________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 9 . . . .January 7, 2005


Bush Pilots: Canada's Wilderness Daredevils. (Legend Series).

Peter Boer.
Edmonton, AB: Folklore Publishing, 2004.
234 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 1-894864-12-3.

Subject Heading:
Bush pilots - Canada, Northern - History.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Thomas F. Chambers.

**1/2 /4



On one occasion, a rather enterprising gold seeker asked Oaks to bring him a sack of oats for his horse. Oaks had flown in supplies to several other men in the area, landing on a small, icy lake. This particular man had thought it more efficient to use a horse to carry supplies-and even himself--- but was now faced with the challenge of feeding it.

"How much will it be for 100 pounds of oats?" the man inquired while Oaks unloaded other supplies for other clients.

"We charge a dollar a pound for freight," Oaks responded with a smirk on his face.

"What?" the prospector with the horse exploded. "That's highway robbery!"

"That's the price of business," Oaks shrugged. The grizzled man grudgingly conceded, and Doc hopped back to his plane to take off. But while taxiing for takeoff, the ice beneath the plane cracked and one ski became lodged in the ice. Oaks was forced to ask the man and his horse to help free his plane. When Oaks returned some days later with the bag of oats, he asked the man for his payment.

"Why, I believe the cost of the tow should cover the cost of shipping the oats," the man responded with a smile.

"What?" Oaks thundered. "That's highway robbery!"

"That's the price of business," the man smirked, then snickered at his horse and led it away, leaving Oaks fuming beside his plane.


Bush Pilots is the story of nine men who did amazing things with aircraft in the Canadian north. One became the President of Canadian Pacific Airlines. Another, Max Ward, started his own charter airline. Sadly, both CPA and Wardair no longer exist. The book also tells about the MacAlpine Expedition in 1929 that made a round-trip of over 22,000 miles, the longest ever made. There are nine chapters, one for each pilot and one for the MacAlpine Expedition. The book is intended for recreational reading. Those in the intended age group should have no trouble with the book which was written by Peter Boer, a journalist with a love of history. A psychology graduate from the University of Alberta, he writes for the St. Albert, Alberta Gazette.

     The accomplishments of the men Boer writes about were remarkable. Flying small aircraft over vast distances of the Canadian north, while often encountering dreadful weather conditions, is not the kind of activity most men would enjoy. To Boer's bush pilots, however, this was ordinary stuff, all part of the job, and done willingly. They were a breed apart. Unfortunately, in Boer's hands, the stories of these unusual men are not that exciting. The book is at times confusing and dull, and this reduces the reader's pleasure.

     One confusing example, among many, concerns Frederick J. Stevenson, known as "Steve". This excerpt explains the confusion. Was "Steve" in bed or in his airplane or was he dreaming?

He sat bolt upright in bed, screaming at the top of his lungs. When he opened his eyes, he saw nothing. He felt wet all over, and his heart hammered inside him.

He panted in the darkness, looking around. Ahead of him, through a window, he saw the twinkling stars in the night sky. All around him was steel, and the air was cold. He was in his plane, he remembered.

     Equally confusing, each chapter begins with some incident in a pilot's life that is later repeated in the body of the chapter. The repetition isn't necessary. The reader is not initially aware that Boer has done this and is just puzzled by reading about the same incident twice.

     Bush Pilots is described as history, but it is a combination both of fact and fiction. The dates and major events in the lives of the men are facts. What transpired when they were in the air and in the wilderness is less so. So, too, is the dialogue which does make the book more realistic, but for which no record is available.

     There is one questionable fact in Bush Pilots. In the chapter on "Wop" May, a bush pilot and First World War fighter ace, Boer states that Canadian Roy Brown shot down German ace, Baron Manfred von Richthofen, popularly known as the "Red Baron." This is not known for certain and likely never will be. Australia also claims credit for the German's death, saying that Richthofen was shot down by its ground fire. Boer should have pointed out this controversy. Brown's "kill" is not a historical fact. Stating that it is perpetuates what is only supposition.

     The book is well illustrated with black and white photographs of the pilots and some of their planes. These are spread throughout the book and are functional. There is a list of the secondary sources Boer used but no teaching aids.

Recommended with Reservations.

Thomas F. Chambers is a retired college teacher who lives in North Bay, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.