Wings Magazine

Heroes of the skies

July 6, 2012, Wetaskiwin, Alta. - Aviation enthusiasts in this country are very fortunate to have conscientious people who realize the value and importance of preserving our aviation history and recording it for others to enjoy and appreciate.

July 6, 2012  By Rob Seaman

The number of aviation collections and museums located throughout the country offer but one form of historic preservation. Major sports have their own respective Halls of fame to recognize the efforts of great Canadian athletes, and fortunately, the Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame does the same for the aviation world.

A formidable founding cast

Located in Wetaskiwin, Alta., Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame (CAHF) first came into existence in August 1973. The idea was born after a gathering of aviation notables in Calgary earlier in the year. The founding Board of Directors consisted of C.H. “Punch” Dickens as chairman, Donald N. Watson as Vice Chairman, H.W. “Harry” Hayter as secretary, and members that included the Z.L.“Lewie” Leigh, P.S. “Stan” Turner, and L. “Lindy” Rood. Raymond Monroe took on the bulk of the work initially serving as managing director.

The exterior on the  Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin,
Alta., home to Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.
Photo: John Chalmers 

It was this founding group who established the ground rules for membership and participation in the CAHF and set the stage for the initial collection of inductees. They decided that their inductees would include all Companions of the Order of Icarus. (The Order of Icarus (C.O.I.) is the highest aviation award next to the Trans-Canada (McKee) Trophy that is awarded to Canadian aviators who have made a lasting contribution to manned flight. The order ceased existence in 1981).


They also included all who had been awarded the Trans-Canada (McKee) Trophy; all recipients of the Victoria Cross in aerial combat; Alexander Graham Bell and F.W. Casey Baldwin for designing and building the Silver Dart; as well as Group Capt. John E. Fauguier – representing bomber command – and Flight Lieutenant George F. “Buzz” Burling – representing fighter commander – from World War II. All told, this created a founding group of 79 original members representing both civilian and military aspects of aviation.

Having decided on whom the membership should include, the next order of discussion dealt with a location for where the CAHF should be housed. As the “Gateway to the North,” Edmonton was deemed an appropriate place to call home (Wetaskiwin is just outside of Edmonton.) An opening target date of July 1974 was set and work commenced on assembling the presentation in collection that pays homage to Canada’s aviation achievers.

One of the key aspects of the CAHF presentation is that all inductees are presented in a similar manner. Their stories are offered on four-foot by eight-foot panels that include portraits, citations, photographs and memorabilia. To this day, Toronto-based artist Erma Coucill continues to complete very unique and highly-detailed portraits of each member. This becomes a part of their individual presentation used in all CAHF materials.

Some of the carefully preserved
aircraft at the Reynolds-Alberta
Museum provide a great
representation of this country’s
impressive aviation past.
Photo: John Chalmers

More than 600 people attended the first induction gala, which was held July 16, 1974. Hosted by the City of Edmonton, all the living members and their families along with the families of the 28 deceased members attended. Now, some 39 years later, the annual induction ceremony and dinner continues, being held each year in a different location across the country.

For 2012, the event was held in Montreal. The latest inductees include: Niles Christensen, founder of Viking Air and a Second World War pilot; Air Marshal Harold “Gus” Edwards, a First World War pilot with the Royal Naval Air Service and also involved in the founding of the Royal Canadian Air Force; Pierre Jeannoit, OC, CQ, former president and CEO of Air Canada who was also a former director general of the International Air transportation Association; and Dr. Daffyd “Dave” Williams, a pilot, medical doctor and a retired Canadian astronaut.

As can clearly be seen from the roster, nominees now include a full overview of Canada’s aviation greats from the First World War through to the space age. With the newest members, the “roll” for the Hall of Fame now numbers 204 men and women aviation pioneers.

In 1988, CAHF added The Belt of Orion Award for Excellence to the hall. This award honours organizations, groups, societies or associations that are deemed to have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of aviation in Canada. Past recipients include the Air Cadet League of Canada, Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, Canadian Aviation Historical Society, Canadian 99s, COPA and many others. While not something that is necessarily presented every year, this award has been given 18 times since it inception. The recipient of the Belt of Orion this year is Leavens Aviation. The Mississauga, Ont.-based firm recently closed its doors after a long and distinguished contribution to Canadian aviation (for more on Leavens Aviation, see “Parting ways with the past ,” Wings March/April).

Sharing the pioneering spirit

Tom Appleton is the new chair of the volunteer board that runs the CAHF. In commenting on his appointment and looking ahead to the future, Appleton said: “The contributions made by those inducted to Membership in the Hall is a great story of visionaries and pioneers with the courage and fortitude to persist in the execution of their objectives against all odds, some with great personal sacrifice. The stories of these pioneers are worth preserving and passing along to future generations, to increase the understanding of how Canada achieved its place in the modern world through imagination, innovation and selfless courage.

The 2011 induction dinner for
Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame
was held at Hamilton’s Canadian
Warplane Heritage Museum.
Photo: Rick Radell

“The Hall’s principal function is the wide dissemination of these personal histories to all Canadians, to challenge and stimulate younger generations to seek new ways to serve their community and the country. To be successful, we need more support, we need more people to join as ‘Friends of the Hall of Fame,’ to nominate more deserving individuals and organizations for Induction into Membership in the Hall. Each one of us needs to make the effort to look around amongst our contemporaries and our colleagues, to remind them of the benefits of becoming a Friend of the Hall and ask them to dig into their archives to nominate those who have made an outstanding contribution over the years, who might qualify for nomination and induction into the Hall as members.”

Appleton notes that the selection process for induction into CAHF is rigorous, requiring thorough analysis. Anyone can nominate a person or organization, however, the Board of Directors and Hall of Fame management are not eligible to nominate candidates. They rely on Friends of CAHF and the general public to put forward the nominees and generate the broader support necessary for successful induction.

CAHF is, in large part, a “virtual” museum, physically co-located with the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin. Collectively, they bring accumulated history and artifacts retained in the museum to Canada and the world. As Appleton so aptly puts it, “In pursuit of our strategy to maximize the communication of our message, one of the recent initiatives at the Hall of Fame has been the development of our new website – This is of necessity a work in progress as time and resources permit, work, which we shall continue this year. The first order of business is to review some of the older Member files that may be overdue for updating. Additionally, we shall bring more functionality to the website, to make it easier for friends and visitors alike to join, or to renew their membership and to make contributions to the Hall.”

The major annual event of the Hall of Fame is the annual Induction Dinner and Gala. The event is held in a different venue from coast to coast across the country and provides an opportunity for networking amongst similarly minded people. This year’s event took place June 14 at The Windsor Ballroom in Montreal.

The Curtiss JN-4, the “Edmonton,” flown by Wilfred “Wop”
May in the 1920s, is one of the iconic aircraft on display at
the museum. Photo: John Chalmers 

“We rely on the financial success of this gala event to bring in the sponsorship funds so important to the ongoing development of the Hall,” Appleton said. “The support of our corporate sponsors makes it possible for us to impart to future generations the enthusiasm and passion for flight we all felt when we first got involved in aviation. It’s important to the ongoing success of Canada’s aviation and space related industries that we cultivate a ready supply of motivated young people whose passion for aerospace can survive the competing opportunities of the digital world. New avenues and processes to communicate our message, to improve our connectivity with young people across the country, and to raise the public profile of the CAHF, are fundamental to the future viability of our organization.”

The people and stories associated with the CAHF cover many important, and in some cases ignored or forgotten developments and contributions to this nation’s aviation heritage. Without the vision and dedication of its volunteers and members, we might otherwise let our history slide out of sight. Let’s hope that CAHF continues its efforts for many years to come.


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