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An Ottawa Valley flying legend page 2

Story by Mike O’MalleyPrincipal photography by Karel Van Duyse

Ronny’s arrival at Da Swisha found base manager Jack Parnham having difficulty making a success of the charter business due to a slowdown in the local economy. The new Quebec government fire patrol contract became the major revenue earner. Soon, Ronny was checked out on C-FODA as the second pilot and recalls finding the Beaver big and heavy to fly after the Champ and Cub, but was impressed by how much work the plane could do.

The following season, Parnham took a job flying a Twin Otter for Max Ward and Ronny was promoted to base manager. He proved to be as natural a manager as he was a pilot and oversaw the operation with an eye on the books, a hand on the yoke and a wrench in his pocket, aided greatly by what long-time customer Allan Huckabone describes as an infallible memory. Allan says, “You could mention to Ronny in passing conversation that you would like to be picked up at 2:30 the following Tuesday and he would be there at 2:25. I have no idea how he remembers every detail.” Ronny’s skill as a pilot and reputation for reliability and hard work quickly attracted loyal customers, turning the charter operation profitable in a single season. Bradley president John Jamieson once stated that, “If all company operations were run like Ronny Bowes’ Da Swisha, he wouldn’t need middle managers.” Unfortunately, this message was delivered to the managers, not Ronny.

The expanded duties and growth in the business meant extended hours at the dock and Ronny found the time away from Kaireen and the children unbearable. The following spring, he purchased a cabin from the Ottawa River Protection Association and moved it several miles log by log to the sunny hillside overlooking Da Swisha. Kaireen and the kids took quickly to summer life in the small community and enjoyed being close to Ronny and the river activities they had known only through his stories.

The Da Swisha charter season began in early May, with a week of flights to set and maintain the dozens of control dams managed by Pontiac Hydro, followed by the return of fishers for the spring trout season. These were members of hunting and fishing clubs, mostly affluent urban professionals, many spanning three generations. Well educated and ever polite, they courted Ronny for fishing stories from rival clubs. Competition was friendly but the wagering very serious. Ronny often flew game wardens on fish re-stocking flights but kept the privileged information a secret.

With flight operations commencing at dawn, the reverberating thunder of a Beaver taking to the air filled the narrows of the Ottawa River Valley and announced the beginning of a new day to the sleepy hamlet of Rapides-des-Joachims.

The summer was also a busy time with tourists and campers. It was no secret that Ronny has a soft spot in his heart for kids and endless time for parents introducing their children to the wilderness. The best way to find great trout fishing was to show up at the dock with your kids. Ronny would fly families into lakes he kept elusive to others who measured the quality of their wilderness experience in pounds of fish.

Several companies operated camps in the Pontiac for their executives and customers. The summer saw a steady stream of guests from afar coming to enjoy Canadian wilderness camp life. The Beaver flight was a memorable part of their vacation.

By far, Ronny’s favourite customers were the Gardes de Chasse, the keepers of the hunting and fishing camps required by the Quebec government as a condition of the private leases. The blue collar pilot identified with these hardworking men and admired their dedication to preserving the sporting life. Ronny was a respected and trusted friend. The Gardes routinely travelled to the village at month end to re-supply the camps and celebrate payday in the hotels. It was not uncommon for the bar tabs to exhaust their pay envelopes, leaving them short on return airfare to camp. Ronny made sure there was a warm place to sleep by his fire and helped the Gardes find their way back.

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