Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Videos showcase life of bush pilot in 1930s northwestern Ontario

Videos showcase life of bush pilot in 1930s northwestern Ontario

Staying in 1930s Canada for this next post we head 1,700 miles east to Ontario and the frozen wilds north of that province where bush pilots plied their trade delivering mail & supplies, mapping & photographing new areas of land and spotting forest fires (the latter still carried out today by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry's Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services division).  Now a link to those early days of wilderness flying in the 1920s and '30s has been created by the son of one of those pioneering bush pilots, who has been busy converting his father's old 8mm cine footage into a series of short, digitised documentaries.

Fairchild 82, similar to one used by Charles R. Robinson/ Starrat Airways
source - Wikipædia

Taking advantage of lock-down Phil Robinson and his son have set about editing family footage of the former's father Charles R. Robinson, who was a bush pilot in Ontario during the 1930s, into a series of fascinating glimpses of life flying around the lakes and settlements in the northwest of that province.  Not only is the result a wonderfully preserved personal family archive that the Robinsons can look back on in the years to come but also a valuable document of a unique aspect of Canadian aviation history, featuring one of this author's favourite types of aircraft - the floatplane!

1935 Waco ZK-S6
source - Wikipædia

Ideally suited for use on the myriad lakes dotted around northwest Ontario and to the mining communities that were based on their banks the floatplane has long been the backbone of the bush plane service, as can be seen in the Robinsons' footage where we see multiple variants in use - from the heavy Fairchild 82 freighter that features prominently in the 8-minute footage to the lighter Waco ZK-S6 and Noorduyn Norseman types that were also employed regularly on the smaller/ passenger routes (with many of the latter two types still airworthy and in use today), as well as the first Beechcraft 18 to be fitted with floats.

Noordyun Norsemans in Alberta, Canada, ca. 1930s
source - Wikimedia Commons

The concept of bush flying is a thrilling and enthralling one, although the images from the Robinsons' 1930s video (as well as the son's own comments) show just how challenging and physically demanding a job it was (and no doubt still is) - not to mention the dangers that could be encountered such as those that feature in Charles Robinsons' later exploits (still to be shown).  It's no wonder that adventure films such as 1947's Bush Pilot proved popular at showing just the sort of experiences that took place in the business of bush flying.  Now with the added value of the Robinsons' material the story of those early Canadian bush flying pioneers has been further expanded to the benefit of anyone - be they local/ aviation historians or just those of us with a passing interest - to whom the history of bush flying in Canada appeals.  I am glad Mr Robinson and his son were able to find the time to conserve this important film andlook forward to the next instalment of Charles R. Robinson's experiences as a 1930s bush pilot.

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