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News archive for November 9, 2012

Aviation historian wings his way into print

If there was ever someone genetically predisposed to flying, it would be Bob Cameron.

By Ashley Joannou on November 9, 2012 at 4:43 pm

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

LANDING IN THE WORLD OF PUBLISHING – More than 600 photos from Bob Cameron’s collection have ended up in his new book Yukon Wings. He first began assembling history in pictures when he was 12 years old.

If there was ever someone genetically predisposed to flying, it would be Bob Cameron.

His late father, Gordon Cameron, was an apprentice air engineer repairing aircraft of the British Yukon Navigation Company (BYN), and ended his career operating modern bush planes and helicopters.

Two uncles worked for Canadian Pacific Airlines at the time of its inception.

As a child, he grew up listening to the stories of Yukon aviation figures like George Simmons, Pat Callison, Herman Peterson, Bud Harbottle, Moe Grant and Lloyd Ryder,

“These guys were aviation icons,” Cameron remembered during an interview Monday.

“They’re gone now, but they were heros of mine; I knew them all my life.”

His memories of planes go back to when he was about three years old.

“The earliest ride I remember would be in a Fleet Canuck airplane when my dad had to learn to fly solo, and that was the same airplane I later on learned to fly in,” he says.

Now 67, Cameron has channeled his vast knowledge of the territory’s aviation history and the stories of the heros he grew up around into a book: Yukon Wings.

The book’s launch and signing will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Yukon Transportation Museum.

The book focuses mostly on aviation in the Yukon in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.

It covers the industry’s history as well as many of the pioneers involved in starting up flights in the territory.

“The history of aviation around Canada has been basically very well-covered by many excellent books and many excellent authors,” says Cameron, a former commercial pilot for the old Trans North Turbo Air company in Whitehorse.

“But the one area that has not been covered is the Yukon. Our history here is second to none for excitement and interest and adventure. They operated aircraft here that weren’t operated anywhere else in Canada.”

Flipping through the book, Cameron points to a photo of the Fairchild Pilgrim, “a big ugly bush plane.” There was only one that ever came into Canada, and it was in Whitehorse.

The Yukon’s unique collection of planes developed out of necessity, Cameron says.

“It was just all that they could get at the time. They just had to buy what was available.”

In the late 1920s, sternwheeler crews would forage up into the Yukon in the spring along with the dredge crews in Dawson City.

They’d work all summer and in the fall there be a mass migration out of the Yukon.

“That kind of movement was already there but it was being handled by the sternwheelers and the trains,” Cameron says.

Aviation first appeared in the Yukon in the 1920s. It was the U.S. army aircraft being tested to fly long distances, which would land in Whitehorse.

“Oddly enough, no one really took up the mantle here and did anything about it until 1927,” Cameron says.

“Which is kind of amazing, because in Alaska, which is where those army planes went, they picked up on it right away in the early ’20s.”

It was businessman Clyde Wann and pilot Andy Cruickshank who first attempted to establish a commercial air service in the Yukon.

Their aircraft was christened Queen of the Yukon.

“Of course, the Yukon is a natural place because of the vast distances,” Cameron says. “In those days, there was no road to Dawson or Mayo; there was a trail.”

The service was there, but that didn’t guarantee an easy ride.

With bad weather, one trip between Dawson and Vancouver took two weeks.

In other cases, passengers were required to get out of the plane and help change the landing gear from wheels to skis and back, depending on where the plane had to land.

Though he officially started putting pen to paper about nine years ago, Cameron says, he started collecting the photos in the book when he was 12.

“At that time, I didn’t have any money to pay for photo work but I’d beg for copies from people starting with my own dad’s album.”

Soon the Yukon aviation pioneers he grew up around started giving him their photos.

“Then, when I got older, I got some money and became aware of the Yukon Archives.”

More than 600 photos from Cameron’s collection have ended up in the book, many printed large enough to take up the full width of a page.

It was not an idea the publisher initially supported.

“When I told him there were 650 photos, the first thing he said was, ‘we’re going to have to cull these in half,’” Cameron says.

Then he saw the photos.

“Once he saw them, he went the other way. He said, ‘oh, my God, we’re not going to cull any of these.’”

The end result was a 354-page book, larger than anything Calgary-based Frontenac House has ever published. It retails for $60.

While remaining interested in history, Cameron also took up the family business of flying.

While still in high school, he earned his private pilot’s licence.

After university, he joined United Aircraft of Canada, the manufacturer of Canadian Pratt & Whitney engines.

Attaining his commercial pilot’s licence, he decided to follow his heart back to the Yukon flying business and rejoined Trans North. He remained as a commercial pilot and flight operations manager until his retirement in 2001.

But even as he worked with more modern aircraft, Cameron always had a soft spot for the classic planes.

In the early 1970s, he tracked down the remains of three wrecked and abandoned Fokker Super Universals.

No functioning example of the plane, which had at one point flown throughout the world, existed at that time.

Cameron, along with two Calgary pilot/engineers, used parts from each of the planes to reassemble one.

In 1998, the Fokker, CF-AAM, flew again for the first time.

The three men flew the historic plane for 30,000 miles throughout North America.

The book ends with a mention of home-grown airlines that have endured in the Yukon.

Cameron points out that air service in the territory has frequently bounced between local carriers and Outside companies.

“Now we go full-circle, and Air North is competing head-to-head with them,” the veteran aviator says.

“A Yukon favourite and locally owned, and how can we be more proud and pleased than that?”

CommentsAdd a comment

Patricia Cowett

Nov 11, 2012 at 1:15 am

When you get Bob talking about aviation in the Yukon you immediately recognize his passion for and knowledge of the history and the aircraft.  I am sure this book has captured his unique first hand experiences. Bottoms up!  Congratulations!

David Neufeld

Nov 11, 2012 at 9:09 am

Great book launch at the Yukon Transportation Museum yesterday. Huge crowd of aviation fans in long lines to purchase and have Bob autograph their copy.
Congratulations to Bob and Frontenac Publishing for this beautiful volume.

Tom Lymbery

Nov 12, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Terrific - I am a great fan of the Yukon and have hopes of getting this great book into our bookstore in Southern BC

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