Guy standing in front of yellow bush plane

Bush planes in Quetico Provincial Park

Today’s post was written by Jill Legault, Quetico Provincial Park‘s history buff and information specialist.

The ability to fly to otherwise inaccessible locations in Quetico Provincial Park revolutionized park operations in the 1930s.

Suddenly, winter supplies could be flown in to ranger cabins, poacher’s tracks could be seen from the air, forest fire management drastically improved, and American tourism increased.

The ambush of Dusty Rhodes

Black and white photo, two men standing in front of a bush plane
Dusty Rhodes (left) was suspected of picking up poachers with their furs.

Poaching was the main concern soon after Quetico’s inception in 1909. By the 1930s, poachers had the ability to fly out their furs with bush planes, but planes also meant that poachers’ tracks could be seen from the air.

Some poachers even strapped moose hooves on their feet to try and disguise their movements from park rangers!

Here is an excerpt about ambushing a poacher from Quetico Park’s Fascinating Facts, published by the Friends of Quetico:

“In 1931, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police set up a stakeout at Lac La Croix for a notorious fur poacher and bush pilot by the name of ‘Dusty’ Rhodes. When Rhodes landed, the Mountie posing as a tourist suddenly canoed to the plane followed by an Ontario Provincial Police Constable. Rhodes attempted to take off with the Canadian officer hanging onto his floats. Drawing his service revolver, the Mountie smashed the cockpit window and placed the muzzle of the weapon against the pilot’s head, commanding ‘Put ‘er down!’ Rhodes did.”

Black and white photo of three guys in front of a bush plane
Quetico Park Rangers Gerry Payne, Lloyd Rawn and George Walsh standing in front of the first aircraft assigned solely to Quetico for winter patrols, a Moth, in 1944

Improving rangers’ lives

Black and white photo of two guys with a plane
District Forester George Delahey, on the left with oil can, servicing an HS-2L airplane

In 1934, George Delahey was appointed District Forester in Fort Frances. He was also a pilot, and his use of aircraft changed the lives of the Quetico rangers. Planes such as Gypsy Moths, Beavers, and the larger Hamiltons were all used by the park to bring in supplies. Many cabins and fire towers were built or upgraded with the new ability to fly in construction materials and skilled workers.

“Being a world war pilot, George Delahey flew the plane and got around and saw how awful some of our cabins were. He had Bob Halliday, Albert Lemay and I build a nice log cabin on Cache Bay in 1938.”

— Art Madsen

The first all-metal aircraft of the Provincial Air Service, the Hamilton H-47, was used to bring Bob, Albert, and Art the supplies needed to build the new cabin.

Three men in front of the beginning of a log ranger cabin
Building a new ranger cabin

The business of tourism takes flight

Black and white photo, a man and a woman standing with a bush plane
Airplane pilot, Art Burtt and Mary Roach on Bayley Bay, Basswood Lake, 1945

After World War II, aircraft were abundant and Quetico saw a staggering increase in American tourists. Planes became more accessible to the public, and soon tourists began flying up from all over the United States.

By 1948, it was reported that Ely, Minnesota (a southern access point to Quetico), was the largest float plane base in North America!!

Forest fire management

Fire suppression changed drastically after 1936, when fires consumed more than 76,800 ha of Quetico’s forest, marking one of the worst fire seasons ever recorded in the park. Since then, Quetico has seen a myriad of planes and helicopters as technology advanced across all of Canada.

Bush plane with four guys posing (black and white photo)
Big Hamilton

One of the first aircraft used by the park for fire suppression was this Big Hamilton seen above on Saganagons Lake.

The Canso water bomber (above, left) was retired in 1988 to make way for the CL-215 (above, right), which was known to be the most effective water bomber at the time.

The Beaver’s legacy

In 1947, the Ontario Provincial Air Service ordered 12 Beavers for northwest ranger duties. The Beaver soon became one of the best-known bush planes in the north, and is still used in Quetico today.

Guy standing in front of yellow bush plane
Bob Hall, Ontario Provincial Air Service Turbo Beaver Pilot, standing at Lac La Croix Entry Station in 1977. He flew with revenue clerk June Fraser to pick up permit money

In modern times, the primary purpose of the Beaver is to do a weekly park supply run. Every Wednesday, during Quetico’s operating season, rangers fly to the four remote entry stations and deliver supplies. To maximize efficiency, members of portage crew are often dropped off or picked up at the same time.

Lady in front of a bush plane
Ranger Carol Gosselin is always happy to greet the Beaver float plane that carries supplies to Prairie Portage every Wednesday

Saving the day

Some of our Assist Emergency Services operations also continue to use Beavers.

In the above photo, Quetico Park staff meet with pilots from Sapawe Air Ltd. to discuss the damage caused by the tornado that occurred on July 6, 2017.

Park staff flew to the area the next day to find several trees flattened along a 100 m wide and nearly 2 km long stretch of the park. Chris Stromberg and Eric Boyd, of the portage crew, were sent to clean up portages.

All photos are courtesy of Quetico’s John B. Ridley Research Library. Check out the library the next time you’re at the Quetico Visitor Centre!