SAULT STAR Covers Aviation in Canada: Fighter Pilots and Observers

Brian Kelly of the Sault Star has had a good look at CANAV’s new book. His detailed story appears in this weekend’s edition. Brian focusses on one of the Soo’s most famous aviators — Basil Hobbs, some of whose incredible WWI actions we feature in the book. Read Brian’s story here:

SOMETHING NEW … A Tour of the Montreal Aviation Museum Pierre Gillard of Longueuil offers this outstanding “virtual visit” to the long-standing “MAM”. Check at his blog to see what a fantastic job the museum has been doing over the decades. Next time you are passing through the western reaches of Montreal, perhaps plan to drop by. You can use google to get the MAM co-ordinates and other basic info. Here’s where to enjoy Pierre’s wonderful presentation:

***********************************************************************************“And CANAV’s “And I Shall Fly” Book Launching 1985

Lewie Leigh’s wonderful 1985 autobiography And I Shall Fly. The cover photo shows him and wife, Lin, c1930 with Lewie’s Waco GXE CF-AOI. Then, Lewie’s Waco replacement: 3-seat Command-Aire CF-APQ, in which he barnstormed around Alberta for a few months in 1931. Too bad, but he doesn’t mention anything about his planes’ colour schemes. “APQ” last was heard of around Calgary in 1937.

The early years at CANAV Books were filled with challenge and excitement. A big part of it all was the honour of meeting the leaders of Canadian aviation, then getting to count so many as true friends. All that was 35-40 years ago. Few of these great old pals are still with us, sad to say. Lately, however, I came across an envelope of aging colour negatives labeled, “Lewie Leigh’s Book Launching at Wess McIntosh’s June ‘85”. I had a look and soon was scanning away with a blog item in mind.

Lewis at home in Grimsby c1975.

“Lewie Leigh” was Zebulon Lewis Leigh, born in the UK in 1906, raised on the Canadian prairies and destined for great things in aviation. Having retired from the RCAF in 1956, Group Captain Leigh and Lin settled in Grimsby in the Niagara district, where they enjoyed many years on their hobby farm. In late 1960s Lewie started on his memoir. Eventually, he met Hugh Halliday, a former historian in the RCAF history section, by then teaching at Niagara College. Hugh  streamlined Lewie’s manuscript.

One day Lewie called to ask if I would publish his project. I consulted with my literary guru, Robin Brass, who concluded that the manuscript had everything to make a solid book.

Lewie had lived a fantastic life in aviation from early bush flying days to joining newly-formed TCA in 1937 to commanding the RCAF overseas airmail service during WWII. In 1945 the latter evolved into RCAF Air Transport Command, with Lewie as its first commander (not that he is known in today’s RCAF for this fantastic effort). All through his RCAF career, Lewie would battle uphill due to his background as an ordinary airman who had “made good” in an RCAF where none but the graduates of Royal Military College aspired to air rank. Harbouring a bit of resentment about this to the end, Lewie retired as contentedly as possible as a “Groupie”.

In the spring of 1985 Lewie’s wonderful life story, And I Shall Fly, came off the bindery at T.H. Best printing in Toronto. Lewie took 1500 copies, CANAV took 500. I could market my 500 once Lewie’s were sold. This proved to be a good deal. Lewie’s stock soon disappeared in a phenomenal burst of interest. In 1985 he had been Grimsby’s “Man of the Year”, so sales in town were a breeze – the local stationary store sold 700 copies. Meanwhile, Lewie had gotten in touch with good friends in Fort McMurray, where he had flown as a bush pilot in the 1930s. Hill’s drug store there, on which was painted a mural showing Lewie and his old bucket of a Fokker Super Universal circa 1930, sold a further 700. My own stock also disappeared, so we considered our project a grand success. Adding to the fun, in 1989 McGraw Hill- Ryerson of Toronto undertook a 2000 reprint. Lewie’s little $12.95 book had become a blockbuster as far as such Canadian books went at the time (by today’s pitiful standards it would be a mega-success). Although long out of print, And I Shall Fly still can be found. It’s solid “Canadiana” for any sincere aviation reader — the straight goods all the way. There always seem to be copies available on such websites as so why not treat yourself? With that bit of background, here are some of the photos from our book launching 30+ years ago. It was a memorable evening with so many great Canadians present. The captions identify the people about whom I know a bit. Too bad, but our pre-digital photo quality is a bit spotty, but the point here is “content over form”.

Autographs that I collected through the evening at our And I Shall Fly book launch. I did OK, but missed such greats as A/V/M J.L. “Johnny” Plant. Books are fun in so many ways. Naturally, such a one-of-a-kind copy eventually becomes collectable — there still are lots of hardcore aviation bibliophiles around with a passion for the autographed copy. Autograph’s obviously drive up the desirability of a book, but who knew that typos (every decent publisher’s bane) could do the same? Don’t laugh. For the 2018 Boston Book Fair, Oak Knoll Press promoted a 1917 first edition of Parnassus on Wheels. Because of imperfections, Oak Knoll priced this book at US$2500. This is how one of the book’s flaws is described: “First edition … missing “l” from “goldenrod” on page 169, line 11.” That’s a good thing? Yes … to the rabid collector.

Lewie (left) chats at the book launch with his great role model, Johnny Plant. This reminds me of another anecdote. As my first book (Aviation in Canada, 1979) was nearing completion, McGraw Hill- Ryerson asked me to find someone to pen a Foreword. I forget how it happened, but Lewie Leigh agreed to do this, even though I barely knew him. After reading the manuscript, he concluded, “The end product is a well refined story of aviation in a country where the airplane has been prominent for so long.” Thank you for that, Lewie – the book went to 5 printings. A few years later, just before my fourth aviation title (Sixty Years: The RCAF and CF Air Command 1924- 1984) was ready for press, I approached Air Marshall (Ret’d) Hugh Campbell for a Foreword. I visited the great man at his home in Ottawa and he agreed to do the job. However, long afterwards I learned a little secret (Lewie spilled the beans one day). A/M Campbell on the sly enlisted his former transport commander, G/C Z.L. Leigh, to do the actual writing. Further down the line, I convinced A/V/M (Ret’d) Plant to write a Foreword for our 1990 book, The Royal Canadian Air Forces at War 1939-1945.

Wesley and Joan McIntosh of Toronto hosted our book launch on June 11, 1985. Here they are in a candid shot with Joan splitting her sides over whatever Wess (left) has just said. Their good pal, Charlie Vaughn, is centre. Wess had his own amazing aviation career, starting in Manitoba pre-WWII. When war broke out in 1939, he became one of the first pilots recruited as an RCAF instructor. He later joined Lewie’s premier 168 Squadron based in Ottawa flying the B-17, B-24, Dakota and Lodestar on airmail duties. Postwar, Wess excelled in civil aviation (famously with Hollinger Ungava Air Transport 1948- 54). In retirement he ferried airplanes all over the world. Wess invited me on one of his final jobs, delivering DC-3 C-GWUG on October 30, 1989 from Kitchener to Kelowna (I got off in Winnipeg where I had some other duties). Wess never met an airplane that he didn’t enjoy. His own well-told story is Permission Granted: Slipping the Surly Bonds of Earth. Charlie Vaughn also excelled as a ferry pilot. His story is Don’t Call Me a Legend. You can (and ought to) have these two top 
books. Find them easily on the web.

Allan Coggan (left) chats at the book launch with Jack McNulty. Alan flew Dakotas in India-Burma in WWII, put in some postwar time with KLM and HUT, then had a long career in corporate aviation with Algoma Steel of Sault Ste. Marie, where his aircraft included the Beech 18, DC-3 and Gulfstream. Allan penned two books, including his superb memoir of the air war in India-Burma, From Wings Parade to Mandalay (also easily found by googling). Jack McNulty (as any CANAV reader knows) was one of Canada’s most diligent hobbyists chasing airplanes with his cameras. A Hamilton boy and steel worker, Jack encouraged we younger fellows coming up in the 1950s-60s, and always shared his knowledge and photos. Most of his collection resides at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa.

Three other Canadian aviation greats at the book launch: Gordon Schwartz, Stu Parmalee and Bob Heaslip. Gordon’s many accomplishments included his early support post WWII of the Toronto Flying Club and his partnership in companies that imported some of Canada’s early Aero Commanders and Lear Jets. Stu spent his early years with RCAF Air Transport Command. One 1970 adventure was captaining the 437 Sqn Yukon that carried some FLQ terrorists from Canada to Havana (these losers eventually were welcomed back by Canada). At this time, Stu was busy bringing Cessna Citations into Canada. Bob Heaslip had a storied RCAF career that included commanding 108 Communications Flight, operating helicopters during the Mid Canada Line construction phase. Recipient of the McKee Trophy, Bob finished his aviation days as a vice- president at De Havilland Canada. For more about these fellows, see Sixty Years and Air Transport in Canada. If you are age 60 or less you may well not have these essential Canadian books. If so, here’s where to shop: Preview attachment Booklist 1 Fall:Winter 2018.pdf

Frank “FEW” Smith and Al Coggan sign copies of And I Shall Fly, as retired TCA pilots Don Patry and Gus Bennett stand by. In the 1980s Frank wrote a detailed history of CALPA(R) – the Canadian Airline Pilots Association (Retired) – but died before it got to press.

K.M. “Ken” Molson talks some history with Frank Russell. Both of these giants of Canadian aviation long since have passed. Ken is in a class of his own in Canadian aviation. From the Montreal Molson’s, Ken studied pre-WWII at the UofT, worked at Victory Aircraft (beginning on the Lysander), then stayed on through the Avro era at Malton to 1959. A dedicated history man, he was the founding curator at Canada’s national aeronautical collection in Ottawa. He authored several books that each reader here should have: Canadian Aircraft since 1909, Pioneering in Canadian Air Transport, and Canada’s National Aviation Museum. Copies usually can be found at, etc. Ken’s archive resides in Canada’s National Aviation Museum. Frank Russell joined Austin Airways in the 1930s. There he remained, spending most of his career as the company’s chief of maintenance. In his retirement in Grimsby, Frank devoted himself to restoring the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum Lancaster.

Canadian Aviation Historical Society members George Fuller, Fred Hotson and John Biehler enjoy the book launch evening. From Whitehorse (but a long-time Montrealer), George continues to this day to record Montreal’s earliest aeronautical history, going back to 19th Century ballooning. Having built his own Heath Parasol kit plane as a high-schooler in 1930s Fergus, Ontario, Fred went on to a stellar flying career, including as a WWII Ferry Command pilot (making at least 20 deliveries), bush pilot (a Fairchild Husky man), long-time corporate pilot (DC-3 and Mallard), then demo pilot for de Havilland Canada during its Twin Otter heyday. Fred served the CAHS as national president and authored several renowned books from The De Havilland Canada Story to his award-winning The Bremen to his Grumman Mallard: The Enduring Classic. From Hamilton, John served the RCAF in WWII as a fearless Coastal Command Beaufighter pilot, (254 Sqn) then postwar in accident investigation, before joining Dominion Bridge.

Wardair’s famous captain, Ab Freeman, with Johnny Biehler. In The Max Ward Story Max describes Ab as, “a fine pilot and a meticulous and fair manager of other pilots … a strength for our crews and company”. Johnny’s terrifying wartime service is described in The Royal Canadian Air Force at War 1939-1945.

James C. “Jim” Floyd (left) with Don “Smoky” Patry. Jim joined Avro Canada early after WWII to become chief designer of the C.102 Jetliner and CF-105 Arrow. Wiki has a good bio for Jim, who was still with us in 2018 at age 104. Jim’s The Avro Canada C.102 Jetliner is one of the most sought-after out-of-print Canadian books. A copy today at US$100 is a bargain.

Mick and Ann Saunders in good spirits at the book launch. Having survived his tour flying Typhoons in WWII (including a horrendous crash), Mick had a distinguished career as a test pilot at de Havilland Canada. Long after retirement, he died in the UK when the Dash 7 that he was test flying went down (Mick’s fellow pilot that day blew it). Mick first took me flying in Otter CF-HXY on June 12, 1961 (my first takeoff in a float plane). I scrounged another ride with him in “HXY” on August 31. Later, he took me along in Caribou “LAN” (August 30, 1962) and Beaver “GYR” (June 15, 1963). All the DHC pilots were keen to encourage any schoolboy showing an interest in aviation. Without this sort of support, most of us would never have been heard of anywhere in aviation.

Equipped with copies of And I Shall Fly and The De Havilland Canada Story, the great Archie Vanhee (1909-2009) chats with Mick Saunders. Frank Russell and Johnny Biehler are behind. Having learned to fly at Cartierville on the JN-4 in the 1920s, Archie had a storied career as a pioneer bush pilot, then as CO of a Canso anti-submarine squadron in WWII. With CPA in 1949, he co-captained the first CPA Canadair C-4 flight into Shanghai just as Mao’s forces were overrunning the city’s suburbs. In later years, Archie flew Field Aviation’s ice patrol DC-4s in the Arctic, flew for his good pal Carl Millard, then finished his flying days as a Twin Otter captain with Austin Airways. Archie is covered in such books as The Canadair North Star and Austin Airways: Canada’s Oldest Airline. By googling you can find Archie’s detailed obit.

Des Chorley, myself, aviation enthusiast and Air Canada tech Dave Thompson, and Jack McNulty. Des had been an RCAF CF-100 pilot, then made a bit of a living in aviation journalism. Any Chorley story could be counted on for high interest and accuracy. For one journalistic assignment, Des became the first Canadian civilian cleared by the Pentagon to fly on a SAC B-52 mission.

Gus Bennett and Harry Holland of TCA fame chat with W.H.D. “Wild Bill” Meaden, DFC. Gus had spent his war teaching flying, then joined TCA. He retired in 1979 as Air Canada’s 747 chief pilot. During the war, Harry had flown Halifax bombers, while Billy was a Lancaster man. Their stories are included in such books as The Royal Canadian Air Force at War 1939-1945 and Aviation in Canada: Bombing and Coastal Operations Overseas 1939-1945. Most such wartime pilots had exciting tales to relate. In one case, Harry carried a bomb home that, dropped from above, imbedded itself in his Halifax’s wing. Another time, he saved the day at Toronto’s Malton airport, when an engine on his TCA Viscount tore itself from the wing. Out of options, Harry crash-landed. Billy often had returned from operations with his Lancaster peppered by flak. One night his “Lanc” was attacked by a Ju.88, but his sharp tail gunner shot it down. A few missions later, however, the same young man died when he unthinkingly walked into a whirling propeller.

Canadian Aviation Historical Society stalwarts Sheldon Benner and M.L. “Mac” McIntyre. To this day, Sheldon does valuable work for the CAHS “National” and the CAHS Toronto chapter. Few have served the CAHS so faithfully. A superb aircraft mechanic, Mac was especially famous for his wood-working skills. He contributed to various replicas and restorations, including George Neal’s Sopwith Pup, Hawker Hind and Gypsy Moth CF-AAA, all of which reside today in the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum. In the 1960s, Mac’s efforts were invaluable, when a historic Curtiss HS-2L flying boat was being salvaged from a northern lake. This aircraft also may be seen at the CASM.

Geologist George Werniuk with Dave Thompson and Milberry sons Matt (behind) and Simon. Matt went on to a career in software development, while Simon is a ReMax agent.

George Werniuk and Des Chorley. The always-congenial artist Robert Finlayson (right) completed several CANAV Books aviation commissions.

Having begun as an RCAF Spitfire pilot, Ray Munro was invalided home after a crash. Postwar, he had many interests. He avidly collected stamps, coins and medals, parachuted at the North Pole, flew his own aerobatic plane, was the doorman at a ritzy downtown Toronto restaurant, formed an exclusive club into which he inducted a few select pals, and laid the groundwork for what today is Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame. In honour of his best friend (Lewie Leigh) Ray had licence plate “ZEB 2” on his Mercedes sports car, and even changed his name (legally) to Raymond Zebulon Munro. Yes … Ray was an eccentric, but the world needs a few, right. Ray’s book is The Sky’s No Limit. We used to tease him about how 23 of the book’s 26 photos were of himself, one of the other three being of his twin brother!

Book editor and graphics guru, Robin Brass, with Lewie at a slightly later event. CANAV could never have gone far without Robin’s creative input. Then, Lewie and I. Having moved into a senior’s residence in the early 1990s, Lewie died of Alzheimer’s on December 22, 1996.

The great Z.L. Leigh’s obituary.

Brilliant Gift Giving Ideas 

Christmas a.k.a. the Holiday Season is upon us. You’ll be needing some special gifts for your aviation pals and relatives (of course you will, right!). What better gift than a world-class aviation book from CANAV? Here are two of this year’s A-1 choices. You can order right here on the blog homepage.

2 Fighter Pilots & Observers

Interesting photos crop up every day as I cull through filing cabinets and boxes. These two are worth an airing after so many years being squirreled away. First is a photo taken about 1985 at some gathering of TCA North Star pilots to which I was invited. Could have been something to do with my book about the old North Star, since a lot of these fellow had contributed. In the back row are Ron “RAC” Dennis, John Higham, Don Lamont, Lyle Greenlaw, myself, Don Lowry, Don Mclean, Gus Bennett and Glen Cawker. In front are Gerry Lloyd, Art Bush, Bob Penrose and H.P. “Harry” Clarke. If “FEW” Smith’s manuscript ever comes to light, we’ll know quite a bit about this bunch of great Canadians, most of whom have since passed.

This “group of four” was taken in the main passenger terminal at YUL Dorval c1982, just about the time I published The Canadair North Star. The great lady here is Beth Buchanan, who was so supportive while I was researching North Star history. For decades, she had been TCA president, G.R. McGregor’s, executive assistant and had ghost written his book, The Adolescence of an Airline (1970). In this era Air Canada maintained a magnificent corporate library and archive at company HQ – 1 Place Ville Marie in downtown Montreal. In her later years, Beth oversaw these priceless Air Canada assets. Beth encouraged my efforts, making sure (for example) that I had Air Canada passes to get back and forth between Toronto and Montreal. When the book came out, she arranged a book launching lunch at Dorval. Many TCA old timers attended; so did Air Canada president Claude Taylor (those were the days when top executives in aviation actually had in-depth knowledge of and respect for Canada’s aviation heritage, so were not too “important” for such an event). Here is Beth with Air Canada PR man, Harold Dondenay (left), the great Don McVicar and I. This event had something to do with the plaque behind us honouring Ferry Command, where Don had played such a key wartime role. Don later operated World Wide Airways, a major Dorval-based DEW Line contractor with C-46s and DC-3s. Later, WWA had Super Constellations doing trans-Atlantic passenger charters, before folding in the mid-1960s. In his retirement, Don wrote some of the best “I was there” books about Canadian aviation. Several were published by prestigious Airlife of the UK – North Atlantic Cat, Ferry Command, More than a Pilot, etc. All are well worth tracking down. Don later published other books, including a rare history of Dorval Airport. Don died in 1997. His wake at the Dorval Canadian Legion was one of the more colourful aviation events of the year. Rarely have there been so many Canadian aviation “characters” in one place having such a good time. Years ago Don was nominated for membership in Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame. He’s still not inducted, so people need to have another go at the process. For more about Don see as well as Ref. the Air Canada library and archives. About this time (1982) the corporate bean counters in Canada were taking charge of day-to-day affairs and there was great joy being taken by them in “saving” money. What ensued was a diabolical wave that swept the country whereby the bean counters convinced corporate boards that libraries and archives were a waste of money. Within a few years most major Canadian corporations had shut their libraries and archives. To Beth Buchanan’s horror, this happened at Air Canada just as I was finishing my North Star research. One week there were notices placed around Place Ville Marie announcing that employees wanting free books could visit the Air Canada library and help themselves. Within days one of the Canada’s finest corporate libraries simply walked out the door to be scattered forever in a flash. Happily, most of Air Canada’s archive (photos and movie film included) was shipped to the national aviation museum in Ottawa. There it sits to this day largely still unavailable for researchers. However, at least it didn’t go to the dump, as did the archives of other companies in this period. Aren’t bean counters a breed unto themselves, and where was that highly-touted genius of Canada’s boards of directors when it was needed?


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