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Fly-in northern style

Story and photos by RAYMON J. KADUCK – first published fall 2003

Yellowknife fly-in

New and old: Found Bush Hawk demonstrator seems diminutive beside the Noorduyns; “Buffalo” Joe’s restored Norseman CF-SAN; and CF-JEC, owned by Colin Oliver of Brooks, Alberta (see CF-JEC sidebar feature on page 2 of this story).

For float aficionados one of the cooler gatherings is the Midnight Sun Float Plane Fly-in, held every second year in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Participants were not a bit put off by the long sunny days at this year’s event, which ran from June 27 to 29. The weather during the day was great for flying and swapping stories and the chill in the evening was just perfect for keeping the infamous NWT mosquitoes at bay.

Bush flying has always been an integral part of life in Yellowknife. The water’s edge in Old Town still boasts a fuel tank with the Wardair company name, and float bases operated by Air Tindi, Arctic Excursions and others keep the water churning.

For many of the participants from across Canada and the United States, the fly-in provides an opportunity to view the beauty of northern scenery, learn about the history of a town built by bush fliers and enjoy the warm hospitality laid on by Kirby Marshall and his 15 volunteers.

A Poker rally on Saturday showcased some of the Northwest Territories’ premier lodges, including Watta Lake, Blachford Lake, Sandy Point and Pilote Point, returning to Yellowknife a few hours later. At each stop, the crews could sample fine northern food and were dealt a card for their hand.

One of the unique aspects of the Midnight Sun festivities is that old-timers from Yellowknife’s past are invited to attend, and flown in by First Air to take part in the event.

The story-telling sessions are mostly impromptu, but there was also a formal session at the Northern Heritage Centre, where harrowing tales of close calls and rescues were supplemented by excellent slide shows by Dave Floyd of Sylvan Lake, Alberta, and Bruce McAllister, of Boulder, Colorado. McAllister’s slides were chosen from among those that appear in his book Wings Across the Arctic.

Perhaps the most compelling tale was told by Ronald Sheardown, who currently resides in Anchorage. In 1968, while flying near the Arctic coast, he caught a glint from below and circled to investigate. The flash was off the windshield of a downed airplane. Bob Gauchie, who had survived for 58 days on the barrens through the coldest months of winter, lost five toes. Sheardown recounts he could scarcely believe that Gauchie was still able to meet the aircraft when he landed: “Bob ran out carrying a blue suitcase, like a man who had been waiting at a bus stop!”

Numerous other aviation greats who still call Yellowknife their home added their stories as well. They represented not just the pilots, but engineers, ground crew and the office personnel who ran the small companies.

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To view the northern fly-in photo gallery, click on the photo below:

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