The route to today’s selection of new Norseman photos is slightly roundabout: Having such a monumental aviation past, Canada has no shortage of history devotees, many of whom I met over the decades. These dedicated researchers, photographers and collectors usually supported my own efforts. Included were/are the likes of Sheldon Benner, Leslie Corness, Hugh Halliday, Terry Judge, Peter Keating, Al Martin, Jack McNulty, Ken Molson, Merlin Ready, Harry Stone, Bill Wheeler and Wilf White. In this blog item I’m featuring Geoffrey A. Rowe, a Brit born on February 9, 1939, who lived (after coming to Canada) first at “Top Acres” farm at Stittsville near Ottawa, then in Victoria, where he moved in the early 1970s and passed away on August 2, 1994. Without the likes of Geoff Rowe, our aviation heritage resources would be vastly smaller, since it is not the prerogative of most people working in aviation to record or save what is necessary for posterity.
Following Geoff’s passing, his parents, George and Martha, donated his collection to the superb Comox Air Force Museum. Recently, Comox contacted me with news that some folders of “Geoff Rowe” Norseman photos suddenly had surfaced during the process off accessing his material. Would I be interested in copies? Naturally, the answer was a frantic “Yes”! Fifty years ago, Geoff was pals with many Canadian Aviation Historical Society members in those halcyon early CAHS days. CAHS member No.58 since June 10, 1963, Geoff was an avid collector of photos, books and artifacts. He was a founding member of the CAHS Ottawa Chapter. I recently noticed a short advert that he placed in 1963 in Vol.2 No.1 of the CAHS Journal: “Geoff Rowe (#58), Top Acres, RR2, Stittsville. Ontario. Needs a perspex nose cap from a Lockheed Hudson Mk.III.” Whom else in the world would be looking for such an oddball thing!
In 1961 Geoff (if you can believe this) acquired a genuine Bf.109E fighter, maker’s number 1190. This plane had run into trouble during a Battle of Britain sortie, obliging pilot Horst Perez to crash land in Sussex. Later, the relatively undamaged 1190 was shipped to New York via Canada to be shown off from city to city as a wartime morale booster. For several years it toured from NYC to Galveston, Birmingham, Chicago, Buffalo — all over America. Near war’s end it visited centres from Edmonton to Winnipeg and Toronto. It then endured several years stored and deteriorating at Arnprior, west of Ottawa. In 1959 it was rejected by the Canadian War Museum as being beyond limits for practical restoration, so was sold for scrap. In CAHS Journal Vol.2 No.2 of 1964, Geoff explained: “After painstaking enquiries, the airframe was located in 1961 in a junk yard buried beneath wrecked cars and was rescued by the author.” He kept 1190 in his yard, until passing it in 1966 to two like-minded UK collaborators. After languishing further in the UK, in 1998 this priceless Battle of Britain veteran was acquired by the Imperial War Museum and restored for exhibit. Thanks exclusively to Geoff Rowe’s foresight, 1190 now may be seen at the IWM in Duxford, displayed in a full-size diorama in the markings in which it came down in Surrey in 1940.
The last I saw Geoff was circa 1974 in Victoria. That day he kindly toured me through his basement “Airchive”, as he called it. On January 1, 2014 Paddy Gardiner of Kuujjuaq sent me these personal reminiscences about his old pal:
During the Second World War, Geoff’s father had worked in Canada as a federal government “dollar-a-year” man. Following the war he brought his family out. He purchased a large parcel of land in what today is the modern Ottawa suburb of Kanata. This is where we used to hang out in the early 1960s. The lot was on an exposed limestone outcropping. It had a small quarry used for swimming. Here could be seen Geoff’s pride and joy — the remains of his Battle of Britain Me.109.
Geoff Rowe was an eclectic collector and an unusual person to boot. It was either (or both) Hugh Halliday or Dick Kamm, who introduced me to Geoff. Hugh was then with the RCAF Air Historical Section in Ottawa. Dick was a Canadian in the USAF, serving as a flight engineer on the B-36. It was with Geoff and Hugh that we formed the Ottawa chapter of the CAHS in 1964. Geoff was employed as a patent draftsman with the Ottawa law firm of Gowling and MacTavish. He drove (rather ferociously, I always thought) a Volkswagen Beetle, touring around checking for the widest range of aeronautica to collect. One find was an almost complete Fairchild Cornell, which he towed with my help (wings off) down a newly-completed section of Ottawa’s Queensway. It was later stored at a friend’s farm.
Geoff’s had many aviation contacts all over. One day, for example, he introduced me to Paul Garber, founder of the Smithsonian Air and Space Collection. During his time as a patent draftsman, Geoff subcontracted me to photograph for his employer all kinds of items for patent applications. That job largely paid for my photographic equipment over several years. Geoff was a skilled artist in a unique “cartoony” style and was capable of creating artwork for calendars and other art forms that depicted flying in some bizarre and satiric way. I always thought it was a pity that few people saw these works, which he reserved for his closer friends.
Geoff’s collecting interests broadened over the years. His father sold the farm and the family moved west to Victoria in the early seventies. By then he had one of the best collections of German aircraft maintenance manuals, some dating to the early Junkers used in the Canadian north. He also collected small-format cameras and Dinky Toys. Collecting Dinky Toys demanded having two examples of each item — one in the original box and the other on display.
Geoff was keenly interested in preservation of artifacts. It was due to him that we, as the Ottawa Chapter of the CAHS, were able to present to Canada’s (then) National Aeronautical Collection the original winter engine baffle from Fairchild Super 71 CF-AUJ, that had crashed in Northwestern Ontario bush. There were several other items that we also presented to the museum, thanks to his keen eye for artifacts. [Paddy adds elsewhere” “It is due in no small part to Geoff’s efforts that the remains of the Fairchild Super 71 CF-AUJ were located, as well as those of Bellanca Aircruisers CF-AWR and CF-BKV.”] Geoff had another passion — Cornish tin mines. Apparently when he had lived in Cornwall, UK, he developed an interest in the ancient art and skill of tin mining. He had quite a library on that subject alone.
The last time I saw Geoff was in Victoria. It was a delightful visit. He mentioned such things that day as his concern about some of the aircraft restorations (Hampden included) at the late Ed Zaleski’s museum. At this time Geoff loaned me a mint copy of a B-17 field maintenance manual. Sadly, it was only a matter of a few weeks after this that we learnt that Geoff had died of a heart attack at a young age. Custodians of history lost a great and valued friend. His father later told me that Geoff’s vast collection of aeronautica had been donated to the RCAF museum at Comox, BC.
In its June 8, 1995 edition, Totem Times, the base newspaper for CFB Comox, made a momentous announcement: “On 16 May, the Comox Air Force Museum dedicated the second floor of the museum/AFIS/Totem Times building as the Geoffrey Rowe Library. The entire collection includes 2300 books, 5000 magazines, hundred of aircraft parts, aircraft models, pilots log books, maps, posters and other assorted memorabilia, including a signed photograph of Herman Goering.”
More readers are checking in about Norseman Vols. 1 and 2: John G. from Ottawa observes on January 22:
Hi Larry: The Vol. 2 that I purchased from you last fall was given to me by the family as a Christmas present, so I have only now been permitted to read it. You have done a fantastic job on both volumes. In all my northern travels I think I only actually flew in a Norseman on a couple of occasions, but it is great to read the history and to enjoy the stories. Again, congratulations on the books.
From Jeff R. “Out West”: Larry, well the results are in … your new Norseman books are absolutely AWESOME . I have had the pleasure of having them in my collection since Christmas and cannot put them down. The photo essay you present is an absolute paradise to an aviation buff, any lover of bush planes, float planes, Canadian aviation history and scale model builders like myself. You have filled a long overdue void, many thanks, since my current Norseman model kit has endless possibilities now!
I also ‘fly’ a Norseman or two on my computer Flight Sim. Two summers ago I had the dream flight of my life so far and that was in a Beaver float plane in Alaska. My next quest is to go for a ride in the Norseman float plane. Well, I am truly impressed with your work. I have lots to keep me going now, as I also have bought Bob Cameron’s book. Thanks again for your hard work and dedication, it is well appreciated for sure. Cheers for now.
Al B., a retired bush pilot now in Toronto, also has taken time to comment:
Volume Two arrived … that was quick! Needless to say, any work, household chores, etc. got pushed on the back burner as soon as I opened the book. However, after I went to get a cup of coffee from the kitchen, I had to take a break since Elaine had picked up the new arrival and got absorbed in it.
As I was with Norseman, Volume 1, I am absolutely in awe of the multitude of photographs, the fascinating text, as well as the tremendous amount of work, such as research, planning, sorting, organizing, etc. you put into producing these books. I will treasure them for the rest of my days, since I met and got to know many of the people you write about. As an example, a familiar face jumped out at me: a young- looking Harry Speight. I met him in the spring of 1959 when I was based at Caribou Lake (Armstrong), which was then within the Sioux Lookout district. Harry was the senior pilot at the Sioux Lookout base, flying Otter CF-ODT. I often saw him and got to know him, including when I would fly our Chief Ranger to the district office. Harry was fairly short and, knowing that he flew Lancasters overseas in WW2, I tried to picture him wrestling a Lanc around in the night skies over Europe. He got his job with the OPAS back after he returned from the war.I would like to mention what came to mind while reading about Gord Hughes and Stinson CF-HAW that Ellis found in a barn near Hearst. I flew CF-HAW in the first part of the 1957 float season. A fellow by the name of Chic Eckhart operated it at his tourist resort at Cushing Lake (part of Lac des Mille Lacs). He had the maintenance done by Superior Airways, who also supplied a pilot to fly CF-HAW each summer season. Orville Wieben sent me there at the beginning of the float season and I thought I was in heaven. I had a neat log cabin to myself, enjoyed nice meals at the lodge. I would fly the tourists out to fish at outpost camps and bring them back each evening for dinner. Tourists climbed in and out and I did not have to load 45gallon drums, propane bottles, etc. An easy touch!
But that did not last. Just as I had nicely settled in, after a couple of weeks Orville flew in with a new pilot he was checking out. His name was Rudolf Schönert (another squarehead like me). Wieben told me to get my things together, as he was taking me back to Fort William. The next day I was on my way to Sioux Lookout in an Aeronca Champ on wheels, which Superior used to move pilots around the country. Soon I was flying a Cessna 180 from the Severn Enterprises base until sent to Great Whale. After the end of the float season, at freeze-up time, while visiting my parents in Toronto, I saw the hangar fire at the Fort William airport on TV and thought that CF-HAW was lost as well, as it was in that hangar when I left to go to Toronto. I also worried about my job. Years later, after Ellis had bought CF-HAW, I found out that it had been moved to the Great Lakes hangar just before the fire occurred.
Why am I writing about all this? In Vol.2 you write about Pete Lazarenko’s “Northland Fish” operation on Savage Island in Island Lake. On page 275, you have a picture of Husky CF-BQC. In the years 1959 to 1963, while the OPAS Armstrong division was still part of the Sioux Lookout district, I flew fish and wildlife officers to Savage Island to inspect the records of Northland Fish, since Lazarenko hauled a lot of fish from lakes in Northwestern Ontario. During one of those visits, I met Rudi Schönert again. He flew CF-BQC and sometimes also ws co-pilot on Lazarenko’s Canso. I had heard that Rudi flew in the Luftwaffe during the war, but when I asked him about that, he did not want to talk about it. I did get to know him a bit in the pilots’ bunkhouse , when we were overnighting. Years later, while reading a book about German fighter pilots in WW2, I found out that Rudi had been a highly decorated nightfighter ace and a Wing Commander with 64 night victories, all of them four-engine bombers. He flew Ju.88G and Do.217 twins and is credited with the idea to mount guns at a steep angle to fire upwards. I thought of Harry Speight. They could have been in the same area over Germany some night, trying to kill each other. Two great guys, who under normal circumstances could be great friends. I still think about that often.