The Accidental Aviation Historian In Ottawa

Adam Hunt


Although her entry into the field of aviation history was accidental there is nothing haphazard about Danielle Metcalfe- Chenail’s first book, For the Love of Flying, The Story of Laurentian Air Services. Due to her Ottawa connections, COPA Flight 8 was fortunate to book Metcalfe-Chenail to come and speak to the flight for our May meeting.

For Metcalfe-Chenail, getting into aviation history was truly an accident, although getting into the study of history in general was not, having completed a masters degree in the subject at the University of British Columbia.

It was her father-in-law, John Kenny, who prompted her to write a bit of family history and that family is intimately connected to aviation and to COPA as well.

Kenny not only owns a DHC-2 Beaver on amphib floats, but also the Cessna T182T that COPA President Kevin Psutka rents for business use.

The COPA connection in the family runs much deeper than that, though. Kenny’s cousin is COPA co-founder and present honorary director John Bogie, who also owned Laurentian Air Services at one time.

Bogie came by his association with Laurentian through family connections, too, being the nephew of Laurentian cofounder Barnet Maclaren. Laurentian’s other founder, Walter Deisher was also the first president of the Ottawa Flying Club. Aviation in Canada is a rather small community and author Metcalfe- Chenail’s family is an intimate part of it.

Metcalfe-Chenail actually turned out to be a good choice to write the history of an airline. Her academic background has certainly given her the professional curiosity and the research tools she needed to take on the project. Being one of the few members of her family with no immediate aviation experience resulted in a book that has a particularly fresh perspective and avoids some of the usual clichés that aviation history books can succumb too.

The 224-page volume includes an index, exceedingly detailed end notes exactly of the type you would expect in a book written by an MA and, as a bonus, a complete list of all the individual aircraft operated by Laurentian. Despite the academic thoroughness evident throughout the book, the text is eminently readable by the non-academic reader and has frequent excerpts from contemporary accounts, such as articles from Canadian Aviation, as well as quotations from Metcalfe- Chenail’s many interviews with Laurentian’s principals and employees.

It all adds up to a very complete, wellresearched and engaging account of the company, the people, the places and above all the aircraft they flew.

In reading the book it is not hard to see that from starting the project with little knowledge of aviation, Metcalfe-Chenail became enamoured of the people who made the history and especially the aircraft they flew. She has painstakingly located and included a myriad of previously unpublished aircraft photographs that speak volumes about how engaged she became in the subject of “old airplanes”.

The dead give-away is the inclusion of a section on the wide range of markings that Laurentian and its subsidiary, Air Schefferville’s aircraft wore over the years. Most non-aviation background authors miss these sorts of details, not realizing how useful they are to not only aircraft enthusiasts, but scale model builders as well.

The text of the work itself follows the company from its founding in Ottawa during the Great Depression by Maclaren and Deisher using Deisher’s de Havilland Puss Moth in June 1936. They quickly added Maclaren’s Waco Standard Cabin YKS-6 biplane and started offering bush flying services to local timber and mining companies. It was in the new area of what Canadian Aviation termed “air tourism”, delivering fisherman and skiers to their destinations, that the company really found its niche, however.

In establishing facilities the company owned the Uplands Airfield (now called Ottawa (MacDonald-Cartier) International

- CYOW) for a number of years until it was taken over by the Department of Transport.

The book traces the company from the Depression through the difficult days of the Second World War when fuel rationing made civil flying a challenge. The company then, turned to conducting engine overhauls for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan to survive, driven by Maclaren’s strongly held conviction not to make a profit from the war effort.

After the war the company became one of the premier bush flying airlines in Eastern Canada, eventually owning the largest fleet of de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beavers in the world and operating a fleet as diverse as the Cessna 305 Bird Dog, de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter, DHC-6 Twin Otter, Douglas DC-3 and the Grumman Goose amphibian.

Laurentian continued on until 2004 and its demise was mourned by many employees, retirees and customers. There will probably never be another bush airline that commanded the affection and respect that Laurentian did.

Author Metcalfe-Chenail has done a superb job in chronicling the company’s history. Her well-balanced prose, photos, quotes and attention to detail make’s this a book that belongs on every aviation buff’s bookshelf.

Love of Flying, The Story of Laurentian Air Services, by Danielle Metcalfe- Chenail is published by Robin Brass Studio of Montreal and has a suggested retail price of $32.95 in Canada and $36.95 in the USA. Her website is COPA Flight 8 would like to thank Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail for coming to talk to our club. I think she feels that the group let her off lightly with our questions, since by her own reckoning almost half the people who attended her talk are in her book!