Treasures handed down

A story written by a dear friend of many years. It was read on CBC North by Northwest on Saturday, 13 February 2021.

    In 1956, my father, A.E. (Ed) Robinson was a bush pilot with TransAir out of Lynn Lake, Manitoba. On October 4 of that year, with my mother as his co-pilot, he flew a Noorduyn Norseman, loaded with supplies, into the weather station at Ennadai Lake, N.W.T.

Norseman flown by Ed Robinson

     At that time, along with the weather station staff, there also was a group of Indigenous people, who followed the migration of caribou, staying at the station because the caribou had ceased their migration patterns and so these people were starving.  Farley Mowat related this story in his book called People of the Deer.

     The weather turned stormy that day and so my parents were “weathered-in” for five days.  My father had his 8-mm video camera with him, so he documented their stay.  Eventually, the weather lifted and the damaged pontoon on the plane was patched sufficiently to allow him to take the plane off from the lake, which was beginning to freeze over, and return to base in Lynn Lake.

     On the occasions when the projector came out and Dad showed his silent films, he would recite the stories that were revealed in the film taken at Ennadai Lake.  As a very little girl, I was fascinated by the photos of Ina, whom my father referred to as their “princess”, and of the rhythmic hand motions that made up their music.

     During their stay in Ennaidai Lake, Mom and Dad had been given a number of gifts, which they brought out with them.  Most were given to a museum in Winnipeg, but two of them were treasured by my parents and were handed down to me.

     The first is a beaded, miniature “toy” kayak made of caribou hide, stretched over fine wooden slats and sewn in place with sinew; its paddle carved from bone.

     The second is a tiny toy pipe; the bowl is carved from soapstone and the stem from a small piece of wood.

     I have treasured these two items over the years as precious memories of our lives in Canada’s North.  They’ve helped keep the story of the People of the Deer alive for me.

     Dad flew some 18 to 20,000 hours during his career as a bush pilot.  Because of his silent movies and the meticulous record keeping in his Pilot’s Logbook, where, as he did for this event, he would make notations of flights that were extraordinary in some way, I am able to pass his stories along to my children and grandchildren.

Jacquie Simpson, Victoria, B.C.

Long ago, my uncles had a few aircraft used in their coastal logging business. One was a Piper Super Cub like this one.

In the 1960s, because an excavator was running low on fuel as it broke into uncut forest, 17 year old me was tasked with hand carrying diesel fuel from finished road to the road building machine. I was flown by the logging company’s pilot in the Super Cub We travelled 50 km NNE of home to the head of Powell Lake. Approaching the camp, throttled below 80 kph, I looked for a runway and saw nothing but a gravel road.

In my head, “My gawd! Bob’s going to land on the road.”

But about 50 feet from ground, the pilot rolled left, flared and touched down on a short grass pasture. We bumped along for about 300 feet and I breathed again.

By the way, they hadn’t told me I’d be there for a while and should take extra clothing. The excavator’s fuel tank got filled but I was thoroughly marinated in diesel oil and flown out days later.

Later, the company acquired a Found Brothers floatplane for its greater carrying capacity. I watched that same nerveless pilot load it so heavily that both floats were underwater. Included were blasting supplies and large tanks of oxygen and acetylene. If he came down hard, little would be left.

Watching the floatplane leave the dock, I wondered if he would lift off or simply stay in step taxi mode all the way up the lake. Eventually the airplane began to rise. Sadly, but perhaps inevitably, fearless Bob ended his final flight against a mountain.

But Bob was doing what he loved and he knew the risks. When I think of him, I think of the old saying attributed to an early airmail flyer:

There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots

Jacquie’s father was brave but more cautious so his career did not end badly. He’d have appreciated this comment I found on an aviation forum comparing a Beaver to the Norseman:

Anyone can fly a Beaver. The Norseman takes finesse, a true love for flying, to fly.

It rattles the fillings out of your teeth.

It makes you and your pax. go deaf

You’ll hate hand fuel pumps if fuelling from drums

You’ll cherish every second you spend in the air, cause of the work it took to get off!!!

But, if you can fly a Norseman, you can fly anything.

It really does separate the men from the boys.

Categories: Smile

2 replies »

  1. These are the stories that should be recorded.

    These are the items that bind families together.

    All i can say is that I have the oldest electric toaster in Chemainus as my great grandfather was mill manager there pre 1900 and the mill manager’s house was the only house with electric at the time!

    Burnt toast anyone?


  2. It was late November, the logging company had moved their summer operations to the Queen Charlotte’s for a winter show. We flew up to Sandspit and transferred to smaller float planes to get to the camp. I got to fly in a Gruman Goose for the first time, this was a wheeled plane that also landed on the water. The first thing you noticed after lift off was the pilot hand cranked the wheels up, the second thing you noticed was we were flying very low because the ceiling was about 100 ft.
    Our flight was to be from Sandspit to Deanan Bay in Masset Inlet. The pilot flew North along the coast line till he found the road that went from the coat across the island to Masset. Sine he was visual flight rules we were tree top along the highway till we hit Masset Inlet where he dropped down to water level all the way till we got to our destination. Crazy way to fly but still cool for a young man at the time.


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