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Vancouver Island city installs tribute to floatplane industry

Beaver floatplane was the Workhorse of the North and a common sight in Island seaplane bases

By Morgan Ostler

Special to Black Press

The long-awaited installation of the famous Beaver floatplane was hoisted on a display pedestal Monday, April 25 at the Campbellton entrance to Campbell River commemorating a significant period in the history of the city.

The Tyee Spit, a long strip of land which juts out into the Campbell River estuary was considered the busiest floatplane base in Canada in 1966. The much-admired de Havilland Beaver, amongst many aircraft that used the Spit, was known as the “Workhorse of the North.” Although that famous plane was first constructed in 1947, it was no longer built by de Havilland Canada after 1967. Still, the Beaver continued to lead the way in the charter industry for the next half century.

In those halcyon days, up to 10 floatplane companies on the Spit were serving not only the forest and fishing industries but the requirements of many isolated communities. The installation this week also recognizes Sealand Aviation and the many supporting businesses as well as the efforts of the Campbellton Neighbourhood Installation (CNA) for making the event possible.

In those early days, Campbell River floatplane operators played an integral role in supporting the requirements of many industries. Those included logging operations, First Nations villages, resort owners, commercial fishermen, fish processors, mining companies, prospectors and settlers in isolated areas.

The idea of a floatplane as an eye-catching symbol for the Campbellton entrance to the City of Campbell River was born 10 years ago. The newly-established CNA directors were casting around for ideas on how to upgrade the shabby appearance of that entrance to the city. As Brian Shaw, chair at that time of the CNA said, “Campbellton was certainly not a welcoming sight as visitors passed through on their way to the city centre.”

The directors cast around for ideas on how to upgrade the entrance and eventually chose a grassy median on the Inland Island Highway adjacent to 14th Ave. as a possible location for a project.

Conversations with director Jonathan Calderwood and Coun. Ron Kerr led to a meeting with Sealand Aviation owner Bill Alder. The idea of installing a floatplane on a pedestal topped the list of ideas. Alder embraced the suggestion of a Beaver floatplane but there were no old Beavers lying around that could be restored. However, he had bits and pieces of old Beavers in storage and he figured it may be possible to construct the aircraft with genuine parts. The only part missing was the engine but due to Alder’s determination, he eventually hit gold with a search on Craigslist that produced a Beaver engine which had been stored in the owner’s barn for many years.

Reconstruction began but it was slow going over the years. Sealand was growing at the time and demanded much of Alder’s time and much of the work was done with volunteer hours. However, on Monday night, after a few stops and starts, a time was chosen to finally install the aircraft in its pride of place at the northern entrance to Campbell River’s Campbellton district.

Through the years, many seaplane operators have chosen Campbell River’s Tyee Spit for their base of operations because it offers an exceptionally safe and sheltered floatplane moorage on the east side of Vancouver Island. Presently, three companies offer flight service from the Spit: Vancouver Island Air, Coral Air and West Coast Helicopters.

Tourism has become a large part of the Spit’s floatplane business these days because it provides direct access to the fishing resorts, wildlife tours, First Nations cultural sites or rendezvousing with waiting yachts.

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