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CAHS Toronto Chapter Flying High

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Bill Wheeler, left, with an early mobile display promoting the CAHS at Oshawa in the 1960s. DHC made the collapsing panels.
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Several of the first members of the Toronto Chapter of the CAHS with the Silver Dart replica at a display at the CNE in the 1960s. The replica was built by Colin Clark for a CBC-TV show. Photo from Bill Wheeler
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Bjarni Trygvasson taxis the Silver Dart replica of the AEA 2005 Group before the first of six test flights at Hamilton Airport on 6 February, 2009. Photo from Gord McNulty
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 A crowd of fans and media surround the Silver Dart replica of the AEA 2005 Group at Hamilton airport on 6 February, 2009. Bjarni Tryggvason was at the controls for its first flight. Photo from Gord McNulty
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 The Vickers Vimy replica, flown by Steve Fossett and Mark Rebholz, takes off from Downsview on 1 June, 2005. The Vimy's stopover in Toronto and Ottawa was covered in the CAHS Journal. Photo from Gord McNulty
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Bjarni Tryggvason and Howard Malone converse at the first annual Toronto Chapter Dinner Meeting Sept. 27, 2009. Photo from Gord McNulty
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A painting by Russell Smith shows Fokker D. VII war trophies being examined at Armour Heights in Toronto after the First World War. Edward Soye discussed this at the CAHS Toronto dinner meeting in 2010.
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 Another photo in the Flypast showed the Snowbirds flying the 'Speedbird' formation on Sept. 1 at the 2012 CNE air show. Photo from Gord McNulty
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 The Flypast newsletter features photos such as this Vintage Wings of Canada Hawk One Sabre flown by Dan Dempsey at the 2012 Hamilton air show. Photo from Gord McNulty

A lively website. An annual dinner meeting. A special, fully illustrated anniversary issue of the Flypast newsletter in 2009. These are only a few of the recent accomplishments of the Toronto Chapter of the CAHS that have ensured a prominent place for our Society in the aviation scene of Canada's largest city.

The private website, operated in support of the Chapter and CAHS National, was established by Bob Winson. More than anyone, Bob has long been a cornerstone of the Toronto Chapter, serving as the "go to" person in much the same way that the late M.L. "Mac" McIntyre did in the first 25 years of the Toronto Chapter's history.

The multi-faceted website starts with a bang: the sound of a classic de Havilland Canada Beaver floatplane taking off. It is an excellent resource for research into the rich aviation history of Toronto and Ontario, with archives of the Toronto Chapter's long-running Flypast newsletter, links to various aviation galleries, and much more.

The website is devoted to the memory of Alan Greenwood, its originator and inspiration. He, unfortunately, passed away before it could be completed. Peter Doherty, an old CAHS associate, stepped in to bring it to life.

The annual dinner meeting has become a highly successful and much-anticipated event since the inaugural event in September 2009. Two speakers --- Gerald Haddon, grandson of J.A.D. McCurdy, together with Canadian astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason --- made presentations at the event, held at the Armour Heights' Officers Mess at the Canadian Forces College.

This year's dinner meeting in May 2013, featuring Captain Robert Pearson (Ret'd), discussing the Air Canada "Gimli Glider," continued the tradition in fine style. Chapter members invariably enjoy an excellent dinner while touching base with fellow aviation enthusiasts. In fact, the dinner has helped to broaden the horizons of the Chapter and develop an informal link to the Aero Club of Buffalo.

In 2012, the Aero Club of Buffalo provided two speakers --- Hugh Neeson of the Niagara Aerospace Museum, and Dr Ilya Greenberg, an authority on Russian aerospace history --- to discuss the return of a Bell P-39Q Airacobra to its home in Buffalo. For their part, Toronto Chapter members attended the 100th anniversary dinner of the Buffalo club in 2010.

The Toronto Chapter currently has more than 130 members, primarily from southern Ontario. Some members who reside outside of Canada enjoy keeping in touch through the Flypast newsletter, which provides a complete report on the previous meeting and informative updates. Under Bob Winson's stewardship, the Flypast has broadened its appeal in recent years with colour photographs on the front and rear covers.

The Flypast, like the CAHS Journal, has a remarkable history in its own right. A permanent record of the first 25 years of Flypast, meticulously bound into one volume by Mac McIntyre, shows that Vol. 1, No. 1, appeared in December 1965. That issue, among other things, promoted the upcoming Chapter meeting --- a presentation on forest fire fighting by Stan Simons of the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests.

It is fascinating to read the comments by Boris Zissoff, CAHS #53, then provisional editor. To quote the colourful, and fondly remembered, Boris: "I would like to congratulate the Ottawa Chapter on the leading job they have done with their newsletter, 'The Ottawa Observair.' Chaps, you have been 'shooting us down in flames,' but look out, we are climbing for 'our position in the sun.' We also hope that this will encourage the Montreal Chapter to 'come down from the mountain' and do something in the same line."

The many speakers who have made presentations to the Toronto Chapter through the years represent a "who's who" of Canadian civil and military aviation. Meetings featured priceless documentation, such as rare 8 mm colour footage of the first flight of the Avro CF-100 in 1950 from Bob Johnson's collection. Joe Holliday, author and journalist, showed black and white, as well as colour, footage of wartime Mosquito production at Downsview. Superlative photographers, Larry Milberry, CAHS #11, and Nick Wolochatiuk, CAHS #9, have presented their air show photo collections.

At times, attendance at meetings would reach 180 or more people, as top-notch speakers made presentations. Here were just a few: renowned Avro Canada test pilot Jan Zurakowski; George Stewart, DFC, recounting his adventures flying the Mosquito during and after the Second World War; Ken Nicholson discussing his career as a pilot in the Royal Canadian Navy from the Seafire to the Banshee; Carl Millard on the growth of Millardair; and many more.

The tradition of excellent speakers has continued to the present. Bob Winson, who arranges our speakers, especially recalls a presentation by James Moffatt, who evaded capture by the Germans for six months after his bailout from a Halifax bomber over Belgium. He kept the Chapter enthralled for almost two hours with his account. Mr Moffatt's story is available at in the book Behind Enemy Lines

The Chapter is proud that twelve of its members were inducted into Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame. They include Russ Bannock, Paul B. Dilworth, Jim Floyd, Bob Fowler, Fred Hotson, Leavens Aviation Inc., Larry Milberry, Vi Milstead Warren, George Neal, Don Rogers, Bill Wheeler, and Jan Zurakowski.

Another highlight in the Chapter's history was the Flypast Special Canadian Centennial of Flight Edition, published in the spring of 2009 to celebrate Canada's 100 years of powered flight. Bill Wheeler prepared this Journal-style edition, supported by Matt Clark, who served as Flypast editor-in-chief for several years.

Meetings have flourished even though the Chapter has been forced, for one reason or another, to relocate on many occasions. More recently, it was felt the former Toronto Aerospace Museum (TAM) at Downsview would be an ideal venue to the benefit of the museum and the Chapter. TAM became the Canadian Air and Space Museum (CASM), but has since closed after being evicted in September 2011. The current Chapter meeting site, at the Canadian Forces College, is proving to be an outstanding venue with its high-calibre facilities and central location.

Sadly, the CASM is still without a new facility. Its problems have probably been the most disappointing and frustrating setback experienced by the members of the Toronto Chapter in its history. Many members sent letters and e-mails urging the federal government to find a new home for the museum's collection of historic aircraft and artifacts, but a solution remains elusive.

Another Chapter accomplishment was the establishment of a memorial scholarship in Don Rogers' name at Georgian College (Barrie campus) for the Aviation Management Program. The scholarship was set up in July 2006, and the Chapter has awarded $3,000 to date to six grad students. Don Rogers, a leading test pilot with Avro Canada, flew the Avro Jetliner on its first flight. He was a longtime member of the Toronto Chapter.

The current Toronto Chapter executive includes Dr George Topple (President), Sheldon Benner (1st Vice-President and Membership Secretary), Neil McGavock (2nd Vice-President, Secretary, Archivist, and Historian), as well as Directors Scott Maclagan and Gord McNulty (who is also the Flypast Reporter). Bob Winson continues to participate as a volunteer providing Program Support.

Bill Wheeler provided some of the historical overview in notes for this summary. He traced the origin of meetings in Toronto that would eventually produce what became known as the Canadian Aviation Historical Society to the late summer or early fall of 1962. "Our first meeting was in the living room of my then home on Belsize Drive in north Toronto," Bill recalled. At the beginning of 1963, the enthusiasts, who had initially called themselves the Early Bird Club of Canada, produced their first Enthusiast newsletter.

"What had sparked it all was a book, 'Knights of the Air,' by the late John Norman (Jack) Harris that I illustrated," Bill stated. "Jack had flown Stirlings with the RAF and spent four years in a prison camp, the same stalag as Douglas Bader.

"At that time I had been freelancing as an illustrator, receiving assignments from from several Toronto book publishers as well as the Star Weekly. I was one of the few illustrators in Toronto specializing in aviation and marine subjects, and had done previous work for MacMillan's. They offered me the assignment.

"I was very fortunate in meeting H.J. (Hank) Burden, an RFC ace, who loaned me his album. It was his S.E.5a, 'Maybe,' that I painted for the jacket illustration. He also loaned me a large book of photographs that had been published in the early twenties, shortly after the First World War, which provided me with invaluable reference."

Bill recalled that the two original founders of the CAHS, George Morley and Jeff Burch, came across a copy of 'Knights of the Air' and contacted Bill through the publishers. Their original concept was of an organization devoted to researching and publishing untold First World War flying stories and early issues of the CAHS Journal reflected that.

"We became the CAHS when I approached Frank Ellis, author of Canada's Flying Heritage, and invited him to become our Patron," Bill stated. "Frank pointed out that the Early Bird name had long belonged to a very distinguished group of men and women, all of whom had flown prior to the First World War."

The organization grew rapidly. Recognized First World War authorities such as Harry Creagan came aboard, as well as Charlie Catalano, a well-known Toronto light aircraft pilot and owner. He figured largely in the Toronto Chapter and was Chapter President from 1970 to 1983.

Al Martin, who was with Trans Canada Air Lines public relations, joined, as well as people such as Sheldon Benner, Larry Milberry, Paul Regan, John Beilby, John Ellis, Doug MacRitchie, John Griffin, Jack McNulty, Boris Zissoff, Terry Waddington, Roger Juniper and others.

Bill noted that the first logo of the CAHS, conceived in the art department of the Toronto Star Weekly, used large open-face block letters separated by periods.

"We used it for about five years until it was replaced by the very distinctive 'Swash' CAHS we still use, although we've reverted to using JOURNAL -- as do so many other publications."

During the early years, members of the CAHS set up promotional displays at air shows and fly-ins. Mac McIntyre, along with Doug MacRitchie, arranged for the transport of the display. "At each appearance we would sign up thirty or forty new members," Bill recalled.

With Bill as editor, the scope of the Journal widened to include bush flying, airline operations, military aviation, and biographical accounts of individuals who contributed significantly to Canadian aviation. Capable writers and gifted photographers -- Bill mentioned Jack McNulty as "foremost" --- enhanced the Journal.

Early Journals included a useful and popular item containing Civil Aircraft Registers, compiled by John Ellis from Department of Transport files in the National Archives. John Griffin added listings from the Canadian military. These later became a part of John's 1969 publication, Canadian Military Aircraft: Serials and Photographs.

Bill was also able to obtain drawings from many leading artists: Tom Bjananson, Jim Bruce, Will Davies, Peter Mossman, and several others. "On a trip to the U.K., I met Frank Wootton, widely acknowledged as the Dean of Aviation Artists, and he generously allowed us to use any of his paintings that had a Canadian connection," Bill stated.

"With the help of Air Canada, we were able to bring Frank to Toronto to speak at a convention, and, with the support of Senator Hartland Molson, to purchase the painting, Breaking the Circle, and donate it to the National Air Museum in Ottawa. CAHS members Peter Allen, Captain Ray Lank of TCA/Air Canada, and stewardess Wendy Travis figured prominently in the process."

Bill also mentioned Paddy Gardiner, who founded the Ottawa Chapter. A group of original Toronto members, including Al Martin, Charlie Catalano, and George Morley accompanied Bill to Ottawa, where they met Paddy and Ken Molson, the first curator of the National Aviation Museum.

"Paddy and Geoff Rowe got the Ottawa Chapter on its feet. A Montreal group consisting of Doug Anderson, George Fuller, Ross Richardson, Roy Dishlevoy, and several others already existed. They too came aboard."

From its origins in Toronto, the CAHS readily established itself as a bold idea whose time had come. Fifty years later, it has a proven legacy that has endured to the lasting benefit of aviation in Canada.

By Gord McNulty, with files by Bob Winson, Neil McGavock, and Bill Wheeler