Celebration of Life held for Dennis Bradley, CWHM Founding Father

Dennis Bradley 545

A large gathering assembled at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum on September 9 for a Celebration of Life tribute to Dennis J. Bradley, the prime founder of the Museum and a Life Member of the CAHS.

Dennis died on July 14 after a brief illness, with his wife Joanne at his side. He was in his 81st year. Dennis was President of the museum from 1972 to 1999, as the collection grew to more than 40 aircraft. With his death, all four of the original museum founders are gone. His son, James, noted his father’s love of flying never waned. Like his father, James has an encyclopedic recollection of the museum’s history and keen interest in its ongoing activities and achievements.

A few examples of the many photos at the Celebration illustrating Dennis multi faceted love of aviation

A few examples of the many photos at the Celebration illustrating Dennis' multi-faceted love of aviation.

During the Celebration, museum CEO Dave Rohrer said the CWH would not be into its 46th year of operation today were it not for the “tenacity, knowledge and wisdom” of Dennis. “He was a leader in every respect. He was a person who was not easily dissuaded or defeated.”

Christopher Freeman, Chairman of the Board, described Dennis as “a quiet, guiding voice” who overcame serious challenges to the museum including a devastating fire in 1993. “All of these museum aircraft and the people here today are part of his legacy.”

Emcee Bill McBride, a longtime CWH stalwart, noted that Dennis had a wonderful sense of humour among his many qualities. Dennis stood tall in both his physique and personality. He touched everyone who came into contact with him in a positive way.

Dennis played football for the University of Western Ontario Mustangs. A six-foot-six defensive tackle, he was drafted by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Rather than football, he went to work for his father in the family meat processing business. Although Dennis wanted to fly for the RCAF, he was not allowed because of a military six-foot height restriction. He went on to earn his pilot’s licence at the age of 24 and owned and flew a myriad of aircraft during his lifetime.

Dennis’ love of aviation led to the acquisition of a Fairey Firefly, CF-BDH, along with friends Alan Ness, Peter Matthews and John Weir. The restoration of that aircraft generated much more interest than they anticipated. The group moved the Firefly into a hangar at Hamilton’s airport and the CWH was born.

An extensive collection of photos, displayed at the Celebration of Life, featured Dennis as he flew various museum aircraft such as the Corsair that was dedicated to Lt. Robert Hampton Gray VC, and the P-51D Mustang in the post-war colours of 424 Tiger (City of Hamilton) Auxiliary Squadron.

Dennis enjoyed a successful career as President of the F.G. Bradley Meat Company, retiring from the business at age 48 to focus on the CWH. He was also a well-accomplished powerboat racer, winning an American Power Boat Association World Championship in 1993. Two gentlemen from Dennis’ boating days came from Florida to pay tribute at the Celebration and others came from Vancouver.

The cottage was the happiest spot for Dennis; the place where he would fly around the lake in his Cessna 180 like most people would tool around in a motorboat. The last time occurred at the cottage in Thanksgiving of 2017, when he piloted his Cessna solo to Orillia for winter storage and savoured the freedom of flight once more.

--- Gord McNulty