The early days of Helair Ltd.

The Helair faciltiy, Kenora Ontario - April 1973

The Helair Ltd. hanger, Kenora - April 1973

In 1965, Helair Ltd. was located out of Pete Peterson’s home on Keewatin Beach Road, just west of Kenora. When the then Department of Transport came by to inspect his operation, they never blinked an eye, and in fact gave their approval. How times change.

Department of Lands & ForestsIn 1967 I had a job as a radio operator with the old Department of Lands & Forests. That same year, Helair had been awarded the L&F contract out of Sioux Lookout to provide services for the surrounding districts. Ron Kincaid, my boss, requested the aircraft for a trip down to Gold Rock, and he offered to take me along on the flight. If I recall, the flight was in CF-HEL, the company’s flagship Bell 47G-4a.

I was hooked from the beginning. I’m not sure if I should thank Ron or not for taking me along on that flight. Then, during the winter of 1967, Pete gave me my first flight from the lakeside base in a dual-equipped G2, CF-MEU.

From that fledgling start on the shore of Lake of the Woods, Helair Ltd.’s business eventually mushroomed to the extent that expanded facilities became a necessity.

HelairI don’t recall the year that Pete built the hanger on Villeneuve Road just off of Highway 658, but it was a pretty nice facility, nestled as it was in the trees ten minutes north of Kenora. In addition to the hanger there was a home on-site as well, complete with a swimming pool. Later, the site would be used as a residence for the students who took their flight training at the base.

Some time just after the new place was built I recall being sent to Kenora. I stayed at the Norman Hotel in Keewatin, a stately old place where I experienced the hospitality of the Norman Lord. Bruce was a real character who loved his cigars. He reminded me a great deal of Buster, the night manager at the King Edward Hotel in Niagara Falls where I stayed during my flight training.

If you’d like more about Helair Ltd. and how it all got started, Pete Peterson’s book A Flying Story is available for download. Not only does he document Helair’s beginnings, but he also spends much of the book examining the early years of helicopter development and use in eastern Canada, starting in the mid-50s.

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