events in Wasaya’s 29 year history,” said Michael Rodyniuk, president and CEO of Wasaya. “The strength of our combined aviation assets coupled with our capable and motivated people will result in a strong company ensuring Wasaya continues to be a fixture in the communities for years to come.
“The enhanced level of service in Northern Ontario will benefit the people in our ownership communities as well as those in the non-owner communities we serve. Partnering with EIC is a natural fit. They understand aviation, servicing the north, and of utmost importance they have a great history working with First Nations across Canada to provide quality air service to these communities. Partnering with the communities we serve is fundamental to our values,” said Mike Pyle, CEO of EIC. “This transaction allows us to directly partner and engage with our customers. Wasaya’s strong brand and legacy in northern Ontario provides a solid foundation to expand passenger and cargo service into more communities within the region.”
Carmele Peter, president of EIC, stated: “This would not have been possible without the strong working relationship during the establishment of our partnership. This relationship will continue to grow delivering positive results for First Nations People, communities served, travelers, cargo shippers, and our mutual shareholders, all while celebrating and exemplifying success within First Nations’ business.”