Monday, 11 March 2013


N2.10.10.1 Nipigon Historical Museum Archives

This Tom Jeffery's account of a plane trip to the extreme northwest area of Ontario in 1974, published here by permission of his son.

" On June third and fourth, 1974, I had the pleasure of being involved in a trip by plane to the extreme northwest area of our Province of Ontario, or what I will refer to as "Indian Country".

"My companions on this trip were Bill Dwyer and Dennis Cassidy of Nipigon. Bill Dwyer is the District Returning Officer for Federal Elections for Thunder Bay Riding, which was the reason for this trip. Dennis and I went along to promote public relations and sort of "look after" Bill.

"We arrived at the dock at Nipigon at six-thirty A.M. on Monday morning and were expecting the plane to come in from Nakina from the North, so we were rather surprised to see the Twin Engine Beechcraft coming up the river and landing close to the dock.

"I was quite impressed by the perfect landing and as the plane taxied in to pick us up, we soon found out that we had as our pilot, one of the best of the "Bush Pilots", the owner of Superior Airways and a veteran of many years of flying in this area. He was Mr. Orval Weiben.

"Any fears I had of flying were completely eliminated, when finding we were in such capable hands. Mr. Weiben had as co-pilot, a young chap who was from British Columbia and was going to work for Superior Airways. He was introduced to us, but I do not remember his last name, due mostly to my excitement on getting started on this trip, however, his first name was "Lancelot", but we eliminated the "lot" part and he became just "Lance".

"It took only a few minutes to load our equipment, which wasn't very much. Bill's documents having priority, next two cardboard boxes, with holes in each end to get a firm grip on, then a cooler, some lunch, cameras, spare jackets, et cetera.

"After a smooth take-off, we were in the air over Nipigon at seven forty-five A.M. and heading northward toward Armstrong. We were flying at three thousand feet, a beautiful clear morning and my eyeballs strained to try and recognize local areas that I knew on the ground. We flew along the west side of lake Nipigon and passed over Gull Bay at eight o'clock A.M.  The base was situated on a beautiful lake, with several summer cottages next to Superior's landing dock.

"The plane was refuelled while Mr. Weiben checked weather reports, et cetera by radio from his bases further north.

" I noticed on flight out of Nipigon that Bill had his "choppers" in his pocket and he either thought he was going to be sick, but seeing him first thing in the morning, I sure think he was already sick. Dennis said he saw him Sunday night and he confirmed the fact that he sure was sick. I almost got sick myself after looking at him.

"After taking thirty minutes to fuel up we were again in the air at eight fifty A.M., heading for our first stop accessible only by air or winter road travel - Fort Hope.

"The Twin Engine Beechcraft being quite large ( eight passenger ) and loaded with fuel, we used most of the lake to take-off.

" The sun was shining, a clear beautiful morning, and we could see for miles. We passed over the village of Armstrong, situated on the main line of the Canadian National Railway, about three miles from Superior Air Base. Another mile on the right we could plainly see the white buildings of the Armstrong Radar Base, built in war-time by the Americans and taken over by the Canadian Forces in recent years. Too bad it's due to be phased out of existence in the near future, as it seems to be where most of the action is.

"About three miles further northeast was a landing strip and buildings, the Armstrong Airport, no resemblance to our big airports, but it served the purpose.

"Dennis served breakfast at nine fifteen A.M., consisting of beer and ham sandwiches at thirty-five hundred feet. Bill already had a beer before we were really in the air too far and I saw he had his teeth back in, his health seemed to be improving. Pilot "O.J." looked quite comfortable and "Lance" was busy studying the map and trying to locate our position on the same.

"I was most impressed by the numerous small lakes, there seemed to be much more water than land.

"We arrived at Fort Hope at nine forty-five A.M. after a fifty-five minute flight from Armstrong. I was all eyes and excited as a kid waiting for Santa Claus to come, as this was my first trip to this part of the country. Bill and Dennis have made this trip during the previous election, so this country was not new to them.

"We circled the landing area and found that due to the high water level, the dock was completely under water, so we landed at a small island two hundred yards from the main dock. We tied up to a raft and at that moment, I found out that I was travelling with a pair of professional "liars". "His Worship" Bill and friend Dennis had been telling me, all the way from Armstrong, how impressive a sight it would be to see the welcoming group down to meet us at the dock. They said the whole community would be there to welcome us.

" Well, after straining my eyeballs for some sign of action, the only sign of life was a big old sleigh dog asleep on the side of the hill and he just raised his head and went to sleep again. Although it was by this time after nine o'clock, there was no sign of life.

"Dennis said it was probably too early in the morning for any action, and "His Worship" Bill, (being now in good health and "snappers" still in proper place), came up with a real sensible explanation. He said that the only reason there were no crowds at the dock to welcome us was because they could not find it, it was under water. I decided at that time, that in the future I would have to rely on my own judgement. After fifteen minutes of shouting and whistling, we observed some sign s of life and attracted enough attention, that one chap came out with a boat and took Bill, Dennis, and myself ashore.

" At this time there was still very little sign of life, but I observed a sawmill to the right of where we landed and it seemed to be in operation, as people were working in the area and you could hear the hum of saws.

" i immediately took off on a self-conducted tour; Bill contacted his election man; and 9 as I found out later) Dennis headed to the nurses' residence, probably to report that Bill had been sick.

" Being armed with a movie camera and a pocket Kodak, I went into action. I must have logged considerable distance in a rather short time and between the two cameras and a notebook, I was sure busy. I walked down to one area where a lovely new school was situated, past the small generating station that supplies electrical current to the Hudson's Bay Post, school and nurses' residence, and first aid post. Coming back through the houses, I came upon several 'tepees". Now I knew I was in truly "Indian Country".

"At the end of a row of houses was a nice Anglican church and home for the minister and his family. Both were freshly painted a dark maroon.

"Behind these buildings and on the lakeshore was a sawmill and two tents that seemed to be living quarters for Indian families.

"After taking several pictures, I noticed a man coming toward me from the church area and thinking perhaps he may be the minister and a source of information, I waited to meet him. Not knowing if he spoke English, I introduced myself and to my surprise, he spoke English fluently and said his name was "John Yesno". I said, "Could you be any relation to the Johnny Yesno that we hear so often on the CBC programs?" and he said, "Yes, I am his father."  Then he took me to his house and showed me a number of pictures of his son, and I had a most interesting visit with him.

"I then went back into the house where Bill was conducting his election business. There were three moose hides drying behind the oil stove. They were completely white, all hair removed and ready for processing into leather articles.

"I went back outside to meet Dennis and he said, "Jeff, come and see what I found." He took me to the hospital and nurses' residence, where he introduced me to a most attractive blonde nurse from Toronto.

"By this time, "his Lordship" had conducted his business, and was looking for us. We then had considerable trouble trying to get transportation back to the plane. The chap that had brought us in had apparently gone to work at the sawmill. We finally were informed that another chap would take us out, and upon reaching the lakeshore, we found that we had two Indian boys and their luggage wanting transportation to Webeque, our third stop. The result was that we started out to the plane in a 16 - foot square stern canoe with seven people and equipment. It wasn't far, and the seven and a half horse-power motor soon had us delivered, but as there was quite a breeze blowing, we were happy to land safely at the plane - that water looked and felt cold.

"It took only a few minutes to get back in the plane and we were in the air again at eleven A.M. and heading for our next stop which was Lansdowne House. The extra two passengers did not seem to make any difference in regard to weight or effort in take-off.

End of Part One

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