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Aviation legend returns North

Cheryl Robinson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 04/03) - Max Ward first came to Yellowknife in 1946. He wanted to be a bush pilot, but became much more than that.

NNSL Photo
Max Ward

News/North: Tell me about your very first flying lesson.

Max Ward: My very first flying lesson was in a Tiger Moth. I went out with an American instructor for my first trip in an airplane and he had a friend that had a little school house not too far away. We flew over it and he did loops and rolls and all those sorts of things and I was sick as a dog! I arrived back at the school and thought "wow, I'll never make a pilot." That got me on the wrong foot and I was sick for a week on the various flights, but I got over it. I was determined I was going to become a pilot.

N/N: When did you first come to Yellowknife and why?

MW: I first came here in 1946. I wanted to be a bush pilot. I got out of the service (Royal Canadian Air Force) as soon as I could so that I could be the first up here to get a job, and they needed pilots at the time, so it worked out very well.

N/N: So you were a pilot in the service?

MW: Yes, well actually I was an instructor during the war.

N/N: How did you hear about bush pilots in the North?

MW: Well living in Edmonton, the most exciting, and in fact the only exciting things that ever happened, were bush pilots. They'd come in to Cooking Lake and they were quite famous because it was naturally a jumping off spot for the Arctic and the North.

N/N: So how did Wardair first get started?

MW: I got a job for the first part of 1946, but I didn't see that firm going anywhere. So I talked my family into giving me a few bucks, then went to the finance company and got them to give me a little more, and then bought a Fox Moth.

N/N: What did you first think of Yellowknife?

MW: In the summers there was a maximum of 3,000 people when I was first up. Then in the winter, there was about 2,000 at most. It was a mining town and really exciting.

N/N: Were you ever tempted to try some mining yourself?

MW: No, because if you were flying the prospectors around here and you were also in the mining business you were shunned pretty well. Many of them would even come to me and say "I don't want you to tell anyone where we're going, in fact I'm only going to tell you when we get in the air," and of course I'd be wanting to tell someone where I was going in case something happened -- but I always kept their hideouts secret.

N/N: What's your impression of Yellowknife today?

MW: It's different now because you can get anything you need here now. It's a modern little town.

N/N: Tell me about the plane on display in Yellowknife.

MW: That's the Bristol Freighter. That was our first big aircraft, it was a former Air Canada freighter. I started flying that in about 1955. Eventually we had six of those freighters.

N/N: Was being a bush pilot what you expected it would be?

MW: Yes, I think it was. A good part of the country wasn't mapped and I think that made it a challenge.

N/N: What were some of the weirdest things you had for cargo when you were a bush pilot?

MW: Well, we had cows coming from Hay River once, and we picked up muskox in the tundra and flew them out in little cages -- those are quite the animal. We also brought the first fire engine over from Hay River to Yellowknife in the Bristol freighter.

N/N: So what happened with Wardair?

MW: At one time we had the rights to London and Paris and had cross-Canada service. But at that time their were three major carriers and we were the smaller of the three. We were getting to the point where one airline had to go. I looked at the situation and thought there just wasn't room for three, so I decided there is a time to buy and a time to sell. We just weren't going to make it competing against each other as we were, so Canadian bought us out.

N/N: Do you still have strong ties to the North?

MW: I really like the North, I feel at home here and I enjoy bringing a lot of Southerners up here. They are quite apprehensive in many cases, because of course it's quite foreign to them, but I'm quite at home so I enjoy their reaction.

N/N: What brings you back here?

MW: The camp that I have up north of Yellowknife and just seeing the North.

N/N: Tell me a little about your camp.

MW: It's about 182 nautical miles north of Yellowknife. We first started it because of the Boeing company. When we bought the first Boeing 727 in Canada, all the Boeing people said they wanted to go up North because they heard about the fishing. So we took them up to Redrock Lake and leased a camp for a few days, and then it just grew. We had a tent camp for many years until about 1985 when we built the lodge that's there now.

N/N: How often do you visit it?

MW: We try to get there at least once a year. I just love going there and being in the North with my family.