Distant memories bring OCA to life again

Ed Zaruk shares the stories of aviation pioneer company

Bush pilot historian

Bush pilot historian

When Ed Zaruk rented a Cessna 180 for a two-hour flight around the English River system north of Kenora, Ontario in 2004, little did his wife Marian know it would last seven years.

Zaruk was researching his award-winning fictional book Alter and Throne and as he gathered material, not everything fit within the book framework so he would put it aside.

“I realized there was no written record of the Ontario Central Airlines which was the unnamed airline across the dock in Alter and Throne,” Zaruk said.

“I felt the whole story of OAC needed to be told and I’ve always believed bush pilots should be one of Canada’s legends.”

Bush pilots and the crew of people that kept them flying is the superstructure of Zaruk’s newest publication Ontario Central Airlines, the Kenora Years which is his compilation of seven years of personal interviews with pilots, aircraft mechanics, former managers and dispatchers. The book also contains 24 glossy pages of photographs never before published.

“From Piper Cubs to Norseman and DC-3s, OCA’s fleet was a training ground for many pilots who would go on to careers with major airlines the world over,” Zaruk said.

Beginning in 1947, Gordon Hollinsworth and Rex Kitely purchased two Fairchild 82 float planes from Grant McConachie and Canadian Pacific Air Lines and many of the customers which operated out of Red Lake and Kenora, Ont.

The bush pilot connected vast wilderness lands to the rest of the country. Many were small operators who preferred a rugged lifestyle rather than the comfort of a 747 captain’s seat.

“They were young and fearless. At that time, bush pilots were opening up the country,” Zaruk said.

“In 1947, the airline industry was in its infancy. There was a lot more leeway in the regulations.”

As the small northern airline grew, another visionary, Barney Lamm bought the fleet in 1952, primarily to supply transportation for clients at his prestigious, fly-in resort, Ball Lake Lodge. Eventually OCA had 30 float planes running unscheduled charters serving other fly-in operations, prospectors, mines, commercial fishermen and First Nations communities scattered about the sparsely populated wilderness of Northwester Ontario.

However, this book is not only about planes and the history of Canada’s aviation beginnings. This is a book about the people who breathed life into that history. The people who shared their stories with Zaruk (who also worked for Barney Lamm in the 1970s at Redditt, Ont.)

“This book is not about economic development or the history of bush pilots in Ontario, but rather a chronicle of the daring, resourceful, fearless bush pilots, aircraft mechanics, former managers and dispatchers who made this history possible,” Zaruk said.

“This book belongs to those who made the history.”

Ontario Central Airlilnes, the Kenora Years is available at Cariboo Keepsakes, at aviation museums across Canada and from the author’s website edzaruk.com.