Today’s post comes from our discovery specialist (and history buff), Dave Sproule.
On June 29, 1946, a meteorite struck the waters of Lake Helenbar in the remote forests 60 km north of the town of Blind River…
…but it wasn’t the kind of Meteor you’re thinking of.
This Meteor was a fighter plane!
The Gloster Meteor was the first Allied aircraft of World War II and entered combat in July 1944.
The twin-engine fighter aircraft was intended to counter German fighter aircraft being developed during the same period.
The Gloster meteorite
Initially underpowered by early jet engines, the aircraft was eventually able to reach speeds of over 500 miles/hour, setting records at the time.
Flight Officer William “Hugh” McKenzie was our pilot. Hugh had previously demonstrated his skill flying Spitfires, a very fast and maneuverable aircraft.
EE311 (the Gloster meteorite). William “Hugh” McKenzie is on the right
He was then chosen to fly in the 1st Meteor Squadron, pursuing and shooting down the V1 “flying bomb”, a type of rocket-propelled missile aimed at England in the latter stages of the war.
McKenzie shot down his first V1 while descending 2,000 feet to get behind the rocket. Heading toward populated London, the rocket exploded in a field.
A terrible situation
In 1946, McKenzie was in the cockpit of EE311 (the Gloster Meteor), flying somewhere over northern Ontario on his way to an air show.
The aircraft had been loaned to the Royal Canadian Air Force by the Royal Air Force for cold weather testing in Alberta.
The flight from Edmonton to Hamilton was long, but he was up to the task. The plane had been shipped by train to Edmonton and reassembled for flight testing.
The plane had two long-range fuel tanks at the end of each wing, with another tank under the belly of the plane to extend its range for McKenzie’s long journey.
However, late in the flight, McKenzie became caught in a storm and noticed that the Meteor was low on fuel.
That’s when he learned that the extra fuel tank had failed.
With nothing but forest beneath him, McKenzie was forced to abandon the plane at Lake Helenbar.
Helenbar, a beautiful lake, now in the heart of Mississagi Provincial Park, was a long way from anywhere in 1946. There were no roads nearby and any town was many kilometers away. The town of Elliot Lake did not yet exist.
Their survival gear fell on the plane and was now at the bottom of Lake Helenbar.
In survival mode
After a couple of weeks, McKenzie’s Royal Canadian Air Force unit, the Winter Experimental Test Establishment, noted on July 15 in its official diary: “Adjustment Committee appointed to deal with the effects and affairs of Flight Lieutenant McKenzie.”
William Hugh McKenzie was officially dead.
Meanwhile, on the shores of Lake Helenbar, McKenzie was still alive and fighting to survive, taking shelter on the lake’s shore with little food other than what berries he could find.
There were no roads in the Mississagi Forest Reserve the size of Algonquin Provincial Park (as it was called at the time), so rescue was not guaranteed. McKenzie didn’t even know he was reported missing and deceased!
The end of the portage at Lake Semiwite where McKenzie found his savior.
Rescue finally came after 26 days in the wilderness, when McKenzie heard the sound of a fisherman’s outboard motor trolling on Lake Semiwite.
He crossed the transport from Helenbar to the next lake and was rescued.
The Gloster meteor after its recovery from Lake Helenbar
Surprisingly, William McKenzie returned to test flights and the Royal Canadian Air Force later recovered the plane from the bottom of the lake.
After some repairs, the aircraft was on display at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto; The story goes that people at RCAF headquarters told McKenzie to “stay away!”
See this historic site for yourself!
Mississagi’s spectacular landscape and unique geological features make this park a must-see.
Helenbar Viewing Trail
Its 7km Helenbar Lookout Trail takes hikers through a spectacular lookout towards Lake Helenbar and views of the surrounding mountain landscape.