Canada's Bushplane Heritage

and Forest Fire Education Centre

Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

June 6th, 2000

In our travels across North America, museums have been a staple for our story telling. Here we find most of the work done for us in a concise, compact presentation, ready to be digested and reported on. With literally hundreds of museums behind us, we have become somewhat connoisseurs on this type of presentation. There are many different approaches, from the lively action packed "living" museum to the sterile glass cased artifacts of the "static" type. So with less then a week in Canada, it was time to check out the local museums and see if a different country meant a different type of museum. Having done articles on such celebrated air museums as Pensacola Air Station museum, the SAC museum in Nebraska, and the Glen Curtis museum in New York, I felt I had a good handle on what to gauge an air museum by. With this in mind, we stopped off at the Canadian Bushplane Heritage and Forest Fire Education Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. The building itself was not impressive. It looked like a big hanger, which of course it was. Having explained our intention to the sales clerk, I was about to experience my first pleasant surprise. The general manager, Don Johnson came striding off the hanger main floor, with his broad smile and warm hand shake. We exchanged courtesies and I explained my desires. "Sure, come on", he beamed and started us on our way to a new understanding of the famous expression "bushplane". Right from the start we could tell that this man was more then a business manager, his tone, at times almost reverent toward the museum and the planes it held, told us that he was far closer to his work then mere professionalism would create. As he walked us toward the small theater he explained that the Centre, he avoided using the word museum, was the result of several old timers who had for the most part worked for an organization called the Ontario Provincial Air Service. This service created on April 1, 1924 is the longest continuously running non- commercial air service in World. It is still functional as the Aviation and Fire Management Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. As we approached the theater, we were joined by the President of the Centre, Rick Harrison. With sleeves rolled up and obviously just coming from some effort yet explained, his enthusiasm for the Centre added to the interest of what we were about to see. We settled down into our seats which Rick explained with obvious satisfaction, had come from an old DC-9 aircraft. Through this 12 minute film we learned that the Centre honors the work of bushpilots and the Ontario Provincial Air Service. Bushpilots helped to open up the Canadian North, while the OPAS played a major role in protecting Ontario's forest. The hanger that presently houses the Center was built in 1948 on the original site of the very first building the OPAS used as a hanger in 1924. The run-up ramp leading from the St. Mary's river is still used by float planes when visiting the Centre. This hanger is the very place that the original concept of waterbombing a fire was invented and developed. After the movie, both Rick and Don took us out onto the main hanger floor where the pride they felt for the machines they displayed was as evident as the smiles on their faces. I wandered off with Rick while Don took Laura in a different direction.


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