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Living and Flying in the Wilderness 1954-1955

Written by Verna Emberley.

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Photo Caption (above): October 1954 at The Pas, Manitoba, Gord Emberley, pilot of Fairchild 24W CF-EKC (and husband of the writer), has just changed over from floats 'to wheels. Gord Emberley Photo

Living and Flying in the Wilderness 1954-1955

The Wife of a Bush Pilot Tells her Story

By Verna Emberley

Some time ago, I read Connie Dickins' reminiscences on her first year of marriage to renowned bush pilot Punch Dickins, titled "I Married a Bush Pilot." She presents a very interesting and amusing account of what it was like for women who followed their husbands to live in the bush in 1928. A generation later at the tail end of the bush-flying era, I was to accompany my husband Gord to northern Manitoba along with our two sons, David (three), Douglas (one), and our black Labrador, Patty.

Gord, a forest ranger, and I had married in 1949 and, for the next five years, resided at the forestry stations of Stead and Rennie, Manitoba. During that time, Gord's long interest in flying was revived and he began to work towards his private pilots licence in 1952. He purchased a de Havilland D.H. 82C Tiger Moth, CF-CTA, from the Brandon Flying Club in order to accumulate the necessary time for his Commercial Licence which he received in June 1953. He soon discovered that available flying positions were few and far between — there were many trained pilots with experience who had returned to Canada following the Second World War. Finally he was offered a position at Ilford, Manitoba, by a group of four who were interested in starting an air service there.

Gord resigned his position as a forest ranger, and we packed up our belongings on 1 January 1954, in preparation for our move to northern Manitoba. We were to rent a 10x20 ft one-roomed house from Oliver Lindal, the storekeeper, so we put most of our things in storage and shipped the remainder to Ilford. Gord made the day-and-a-half trip by train, and I followed a week later with our two boys. We left Winnipeg at noon, expecting to arrive at Ilford early the next evening.

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Mile 99 on the Lynn Lake Railroad in 1954, Verna Emberley with sons David and Douglas. Gord Emberley Photo

It was the middle of winter and, due to the fact that trains drawn by steam engines were liable to freeze, the trip often took longer than expected. I remember spending all day in The Pas station, waiting for the train to leave for the final leg of our Journey on the Hudson Bay Railroad. It was fortunate that I had brought along enough food for the three of us, and diapers for the baby, but the wait was tedious, especially for two energetic youngsters.

When the train at last departed, the trip north turned out to be long and slow — we arrived at Ilford in the middle of the night. How weary I was after two nights sleeping upright and spending a day in the station! And how happy I was to find Gord there waiting for us after our long journey into the unknown! We set up housekeeping in our little house behind the store and were quite comfortable. We brought two cribs, a davenport which made into a bed, a table and chairs, a gasoline-powered washer, a Coleman space heater, a two-burner Coleman gas stove and the necessary pots and dishes.

While Gord carried on with his flying career, piloting a Cessna 170 to such places as Shamattawa, York Factory, and fish camps on South Indian Lake, I kept busy looking after our family, doing the usual cooking, washing, etc. There was quite a community at Ilford to conduct the local business along with numerous CNR employees and local native residents who came from Reserves such as Gods Narrows, Oxford House, and Split Lake.

When we needed water for baths and washing—which we heated on our space heater — Gord was kept busy carrying it by the pail full from the CNR water tower across the tracks. This took some planning as he was usually away flying every day. One of the trips Gord recalls very well was his flight to York Factory to pick up Toots and Madelaine Mclvor after that post was permanently closed in the spring of 1954 by the Hudson's Bay Co.

We left Ilford in June of 1954 — Ilford Airways was granted its charter and the owners decided to employ pilot-engineer Al Nelson instead of having two employees, and Gord was let go.

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At Mile 99 on the Lynn Lake Railroad; Ed Clarkson and his horse, Judy, have just met the Reliant to haul fish from the aircraft to the packing station. Gord Emberley Photo

When John Bodnar of The Pas offered Gord a position flying north of The Pas for the summer, we again packed up our belongings and shipped them north on the Lynn Lake rail line. Gord was to fly in fish from outlying lakes for Keystone Fisheries. We were based at Herriot Point where there was a fish-packing shed and a camp of fishermen with their families — living in tents. Three-foot board walls and a tent frame were erected on a platform built on the ground. Everything we had in Ilford was now moved into this canvas-covered structure, which was to be our home from June to September.

Gord was now flying a Fairchild 24W, CF- EKC, (165 hp Warner Super Scarab-powered) similar to the Fairchild 24W in the Western Canada Aviation Museums collection in Winnipeg. On the trip north from Winnipeg, we were given a preview of the Scarab engines dependability, or lack thereof. We were traveling north on the first leg from Winnipeg to The Pas, with Dave and Doug in the back seats, when we decided to put down on Lake Winnipegosis for a bathroom stop. On attempting to take off, Gord had difficulty in obtaining sufficient power to become airborne.

We returned to shore, which was just a stretch of pebbly beach along the edge of the bush. By the time Gord located the problem (the cold-air butterfly valve was turned the wrong way), a thunderstorm was fast approaching and there was not enough time left to reach The Pas before dark. That night we dined on pints of preserved fruit and vegetables we had with us, and bedded the boys down in the back seat covered with clothing. Gord and I spent the night sitting up in the front seats.

living and flying001 400The storm was a wild one with plenty of thunder, lightning and rain. Happily the morning dawned bright and clear, and we were anxious to get airborne for The Pas — we were certain that we had been expected there the previous evening. But before we could take off, another problem presented itself. Due to the storm and the pounding waves, which we endured most of the night, our floats had filled with water and were submerged. Using the sealers emptied for our meal, we baled out the floats, starting with the back compartments and ... Wait a second, where's the rest of the story; glad you asked, check out the CAHS Journal, Vol. 44, No. 3, Fall 2006. That issue is available as a back issue on the CAHS website.

About the Author
Verna Emberley was the second eldest of four children born to Bill and Lily Wiley. Raised and educated in Winnipeg; she graduated from Kelvin Technical High School and enrolled in Normal School where she received her Manitoba Teaching Certificate. After a short time in the classroom, she married Gord Emberley and they moved to a Forestry Station in rural Manitoba There she commenced the life of a Forest Ranger's wife, experiencing life without electrical power/ the convenience of a refrigerator and the normal amenities of city life. This would be a prelude to her move to northern Manitoba when husband Gord obtained a pilot's job. Her story illustrates her adaptability to harsh conditions, her appreciation of the beauty of the northern wilderness and her love of and concern for family.

The aircraft mentioned in this story are: D.H. 82C Tiger Moth, CF-CTA Cessna 170, CF-HDM Cessna 180, CF-HJN Fairchild 24W, CF-EKC Stinson Reliant (SR-9F), CF-EZD My own Stinson Voyager 108-2/ CF-EYD
Gord Emberley

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