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Bush Sedans - Canada's Bush Plane Museum
by: Kriss Hammond
Bush Sedans – Canada’s Bush Plane Museum

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I found a gem of an aviation museum while on a Hapaq-Lloyd German Cruise Lines voyage of the Great Lakes.

The Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre is located in the historic former Ontario Provincial Air Service hangar at the edge of the St. Mary's River in downtown Sault Ste. Marie (often called the Soo), Ontario, Canada. The original hangar dates back to the 1940s; this is where bush piloting started, as well as firefighting using belly drops of water and chemicals.

Sault Ste. Marie is actually two cities separating the USA and Canada, split by the St. Mary’s River and also is the industrial hub for the lock system that raises and lowers ships from Lake Huron to Lake Superior. The C. Columbus, the Nassau, Bahamas registered ship that I was cruising on, was not due to channel the locks until late that night, so a stroll a few blocks down Bay Street on the Canadian and larger of the two Soos (100,000 plus) found me piloting my way to the "Yellowbird" museum.

The bush planes are all in the original 1948 era hangar, and I have the chance to stop and visit with the renovation crew and mechanics clanging away on steel and aluminum. They perform superb jobs to bring new life back into the rare and often still serviceable and flyable relics.

The Beaver was built around the blueprint of a pickup truck, or so I learned from a fun film presentation at the Wings Over The North Theater, adjacent to the hangar. The Beaver is still flying bush patrols throughout Canada and the world, and it is one of the most rugged, dependable, and famous of the bush planes. A Beaver turboprop version rests a few yards away, and it still works, too.

The Canadian built deHavilland DHC-2 Beaver is a classic plane first constructed in 1948 and it is the second Beaver to ever be built, and the first of 44 purchased by the Air Service, and the oldest Beaver still flying, located near the Fire Camp, a replical of a typical 1940s fire crew camp, complete with tent, radio, and gear.

The deHavilland Mk III Turbo Beaver, when compared to the standard Beaver, has a turbine powered engine that carries additional passengers, climbs and cruises faster, and has a higher service ceiling. The turbo’s snout is more tapered than the blunt nosed Beaver, and the engine is hundreds of pounds lighter, thus needing a bigger tail, according to one of the bush plane engineers. Engines are still to this day ground tested after overhauling and before bolted back into use on the planes within the hangar.

Many of the planes were used to deliver medicine and supplies, air ferry fishermen and hunters into the hinterlands, or to spot forest fires.

The story of the Beaver unveils in the theater through Pilot Ron and his canine co-pilot Charlie's adventures, a story that is brought to life through objects and artifacts right in the theatre, and with the use of special lighting and environmental effects that make for an unforgettable flight.

The Centre honors the work of bush pilots, a necessary wilderness career that opened up the Canadian north, while the Ontario Provinicial Air Service or OPAS played a major role in protecting Ontario’s forests. The Air Service was established in 1924 and the first hangar was erected that year. The present hangar was built in 1948 on the same spot, replacing the older building, but it too was declared surplus in 1991 when newer technology and bigger planes were housed at a new facility across town at the Sault Federal Airport.

The old bush base was formed into a nonprofit corporation and the plane ollection continues to grow with each new donation. The museum takes in no government funds to renovate these historic and often antique planes. Most of the funding comes from ticket and gift store sales and memberships of those interested in bush planes. You can even join in the fun and get the Centre's newsletter.

The Silver Dart is the first plane to greet me gliding over the museum's lobby near the gift shop. The replica is of the first aircraft to make powered flight in Canada.

The Noordayn Norseman was designed in 1935, and is one of the first planes built for Canadian bush flying. The Centre’s example, serial #17, was built in late 1938 and is now the oldest operational Norseman in the world.

The deHavilland DHC-3 Otter was introduced in 1953, and it carried on with the tradition of the Beaver; the Centre’s version was damaged in a forced landing north of Moosonee in 1986.

The Centre’s version of the Fairchild Husky is one of the rarest examples of this plane, and it is nearing completion of a total overhaul . The Husky was designed in 1946, an early competitor of the Beaver, but even with the advantage of superior cargo handling, the Husky was underpowered and only 12 were ever built.

Canadair CL215 was designed in 1978, and was the first purpose-built water bomber. It is capable of picking up over 5,000 liters of water at a time for fire drops.

The Centre’s Great Lakes Trainer was once a privately owned plane from the 1930s, built from scratch by long time pilot and air engineer, Guy Laroque.

The Centre even has a few helicopters on display; the most notable is the Bell 470, restored to the original configuration and owned by the Ontario Lands and Forest, dating from 1953. The helicopter is the first to be owned by a government agency in Canada.

The Grumman Tracker is an ex-U.S. Navy carrier based anti-submarine aircraft that was declared surplus by the military and later converted to a chemical fire bomber. The plane is painted in the colors of its donors, Conair of Abbostford, British Columbia.

The Republic Seabee is a postwar amphibious aircraft designed for commercial use but is more popular as a recreational plane.

The above mentioned bush planes are but a small highlight of what awaits you at the msueum. The Centre also houses a Flight Cent re with exhibits, flight simulating computers, a Beech 18 cockpit, simulated flights in a Beaver, a Link Trainer, and a pilot aptitude test. The flight adventure simulator takes me on a flight over Sault Ste. Marie and the local landmarks, following the ACR Tour train and I experience the thrill of fighting a forest fire. Many of the first and more modern bush pilots mug shots are forever placarded in black and white drawings.

You don’t have to use one of the vintage radios to get in contact with the Bushplane Heritage Centre.

Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre
50 Pim Street
(just off Bay St .)
Sault Ste. Marie ,
ON P6A 3G4 Canada
fax: 702/942-8947

I happen to stumble into the wrong theater to hear a fire fighting lecture before getting ousted to the proper theater. The lightning locator is a real time computer based system that records all lightning strikes in Eastern North America and it is a vital component of the sophisticated fire prediction system based in Sault Ste. Marie.

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By Kriss Hammond - Jetsetters Magazine Editor - at

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Kriss Hammond Jetsetters Magazine. Join the Travel Writers Network in the logo at


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