Wednesday 26 January 2022

One July years and years ago . . .

As previously mentioned on this blog I spent some of my grade school years in a place called Cassiar up in northern British Columbia below the Yukon border. I liked the place. I was a company mining town and the mine was Cassiar Asbestos Corporation. There were about one thousand people in the town and we were surrounded by wilderness and mountains. In the winter we got about twenty feet of snow and you could build epic snow forts. The one television channel, which was our national broadcaster, was a drawback. The programming was horrifically boring. I read a lot of books when it was too cold to go out.

I was fourteen and developed a hot appendix one July. Cassiar had two doctors and a building referred to as a hospital. If your injury required much more than first aid you were in trouble. I am not sure how rewarding it was if you were a doctor and somehow ended up in Cassiar.

I was at the hospital once that day and was sent home saying I had a stomach ache. Later I was back at the hospital and then was told I had an a serious case of appendicitis. I needed to go to a real hospital. The doctor made a phone call and my parents were told to take me to the airstrip and wait for the air ambulance. There were a few people that had planes. One was my shop teacher that had some kind of contraption with a metal frame covered in canvas. Some years after we moved away one resident that had a plane died after he flew his plane into a mountain. I digress, the airstrip there was gravel. A straight strip of gravel and nothing else. There might have been a windsock. In the winter people raced snowmobiles on the airstrip. The RCMP officer would use his radar gun to clock snowmobiles for the snowmobile club.

The plane that came to get me was a Seneca. Besides the pilot there was a nurse. The destination was Whitehorse and my mother went with me on the flight. My father and sister joined us a couple of days later. It was a very nice sunny July day spent in agony. The twin engine plane had a smooth, quick, and uneventful ride. The plane landed in Whitehorse and an ambulance pulled right up to the plane on the runway and took me straight to the hospital. No siren but I got the flashing red lights. One of the few times in my life I got priority treatment.

At the hospital the surgeon met me and after a quick exam decided I could wait a few hours. The poor guy just recently finished patching up five people who were injured in a car accident. The flight nurse dropped by to check up on me. I did not see her or many nurses after that, I happened to arrive in the midst of a nurses strike. I got operated on that night.

The doctor did a wonderful job. You can barely see the scar. I was in the hospital for the better part of a week. Due to the strike I ended up in the adult ward with a roommate who was recovering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It was accidental, he was out in the woods with a handgun and was jumping over a stream, slipped, and shot himself in the arm. It was not serious. Hopefully he learned something from that incident.

The family was together in Whitehorse and I was being discharged. During my time in the hospital they got to have fun. My father at the time worked for Finning Tractor. Finning flew us back to Cassiar in the company plane. The company plane happened to be a older de Havilland Beaver that was painted Caterpillar yellow.

Interesting experience in a Beaver. They are a single engine plane and probably the best bush plane ever built. Dad sat beside the pilot, my sister and I were behind them, and my mother sat behind us in kind of a rumble seat. Dad had been a heavy duty mechanic for Finning in Terrace, BC and had been flown into remote places to work on equipment. The engine kind of drones as you meander through the sky. Great views from Whitehorse to Cassiar as you climb over mountains and down valleys. You would be flying level, sometimes drop a few feet, then climb back up again.

The flight was uneventful except for the part where the pilot opened his door, was half in and half out of the plane (if I recall correctly I think he unscrewed a cap) and violently pounded his fist on the wing several times. I think there might have been an air pocket in the fuel tank. I was unconcerned as I was not feeling well. Dad had experienced weirder things in small planes. My sister was unfazed for whatever reason. Mom was turning white in the back of the plane convinced the pilot would fall to his death with our soon to be crashing fiery death quickly following. Eventually he accomplished what he wanted to do, pulled himself back in, and closed the door. The landing was uneventful. So went my summer vacation.

If you ever get an opportunity to ride in a de Havilland Beaver take it. Much more fun than appendicitis.


  1. Great reminiscences. You have a real good memory from an interesting and pretty unique childhood.

  2. I’ve really enjoyed the stories of the last couple of days…
    Hope you’ll keep dropping a few of them interspersed with the photography.

    1. Thank you. Truth be known, I only posted these because I cannot get out to do what I usually do with this blog.

      Also there is the fact that I am not all that interesting. I enjoyed doing something different and will see if I can come up with anything.

  3. You've had such an exciting childhood. Few kids have ever been in a bush plane ✈. Great story too.

  4. There are pictures of your snowmobile races and airplanes in the Facebook group - look at Feb 2, 2021 for some good ones of the old machines.

    1. I have seen the page before. I think that snowmobile photo might have been a year after my family moved.

  5. Great story BW! I spent some time working on the MacKenzie highway and our return flight to Ft Simpson was in a Beaver. Truly amazing plane!