On a cold and wet September afternoon, John Longair stood on the slick duckboards of a gently rocking, floating seaplane dock tucked almost unseen along the shores of the Ottawa River below the Rockcliffe Flying Club. More than 75 years ago, hundreds of Ottawa residents and newspaper men had stood on the very same spot awaiting the adventurers Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh inbound from Maine in a float plane. Though the echoes of their Lockheed Sirius and the shouts of the spectators are long gone, John still squinted long into the east through the light rain, looking for another float plane inbound from Maine.
John, a key Vintage Wings of Canada volunteer, had taken on the task of welcoming to Ottawa two adventurer pilots from the left coast of America who, along with a support crew of co-adventurers had just put behind them the most difficult legs of an epic aerial journey. Nearly a month before, these same two aviators along with different support had climbed into the Northwestern sky bound through the Inside Passage on a circumnavigation of Canada - the native land of their venerable de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver float planes.
Doug DeVries taxies his beautifully restored Beaver up to the Rockcliffe dock.
The weary aviators unload.
The two Beavers rest while crews head downtown for a cold beer.
Team members Norma Ward (left), Dan Noble, Robbi Devries, Oscar-nominated cinematographer Eric Thiermann and team leaders Mark Schoening and Doug Devries inspect the Vintage Wings of Canada de Havilland Beaver. The six adventurers visited the Gatineau hangar after a private tour of the presently closed Canada Aviation Museum. Photo: Dave O’Malley
The spectacularly beautiful Beaver N67DN belonging to Doug Devries of Kenmore, Washington. The recently restored Beaver was purposely crashed during the filming of the less-than-stellar film Six Days, Seven Nights (starring Harrison Ford - a dyed in the wool Beaver Believer) and was left to rust on a scrapheap near Denver. Doug Devries, an inventor and aircraft restorer, set to work rebuilding N67DN and turned her into an immaculately finished, spectacularly appointed Beaver - as good as they get. Photo: Neil Aird / www.dhc-2.com
Time to say goodbye yet again. Throughout their circumnavigation of the Beaver’s native land, the adventurers ran into helpful and friendly people - a reflection perhaps of their own friendly natures as much as the unique story they brought to these remote Arctic towns. Photo: Neil Aird / www.dhc-2.com.
Their 10,000 mile journey took them a month to complete - an aerial trek right around Canada, landing in some places that had not ever seen a float plane and many where they were very rare. They camped most of the way, staying now and then at small establishments and meeting the people. They flew all the way north to Resolute, and from there made a dash to the Pole and back.
Well aware that fuel availability would be a problem, they developed a system to refuel from drums in flight by hand cranking a pump in the back sending fuel into the tank under the floor. Though sounding daring and risky, this was in fact a well planned and well scouted trip that gave them a distinct possibility of success. They did a trial run in the Beavers along the coast, a scouting trip along the route the summer before and lots of testing of gear and supplies.
Their remarkable story came to our attention when our historian Don MacNeil discovered their upcoming adventure and alerted us to it. They had not originally included a visit to Ottawa in their plans, but when they learned that the very first Beaver could be seen at the Canada Aviation Museum, and that Vintage Wings also had one, they made the small detour and ended up staying here for two days of rest in a nice hotel - they needed it! Unfortunately Don could not host them as he would be away, so he enlisted the eager help of Longair and his daughter Katy.
They couldn't say enough great things about the help and good wishes they received from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Inuit people and their children, and all the private base operators they ran into on their journey. Once you meet them however, you realize just why they got such help - they were a happy, enthusiastic, accomplished and charming bunch and we could not do enough to help them.
John Longair and Don MacNeil worked with the great people at the Canada Avation Museum, in particular Christina Lucas and Stephen Quick, to have it opened (it was closed for renovations for the rest of the year) so that the adventurers could get a peek at the original Beaver - In fact they got a personal and guided tour for three hours! And then they came to Vintage Wings for lunch and a tour. As Doug Devries said to one of his team - "You just can't get enough airplane museums!"
When they left on Monday morning, we were all at work, but they were joined for their departure by none other thatn Mr. DHC-2 himself - artist, designer and historian Neil Aird, the master behind the DHC-2.com website. In the Beaver community, Neil is very well known for his 22-year-and-counting quest to document in photos and knowledge the history of every single Beaver ever made - that's 1,692 individual histories - and he's at 1,152 and counting.
Neil was not the only Beaver expert they would meet on this journey. From Ottawa they flew to Constance Lake west of the city, tanked up and set out for Toronto where they were treated like rock stars, being followed by news choppers into Toronto Island airport. In Toronto, they would meet what they called "The Best of the Best" - Russ Bannock and George Neil, the de Havilland legends who first piloted the Beaver prototype. They seemed very happy campers indeed.
To really get an appreciation for their epic journey, visit their website (www.greatarcticairadventure.com), check out the map of their trip and above all read some of the entries in their Blog - exquisite writing, open hearts, wild adventures, wonderful photographs and much more - they tell it best!
We were just glad to meet them.
Beaver adventurers meet a true Beaver legend. Neil Aird, centre, is on an epic Beaver adventure of his own - one spanning at least 22 years so far. Neil has set out to record the history and fate of every single de Havilland Canada Beaver ever made at the Downsview factory - that’s 1,692 airframes. So far he has amassed a photographic and historic record of 1,152 individual Beavers. Neil’s amazing website (www.dhc-2.com) is an incredible visual and historic documentary of a remarkable aircraft. You can't say you know Beavers and never have visited his site. Photo: via Neil Aird
Throughout the Great Arctic Air Adventure, there have been many team members coming and going at different points along the route. But the two men who dreamed up the Adventure, Doug Devries (left) and Mark Schoening, have been at the controls of their two beautiful and well loved de Havilland Beaver float planes every nautical mile of the journey. Photo: Neil Aird / www.dhc-2.com
Early on Monday morning with commuters making their way to work in downtown Ottawa, Great Arctic Air Adventurer Mark Schoening lifts off the Ottawa River. The leaves are starting to turn on Kettle Island in the background - time for our adventurers to make their way back home. Photo: Neil Aird / www.dhc-2.com