After reading the Vintage Wings of Canada piece on the Silver Dart I was reminded of Douglas McCurdy and that he and I did his last flight together! McCurdy died in Montreal on June 25th, 1961 at the age of 74. Only two years before he had witnessed the emotional re-enactment, in "Silver Dart II", of his historic flight at Baddeck. In that same year he was made an honourary Air Commodore in the Royal Canadian Air Force by Air Marshal Hugh Campbell.
I was tasked by 412 Squadron to take him back to Nova Scotia... an unusual request, but a VIP flight for sure. We were to pick him up in Montreal (St. Hubert) and fly him to Sydney, Nova Scotia and I remember the flight well. I had 412 Dakota No. 981 and on the 8 July 61 we flew the Dak to position it at St. Hubert at the required time. The First Officer was in the cockpit ready to fire up the engines immediately on completion of boarding and I was outside in full dress uniform awaiting the hearse. At the appointed time, I was surprised to see 3 well-dressed people, two women and a man, walking purposely towards the aircraft... I presumed they were an accompanying party awaiting the hearse. It turned out to be McCurdy's wife, McCurdy Jr. and another relative... and they were carrying McCurdy... in an urn. He had been cremated. Apparently his ashes were to be buried overlooking Bras d'Or Lake.
The flight was completed without incident and we overnighted in Sydney to bring the accompanying party back to Montreal the next day, which we did. I've since regretted that at the time it never occurred to me to try and witness the event. Apparently it went off OK because our departure the next day was on schedule, but we really were not in a position to enquire of the passengers under the circumstances, and I never saw any media report of the event. Perhaps it was a private affair.
Well Bob, we can tell you now - it was private. In fact, it was a very powerful ceremony - his family in attendance and many members of another family he spawned - the Royal Canadian Air Force
Early aviators were at great risk and many suffered accidents, some fatal, as they learned the rudiments of flying an aircraft that was barely controllable to begin with. Here the McCurdy biplane lies a tangled mess in a field in what is present day Toronto. Men on horseback in the background prefer the safety of a more acceptable (for the time) means of conveyance. Photo via Jack Minor
McCurdy’s casket is carried from a Montreal church by uniformed and be-medalled officers of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Draping his casket is the ensign of the RCAF an entity whose entire history postdates McCurdy’s experimental flights with the Aerial Experiment Association. Photo via Gerald Haddon
Borne on a gun carriage of the Canadian Army, McCurdy’s body leaves the church with much deserved pomp and circumstance. Senior RCAF NCOs flank the carriage, followed by dignitaries and a large ceremonial guard of heavily gonged RCAF members. Photo via Gerald Haddon
An RCAF photographer positions himself above the funeral cortege as McCurdy is carried along a Montreal avenue. Passersby seem unaware that they are walking with the father of Canadian avaition. Photo via Gerald Haddon
Days later, members of McCurdy’s family walk solemnly from an RCAF DC-3 Dakota on the ramp at Sydney, Nova Scotia. A high-ranking officer wearing a black armband carries the urn containing McCurdy’s ashes, followed by his wife Margaret, son J.R.D. (Bobby), and his Daughter Dianna. (the wife of Commodore Phillip Haddon, R.C.N. and mother of Gerald Haddon). The pilot of the Dakota was Bob Fassold of Vintage Wings of Canada. Photo via Gerald Haddon
It was a short but solemn drive by white Cadillac from Sydney to the small town of Baddeck on the shores of Bras d’Or Lake in the centre of Cape Breton Island. In this poignant photo, McCurdy’s family follows as his ashes, carried by an RCAF officer, are piped up the slope to his final resting place. In the background are the distinctive gently sloping hills that roll down to the lake where, nearly a hundred years ago, McCurdy flew the Silver Dart. Photo via Gerald Haddon
If you wish to hear McCurdy himself talk about the flight, visit the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s archives by clicking on this link