From city to bush

Niagara Helicopters would hire many of the graduates of its flight training school to fly tourists over the falls to build flight time. I spent two weeks doing that, and then I was shipped off to Moosonee on James Bay in far northern Ontario, ferrying a Bell 47G4 with Ivan Thomas. We were doing a lot of mining exploration up there at the time. I ended up making quite a few trips “up north” to Moosonee, ferrying equipment back and forth.

Back and forth, back and forth.

A lot of us roamed back and forth over the falls for our entire time at Niagara Helicopters. Those fortunate enough to get to Moosonee got bush flying time in the north.

The company had a house in Moosonee that we used as a bunkhouse. It had three or four bedrooms, and aviators were constantly coming and going to man up the equipment. During freeze-up in the fall, and breakup in the spring, the helicopter was the only access to Moose Factory Island, home to a hospital and nurses’ residence.

Continental Diamond Drilling - South Bluff Creek

Continental Diamond Drilling - South Bluff Creek

Parties were a staple of life in the north, especially where nurses were plentiful–and even where they weren’t. Some of those we attended were on the radar base (it was closed in 1975), since it was easy for us to get to, but occasionally we’d end up on the island at parties thrown by the nurses in their huge residence. The Halloween costume party there in October was the best!

We entertained one or two of  the nurses here at the staff house in Moosonee.

We entertained one or two of the Moose Factory Island nurses at the staff house in Moosonee. Here, Ivan Thomas catches some fresh air and a little bit of sunshine after a long night.

I and some others ended up dating several of the nurses, and we would often surprise them by showing up at the residence at strange hours. We had discovered a boat that we commandeered to do the river crossing in both directions, loaded with nurses, beer and pilots. As long as the boat was back in its rightful place first thing in the morning, no one was the wiser–although we often wondered whose gas it was that we were burning on those surreptitious, dark-of-night crossings.

When the girls had to get back to work, we flew them back, two at a time, in the early morning. The hospital grounds would be abuzz with helicopters landing and taking off in the front yard, nurses deplaning and running in to get changed for work. The doctors and the rest of the staff must have been shaking their heads over that.

Why those sensible young women would spend any time with the crazies in the bunkhouse is beyond me, but they seemed to enjoy our company. Perhaps they were just a little crazy too.

Ivan was Australian. Before he started flying he was a radio operator who had worked in the Antarctic and Macquarie Island before going to Contwoyto Lake in the Territories. How he got to Niagara Helicopters as a student with the rest of us, I have no idea. Being the outgoing person that he was, Ivan got to know everybody. We had some of the liveliest parties in our house thanks to the nurses on the island at the time–and thanks to Ivan too. Ivan retired from flying due to a medical condition. He bought a business that he turned into a very successful operation and then sold it.

Ivan Thomas is no longer with us, having passed away six or seven years ago.

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