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CAHS 50th Anniversary: A Retrospective

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Fred Hotson with his beautifully finished Heath Parasol, CF-BLS, in 1941. CAHS photo
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As shown in this vintage promotional brochure, outstanding art has long been featured in all CAHS publications. Image from Gord McNulty
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 CAHS attendees at the 1993 convention in Saskatchewan model Tilley hats in front of Harry Whereatt's Hurricane. Photo from Angie McNulty
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CAHS Patron Robert W. Bradford at the Western Development Museum in June, 1993, during the convention organized by the Roland Groome Chapter. Photo from Gord McNulty 
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Harry Whereatt and his wife Anna, with Harry's Hurricane, Stardust, during a visit to their farm at Assiniboia during the 1993 CAHS convention. Photo from Angie McNulty 
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 Larry Milberry and Joe McBryan in front of a Buffalo Airways Norseman at the 1995 Red Lake Norseman Festival. Photo from Gord McNulty
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 Jan Zurakowski and Bill Turner, fondly remembered in the CAHS, at an Avro Arrow reunion dinner in Toronto, March 1998. Photo from Gord McNulty
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 CAHS members joined veterans at the unveiling of Halifax NA 337 at Canada's National Air Force Museum, CFB Trenton, Nov. 5, 2005. Photo from Gord McNulty
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 George Neal, with his Hornet Moth, at his 90th birthday party at the Toronto Aerospace Museum in November 2008. Photo from Gord McNulty
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 From left, Dick Blakey, son of famed bush pilot 'Rusty' Blakey, Don Evans and Bill Wheeler at the first Rusty Blakey fly-in, Sudbury. Photo from Bill Wheeler
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Air shows are a favourite of CAHS members. The RCAF 2013 Demo Hornet is shown in a flypast at the Hamilton air show June 16. Photo from Gord McNulty 

The 50th anniversary of the CAHS is a time to salute the enthusiasts who, with dedication and vision, achieved the dream of a national organization to preserve Canada's flying heritage.

Everyone in the CAHS knows the value of membership in this wonderful aviation fraternity. The many benefits speak for themselves. For 50 years now, we have digested the well-researched articles and photos in the flagship CAHS Journal quarterly, enjoyed lively presentations at Chapter meetings, savoured the memories of national conventions, and met many new contacts in aviation.

The consistent excellence of the CAHS has enabled the organization to weather inevitable challenges through the years and maintain a strong appeal to new members as it moves forward. In 2001, Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame awarded the CAHS the Belt of Orion Award, citing the outstanding dedication of its members for their "major contribution to public awareness and the preservation of Canada's unique and rich aviation history."

The CAHS is especially rewarding for the people who volunteer their time to devote the hard work that has earned the CAHS its sterling reputation. It has been a labour of love for everyone who has contributed to the Journal, helped to organize a Chapter meeting or a national convention, or worked quietly behind the scenes.

The same dedication has enabled CAHS to keep pace with technological change. An updated and expanded website, and a monthly national electronic newsletter, edited by Vice President Caitlin McWilliams, have further enriched the value of membership. Alan Rust and staff have ensured a strong internet presence, and Bill Zuk, as newsreel editor, has kept articles current on the website.

The fact that the CAHS has succeeded over the long haul without the help of government grants and advertising revenue has made the Society's accomplishments all the more impressive.

M.L. "Mac" McIntyre (1922-1992), CAHS #143, was one of the early stalwarts who is fondly remembered as a "gentle giant" of the Society. For his part, Mac wrote for the Journal and the Toronto Chapter Flypast, and served as Toronto Chapter Secretary-Treasurer for 19 years. He was truly a spark plug of the Toronto Chapter who encouraged many aviation fans to join the CAHS.

Mac spoke for many CAHS members when he reflected on his contributions and those of his colleagues in the Society. As he wrote: "This, along with the fellowship of many CAHS friends, has given me tremendous pleasure over the years."

Bill Wheeler, CAHS #5, served the Society with great distinction as Journal editor for 43 years. He truly succeeded in accomplishing his goal of making the Journal simple, classy, and timeless. In 2011, he was inducted into Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame.

Bill's many contributions included an article that proved helpful for this retrospective: a documentation of the early days of the Society. His article, entitled In the Beginning, published in the Journal, Vol. 30, No. 2, Summer 1992, was written for the 30th anniversary of the CAHS. It is highly recommended.

The recollections of Bill and Mac trace the early history of the CAHS, as we know it, to 1962 when the organization began at what was recorded as the founding meeting of the "Early Bird Club of Canada." Aviation enthusiasts in attendance at the first meeting included George, Jeff and Jill Burch, Bill Wheeler, Charlie Catalano, Herman Karbe, and Bill Morley.

Almost from the start, it was clear that the name "Early Bird Club of Canada" conflicted with the "Early Birds," a very select group of people who had flown an aeroplane prior to 1914, or in the case of Americans, before the entry of the United States in the First World War. In February 1963, the name was changed to the Canadian Aviation Historical Society.

Many ideas were kicked around at little social gatherings. Charlie, Al Martin, Larry Milberry, and Frank Taylor came on the scene, along with John Bielby, John Ellis, Doug MacRitchie, John Griffin, Sheldon Benner and Boris Zissoff. Meetings were held in various homes about once a month.

The first formal meeting of the CAHS was held in Jeff Burch's basement in February 1963. Speakers were Jock Forteith, helmsman on the RT-34 airship, which made the first west crossing of the Atlantic in 1919, and F/O Hugh Halliday, RCAF, who became a well-known Canadian aviation author and a great contributor to the CAHS through the decades.

The first cash outlay was $4 for an ad in the Toronto Star. It produced several interested parties, notably a response from First World War aviation enthusiast Harry Creagan. Harry, in turn, wrote a letter to the editor of The Globe and Mail announcing the birth of the Society in January 1964.

George Morley and the Burches had previously talked of publishing an aviation –oriented magazine, but their interests were more those of enthusiasts, rather than scholars of aviation history. George and Bill Wheeler visited Harry Creagan at RCAF Station Borden, where they saw copies of Cross & Cockade and the Journal of the American Aviation Historical Society for the first time. This, along with Harry's enthusiasm, helped set the pattern for the future CAHS.

Annual dues for the first year were set at $2. A CAHS display at an air show in Oshawa in June 1963, attracted considerable interest and membership rose from about 60 to 120 as a result. Another air show at Buttonville later in the summer produced more members, totalling 177 by the end of 1963.

The first unofficial 'national convention' took place in June 1963 at Ottawa in conjunction with the visit by the Toronto contingent to the new National Aviation Museum, led by its first curator, Ken Molson, and an Air Force Day Air Show.

Also in 1963, vintage-flying enthusiast the Rev. John W. MacGillvray (1924-1995), universally known as Father John, joined the Society as member No. 135. He composed the Airman's Grace and movingly delivered it to open most of our banquets for many years.

The Toronto Chapter was officially formed in March 1964, with John Bielby as its first President, Boris Zissoff as Vice President and Publicity Chairman, and Terry Judge as Secretary Treasurer. Al Martin, Sam Schlifer, and Mac McIntyre were also on the committee. Early in 1964, Paddy Gardiner inspired the formation of an Ottawa Chapter. He was its first President, with the able assistance of Geoff Rowe and Hugh Halliday.

The first CAHS National Convention was held at the Butler Motel in Ottawa on 6 June 1964. It set the precedent for annual general meetings across the country. Usually held with a full program of speakers, visits to museums and airports, and a banquet, they have continued to be of the highest calibre. CAHS conventions invariably provide a wealth of camaraderie and memories for the far-flung membership of the organization.

The rapid growth of Chapters was remarkable. Ross Richardson, Doug Anderson and George Fuller formed a Chapter in Montreal and other Chapters were subsequently formed in Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Halifax, Kingston, New Brunswick, Ottawa, Prince Edward Island, Regina, Vancouver, Victoria, and Winnipeg. Today, the Society has nine Chapters (Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Halifax, and Victoria closed over the years due to insufficient membership to sustain operations).

While it is not the largest Chapter, the health and vibrancy of Regina's Roland Groome Chapter is legendary. Founded by long-time Regina member Ray Crone, the Roland Groome Chapter hosted highly successful national conventions and produces the monthly Windsock newsletter.

Many individuals, exemplified by Jerry Vernon, who for many years has been President of the Vancouver Chapter, have contributed to the success of the CAHS team.
Even at times when there was no host chapter, dedicated members and volunteers stepped in to organize a convention --- as happened in Montreal in 1992 when the event coincided with Montreal's 350th anniversary year.

Although they were 300 kilometres apart, the Chapters in New Brunswick and Halifax overcame logistical challenges to stage a highly enjoyable 2003 convention in Nova Scotia's provincial capital with a distinct maritime flavour.

Whether the convention was held in western Canada, most recently in Edmonton in 2011, or in the Atlantic, where the 2012 convention took place at Saint John, New Brunswick, the spirit of the CAHS has flourished from coast to coast.

CAHS Presidents in the first 25 years were George Morley, John Griffin, Pat Howard, Fred Hotson, Peter Allen, Bill Wheeler, and Terry Judge. In the next 25 years, the Presidents were Jack Gow, G. Edward Rice, Tony Soulis, Howard Malone, Tim Dube, Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail and currently, Gary Williams.

Fred Hotson, after his 'retirement' after many years as CAHS President, was named Chairman of the CAHS, followed by Peter Allen and Ray Lank. "Punch" Dickins was named the first Patron of the CAHS in 1978, followed in 1988 by leading aviation artist Bob Bradford, who continues to hold the honour.

Les Wilkinson (1922-1999) was among the most active Toronto members in the early years. He inspired the Toronto Chapter in publishing Walter Henry's softcover, Vintage Aircraft in Canada, in 1976. It was financed with personal loans from Chapter directors. Les obtained a News Horizons grant and organized the publishing of a larger softcover, I'll Never Forget, in 1979.

It made enough money to publish a major publication, "125 Years of Canadian Aeronautics, a Chronology 1840-1965," in 1983. Authored by George Fuller, John Griffin, and Ken Molson, this significant achievement produced much publicity for the CAHS. Ken also compiled "The First 500 Canadian Pilots" in 1982 among his many contributions.

Throughout the history of the CAHS, the Journal has been, and continues to be, the foundation of the organization. It is respected internationally as the leading publication of Canadian aviation history. Few aspects of civil and military aviation in Canada have not been explored by 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 became a part of John's 1969 publication, Canadian Military Aircraft: Serials and Photographs

Special commemorative editions were produced to recognize people and events. In June 1984, the famous Mynarski VC Lancaster of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum (CWHM) was featured on the cover as the Journal recognized the 75th anniversary of powered flight in Canada, the 60th anniversary of the founding of the RCAF, and the 10th birthday of the CWHM.

In Journal Vol. 24, No. 1, Spring 1986, Trans Canada Airlines Lockheed 10A Electra CF-TCC appeared on the cover as the CAHS, thus saluting the 50th anniversary of Air Canada's founding. Partnerships with corporations have been mutually successful.

To cite just two of many examples, a montage of Lockheed aircraft illustrated a special commemorative issue of the Journal, Vol. 29, No. 4, Winter 1991, to recognize the contribution of the Lockheed family of aircraft to Canada and the world. McDonnell Douglas of Canada sponsored the Vol. 28, No. 3, Fall 1990 issue of the Journal.

The efforts of the CAHS to work closely with leading aviation museums and institutions across Canada have likewise proven rewarding. This year's 50th anniversary partnership with Vintage Wings of Canada and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum is another fine case in point.

The Journal has indeed come a long way in five decades. Almost from the beginning of the CAHS, to the end of 1971, the Journal was assembled from piles of pages on the ping-pong table in Doug MacRitchie's basement. About eight members would walk around the table, taking one sheet from each pile, along with covers to make up a complete Journal. These were stapled along with a heavy-duty twin-stapling machine built for the purpose by Don Long.

Starting in 1972, the Journal was assembled and saddle stitched commercially. Doug looked after all Journal distribution almost from the beginning until his death in his Stinson 108 at Burlington in 1980.

As Mac recalled, "Over the years these periodic sessions in Doug's basement contributed immensely to the bond of fellowship and the knowledge of those fortunate enough to be there. The exchange of ideas and the monetary savings achieved by these work sessions contributed tremendously to the development of the CAHS."

The MacRitchie family and Doug's many friends established the Doug MacRitchie Memorial Scholarship for the top graduating student in the Aircraft Technician's course at Centennial College. The fund has been administered by the CAHS, and a scholarship of $500 has continued to be awarded each through to 2013.

In 1976, the Journal went to partial colour front cover, and in 1988, a full colour front cover, along with occasional colour back covers. In 1990, the Journal adopted its current format of approximately 40 pages, illustrated with as many as 80 historic photographs. An illustration of historical significance makes up the front cover and the back cover usually presents an illustration, or photograph or two, of a vintage Canadian aircraft.

Terry Higgins "took the stick" from Bill March as managing editor of the Journal in 2011 and has come through in flying colours.

In his retrospective after the first 25 years, Mac McIntyre stated that in his opinion, the three most important people in the CAHS were Bill Wheeler, Larry Milberry, and Sheldon Benner. All three of these gentlemen continue to advance the cause of the CAHS with distinction. Mac credited Bill for the excellence of the Journal, without which the CAHS "would eventually die."

Larry, one of our earliest members, had provided almost every speaker at Toronto Chapter meetings since 1976. This prolific author has continued to be a stalwart of the CAHS. His long-standing contributions were exemplified in Journal Vol. 50, No. 4, when he wrote an outstanding tribute to Fred Hotson, who died at age 98 on 20 July 2012. As Larry wrote, "few members would have such a positive influence on the society" as the much revered Fred.

Larry described Fred as a "take charge" and "lead by example" type who helped set CAHS policy and organize annual conventions. Fred wrote seminal articles for the Journal and delivered carefully researched talks covering everything from the history of Toronto's early airports to the story of the first east-to-west, non-stop Atlantic flight (flown by a Junkers dubbed "The Bremen").

All along, Fred was writing authoritative news articles in the aviation press, including among others the Canadian Aircraft Operator, run by long-time CAHS member Robert G. Halford. Fred went on to author no fewer than six pre-eminent aviation books chronicling the history of de Havilland Canada, the Bremen story, the Grumman Mallard, and much more.

Fred remained active as an aviation historian for more than eight decades. The fact that both Fred and Larry were inducted into Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame, as well as Bill Wheeler, is something of which every CAHS member should be proud.

As for Sheldon Benner, Mac McIntyre put it well when he noted, "very few people have any idea of the tremendous amount of work involved" in Sheldon's task of looking after the huge job of chronicling the national membership from the inception of the organization through its growth. Sheldon served as National Membership Secretary for 41 years and remains a key executive member of the Toronto Chapter.

Technological developments have enabled the CAHS to modernize how it operates and reaches out to its membership and the community. Revisions to the Bylaws in 2008 and 2009 allowed future Board of Directors meetings to use conference calling for those who were unable to physically make the Board meeting. Consequently, Board meetings have moved to being entirely virtual (except for the one that occurs during the annual convention), and Directors have been elected from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. The first Director from Alberta, Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, would go on to become the CAHS' first female president from 2010-2011.

In the past five years, much focus has been put on trying to attract new and younger members. The website has evolved to include more articles and photographs in order to become an attractive research tool. A PDF version of the Journal is sent out to online members wishing to read the publication in electronic format instead of having to find shelf-space for the hard copy Journal. The monthly e-newsletter is sent to over 2200 subscribers wishing to get updates on Chapter meetings, aviation related activities across the country, aviation related stories in the news, and book announcements.

In an overview of this kind, it is impossible to recognize all of the people who have contributed to the success of the CAHS in one way or another. Our apologies to everyone who has not been recognized by name. Documentation in the Journal and the Chapter newsletters will ensure that no one will fall far through the cracks.

As of the mailing of the Spring 2013 Journal, membership stands at 822 people, made up of individuals, museums, libraries, and corporate sponsors. Whatever the challenges, the accomplishments of the CAHS in the past 50 years serve as an inspiration to build a future with sunny skies as far as the horizon.

Gord McNulty, with files by Neil McGavock