Otter number 5 was delivered to Maxwell Ward, one of Canada’s best known bush pilots, on 2 June 1953 registered CF-GBY. Just as that other veteran bush pilot Arthur Fecteau acquired an Otter (number 3) to open up service to remote parts of Québec, so too did Max Ward acquire an Otter to do likewise in the Northwest Territories, from his base at Yellowknife. After service with the RCAF as an instructor pilot, Max Ward formed his first company, Polaris Air Charter Company Ltd in 1946, its first aircraft being a De Havilland Fox Moth, based at Yellowknife. The following year he went into partnership and founded Yellowknife Airways, which unfortunately was not successful and ceased operations in 1949.
A determined individual and a practical businessman pilot, Max Ward determined to try again and to acquire an Otter, after he received a demonstration flight at Downsview. This was despite the $100,000 price tag, a huge sum for a start-up operation. As he later wrote: “I lusted after that aircraft something terrible. It could carry 14 passengers or two thousand pounds of freight, could go anywhere, had a fair turn of speed, handled well and I came to discover would revolutionise not only flying in the North, but the way of life in the North itself”.
With the assistance of one of his customers (a mining company put up $25,000) and of the Canadian Government’s Business Development Bank, Mr Ward purchased CF-GBY and took delivery on 2 June 1953. It arrived in Yellowknife on 6th June and was immediately set to work. With the Otter he could fly four-by-eight foot plywood sections, the first aircraft in the North that could carry such bulky cargo into short strips. He flew them into remote settlements and mining sites, enabling modern modular buildings to be constructed for the first time in the region, much to the benefit of the inhabitants and those working the mines. GBY was painted in Wardair’s blue overall colour scheme, with red trim outlined in white.
Many other benefits flowed from the Otter. As one commentator noted: “Suddenly miners and prospectors could afford the very basics of life. Proper framing materials made possible bigger tents in which a man could stand up on a board floor and the availability of cots consigned the normal bedding of pine boughs back to the outdoors. The flat floors made good, solid tables usable for the first time in mining camps. Stoves that could burn safely all night made their appearance in places where overnight temperatures dropped routinely to -50. Not to mention foodstuffs – prospectors could now eat food that came in neither cans nor sacks”. CF-GBY certainly did make its mark on life in the Canadian North.
During March/April 1954 the Otter was used to support a survey of the Mackenzie Delta, for the building of a new town at East 3, which became known as Aklavik. Amongst other tasks the Otter was flying in fuel for an Associated Helicopters Bell 47 which was engaged on the survey. Another example of the work carried out by GBY is the contract awarded to Wardair by the Consolidated Discovery Gold Mine in July ’54 for support of the mine, which was 55 miles north of Yellowknife. The Otter was flown by Max Ward himself, flying in supplies to the mine, mail, groceries etc and flying gold back to Yellowknife. En route the Otter often stopped at survey camps and woodcutter camps, where crews were doing maintenance work on the powerline to the mine, again dropping off groceries and mail and moving personnel. Also that July GBY transported a party of surveyors for the Coppermine soil survey to test conditions for new buildings. He left Aklavik on 10 July on a direct route to Coppermine but poor weather forced a diversion to port Radium. Coppermine was not reached until 12 July. Four days were spent on the survey before returning to Aklavik, and then back to Yellowknife for the mine contract.
Wardair went on to acquire three more Otters, two aircraft new from the factory (CF-IFP (73) in June 1955 and CF-ITF (89) in February 1956) and one second hand in 1958 CF-JRS (110). These Otters serviced the Northwest Territories and the Canadian Arctic, even up to the High Arctic islands of Alert Bay, Isaacson, Mould Bay and Eureka. The movement of doctors, nurses, patients, missionaries, prospectors, geologists as well as freight (building materials, furs etc) formed the bulk of the work. There were also specialized operations such as wildlife surveys. Max Ward flew dairy cows from Hay River on Lower Great Slave Lake to Yellowknife and on another occasion flew an upright piano strapped to the floats of the Otter. As Mr Ward subsequently wrote “In short, we would fly anything anywhere and frequently did”.
Another major source of work for the Otters was assisting in the construction of the DEW-Line radar sites. In November 1957 CF-GBY was engaged on this task, flying between Yellowknife and Pelly Bay (Site 26) bringing in construction material and supplies, an eight hour flight with an en-route stop five hours after take-off to refuel. It was occasionally many hours late in arriving, causing the USAF to become most upset. It was explained that there were often difficulties and delays in refuelling en route, and sometimes with atmospheric conditions it was just not possible to make radio contact to advice of a delayed arrival. One such occasion was on 15 December 1957 en route from Fort Simpson to Wrigley, eta 1920Z although it ended up at Fort Norman at 23:18Z.
GBY was still active on DEW-Line work the following year, noted by the SAR authorities on 3 April 1958 flying from Cape Perry to Coppermine, with some communications difficulties. A few weeks later it was badly damaged in a storm. On 16 April ’58 GBY landed at a DEW-Line site (site 37) at a base called Fox 4 near Baird Peninsula, on a flight from Clyde River to Pangnirtung on Baffin Island, when it was learned that other sites along the route were fogged in. The weather was good at the time of landing, with only a light wind. The Otter was securely tied down, with two drums on each wing and two on the tail, facing the prevailing wind. During the early hours of the following morning, winds of 75 knots were recorded, which continued throughout the day. Attempts were made to get to the aircraft but due to the wind and blowing snow, it was impossible to descend to the airstrip from the living accommodation four miles away. The Otter was blown from the pad where it was parked across large rocks strewn over the rough parking area surrounding the airstrip. The port wing was extensively damaged and six feet of it was torn off. The starboard wingtip was crushed. The tail wheel assembly and bulkhead were torn out, the tail plane and rudder damaged and the main skis broken off.
Wardair could not afford the loss of this hard-working member of its fleet, and the aircraft was a repairable proposition, albeit with difficulty due to its remote location. The recovery of the Otter was entrusted to Denny McCartney, then in the process of setting up his own company to recover crashed aircraft from the bush and it was in fact his first task. It is well described in Chapter One of his excellent book “Picking Up The Pieces”, how the repairs were effected. The Otter was then flown out, leaving the scene of the accident on 4 July ’58 to Shepherd Bay, south of Boothia Peninsula to refuel, then continuing on to Cambridge Bay, Yellowknife, Fort St.John and Prince George to Vancouver, where permanent repairs were carried out by Western Airmotive Ltd. It was certainly back in action by 13 September 1958 as it was noted by the SAR authorities that day routing Fort St.John to Peace River to Hay River to Yellowknife, experiencing some communications difficulties en route.
CF-GBY continued flying for Wardair for several years, receiving periodic inspections at Northwest Industries facility in Edmonton. On 5 November 1962 it was registered to Max Ward’s new company, Wardair Canada Ltd. In April 1967 the company received its first DHC-6 Twin Otter, a type which would gradually replace the Single Otter. GBY continued in service until May ’67 when it was sold to Greyhound Leasing & Financial of Canada Ltd, who arranged to lease the aircraft to La Ronge Aviation Services and a ferry permit was granted for a flight from Edmonton to La Ronge, Saskatchewan, the Otter’s new base.
La Ronge Aviation Services had been formed by Pat Campling in 1962. He was the operator of Red’s Camps, an outfitting operation in the La Ronge area. He had a Cessna 180 to move his fishing guests, guides and equipment between La Ronge and the outcamps. Increased business led to a need for more aircraft, which combined with a developing market for charter services resulted in the formation of La Ronge Aviation Services in 1962. The Otter proved a welcome addition to the company’s fleet. It was repainted into a scheme of white top, grey undersides, red cheatline under the windows, La Ronge Aviation Services Ltd fuselage titles. It was joined the following year by Otter CF-PNV (126), painted in the same scheme. Both Otters operated together for years, serving the northern bush country of Saskatchewan. They were joined by Beavers and Twin Otters as the company’s fleet expanded.
CF-GBY served its new operator for nearly seven years on bush charter work out of La Ronge. One minor incident occurred in May 1969 when the Otter on floats blew a cylinder half way across Reindeer Lake and had to set down on the ice, which was about to disintegrate. Beaver CF-GYR flew in to pick up the pilot and then flew in a mechanic to make repairs. GBY continued flying for La Ronge Aviation until it came to grief in an accident on 25 February 1974. On that day, the Otter on wheel-skis was taking off from the frozen lake at La Ronge, en route to Lost Lake. It was carrying a load of a special type of mud used to plug drill holes, and other mining supplies to a drilling camp at Lost Lake in northern Saskatchewan. Just after take-off the Otter stalled due to a heavy accumulation of ice on the wing and crashed on the frozen ice, seriously injuring the two crew on board, one of whom subsequently died of his injuries.
On 1 April 1974 the Otter was registered to Mike Hackman Aircraft Sales of Edmonton, although the registration was subsequently cancelled. The wreckage of the Otter was still to be seen at La Ronge six years later but it was then removed and the Otter was never rebuilt.
Full history up to 2005 courtesy of Karl E Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter - A History (CD-ROM 2005), now with added and updated information which Karl has supplied for the benefit of the website.