Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024
Guy standing in front of yellow bush plane

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

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

Suddenly, winter supplies could be flown to rangers’ cabins, poachers’ tracks could be seen from the air, wildfire management improved dramatically, and American tourism increased.

The Dusty Rhodes Ambush

Black and white photograph, two men standing in front of a small planeDusty Rhodes (left) was suspected of trapping poachers with their furs.

Poaching was the main concern shortly after the creation of Quetico in 1909. In the 1930s, poachers had the ability to remove their skins with small planes, but planes also meant that the tracks of poachers could be seen. from the air.

Some poachers even tied moose helmets to their feet to try to hide their movements from park rangers!

Here is an excerpt about the ambush of a poacher from The Fascinating Facts of Quetico Park, published by the Friends of Quetico:

“In 1931, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police established a stakeout on Lac La Croix in search of a famous fur poacher and bush pilot named ‘Dusty’ Rhodes. When Rhodes landed, the Mountie posing as a tourist suddenly canoed to the plane followed by an Ontario Provincial Police officer. Rhodes attempted to take off with the Canadian officer hanging on to his floats. Drawing his service revolver, the Mountie smashed the cockpit window and placed the barrel of the gun against the pilot’s head, ordering, “Put it down!” Rhodes did it.”

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Black and white photo of three guys in front of a fighter planeQuetico Park rangers Gerry Payne, Lloyd Rawn and George Walsh stand in front of the first aircraft assigned exclusively to Quetico for winter patrols, a Moth, in 1944.

Improving the lives of rangers

Black and white photo of two guys with a plane.District Ranger George Delahey, left with an oil drum, servicing an HS-2L aircraft.

In 1934, George Delahey was appointed district ranger at Fort Frances. He was also a pilot and his use of airplanes changed the lives of the Quetico rangers. The park used aircraft such as Gypsy Moths, Beavers, and larger Hamiltons to bring in supplies. Many fire cabins and towers were built or improved with the new capacity to transport construction materials and skilled workers.

“As a World War pilot, George Delahey flew the plane, went around and saw how horrible some of our cabins were. He had Bob Halliday, Albert Lemay and I build a nice log cabin in Cache Bay in 1938.”

– Art Madsen

The Provincial Air Service’s first all-metal aircraft, 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 start of a ranger cabin.Building a new ranger cabin

The tourism business takes flight

Black and white photograph, a man and a woman standing with a small planeAirplane pilot, Art Burtt and Mary Roach at Bayley Bay, Basswood Lake, 1945

After World War II, airplanes were plentiful and Quetico experienced an astonishing increase in American tourists. Planes became more accessible to the public, and soon tourists from all over the United States began flying.

In 1948, Ely, Minnesota (a southern access point to Quetico), was reported to be the largest seaplane base in North America.

Forest fire management

Fire suppression changed dramatically after 1936, when fires consumed more than 76,800 ha of Quetico Forest, marking one of the worst fire seasons ever recorded in the park. Since then, Quetico has seen a large number of airplanes and helicopters as technology advanced across Canada.

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Bush plane with four boys posing (black and white photo)Great Hamilton

One of the first airplanes used by the park for firefighting was this Big Hamilton seen above at Saganagons Lake.

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

The legacy of the beaver

In 1947, the Ontario Provincial Air Service commissioned 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.

A guy standing in front of a yellow airplaneBob Hall, Ontario Provincial Air Service Turbo Beaver pilot, standing at the Lac La Croix entrance station in 1977. He flew with revenue clerk June Fraser to pick up the permit money.

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

Lady in front of a mountain planeRanger Carol Gosselin is always happy to say hello to the Beaver floatplane that transports supplies to Prairie Portage every Wednesday.

saving the day

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

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

Park staff flew to the area the next day and found several crushed trees along a 100m wide, nearly 2km long stretch of the park. Chris Stromberg and Eric Boyd of the transport team were sent to clear the transports.

All photographs courtesy of the John B. Ridley Research Library in Quetico. Stop by the library next time you’re at the Quetico Visitor Center!