Newest COPA Flight now Dunvegan, Alberta


Last month I had the pleasure of visiting Dunvegan. Not Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, although I would love to go there some day. I made a trip to Dunvegan, Alberta in the heart of Alberta’s famous Peace Country. My mission was to meet and welcome our newest COPA Flight, Dunvegan Flight 174.

Thanks to the hospitality of everyone there and especially Ian Macdonald, Captain of Flight 174, this turned into a very interesting and enjoyable trip, in spite of the -30C temperature.

Dunvegan is not a town but a place. It is on the banks of the mighty Peace River which flows from the Rocky Mountains in B.C. across northern Alberta, into Great Slave Lake and then north to the Arctic Ocean via the Mackenzie River and Mackenzie delta.

Now a National Historic Site and a Provincial Park, Dunvegan is the site of one of Alberta‘s earliest fur trading posts and missionary centres dating back to 1805. The Dunne-za (Beaver) First Nations people were some of the earliest inhabitants of the area with the first European explorers passing through in the 1700s.

In 1805, Archibald Norman Macleod established a trading post naming it Fort Dunvegan, after his family’s ancestral castle in Scotland. Dunvegan later became a Hudson Bay Company post and operated until 1918.

Dunvegan is also the site of one of the longest suspension bridges in Canada. In the mid-1950’s the Alberta Government decided to replace the longserving ferry service across the Peace River with a bridge in order to accommodate an increasing demand for yearround road access between the city of Grande Prairie on the south side and Fairview and Peace River on the north side of the river. Because of the fast-flowing waters, ice jams in winter, and heavily silted bottom it was decided only a suspension bridge would do.

With a main span of 1,800 feet and total length of 2,375 feet the Dunvegan Suspension Bridge was constructed between 1956 and 1960. If you are interested in bridge construction you will find an excellent pictorial video on U-Tube under “Spanning the Peace: the Dunvegan Bridge”.

The Dunvegan COPA Flight is actually based in Fairview about 27 kilometres north of the Dunvegan Bridge, on Highway 2. There I made a presentation to COPA Flight 174 at the Dunvegan Inn, in a meeting room graciously provided at no charge by the Inn.

The following day I was invited to make a presentation on the value of the Fairview airport to the Fairview Chamber of Commerce. I’m told this was well received and many in attendance found the material very enlightening.

With the COPA Flight starting up and hosting various airport events our local members are hoping for more support from the town of Fairview.

I had heard about a Canso being restored in this area somewhere. So I was delighted when Ian Macdonald told me it was right there in Fairview and he had arranged a tour for me. As it turned out many of the members of COPA Flight 174 are involved in this project which is spearheaded by Don Wieben, and the work is being done on his farm just outside of town.

“Canso PBY-5A C-FNJE started it’s life as RCAF11094 and had it’s first flight in 1943 as a patrol bomber during WWII. After the War, it was converted for civilian use, mostly as a water bomber to help fight forest fires first in Newfoundland and later in western Canada. In 2001,while fighting fires in the Inuvik, NWT area, it started taking on water while loading and sank in about 100 feet of water. It was floated to the surface and pulled to the north east shore of Sitidgi Lake where the engines were removed and salvaged. The aircraft, according to the Aviation Safety Network, was written off,” – FARS website.

Some years ago Don Wieben and a few of his friends formed the Fairview Aircraft Restoration Society (FARS) with a mission to recover the Canso from lake Sitidgi in the NWT, haul it back to Fairview and restore it to flying condition. The recovery operation took place in August 2008 and they have been hard at work on it ever since.

Don gave me a tour of the project and I was amazed at the condition of the Canso. Looking around inside the hull, which they have not cleaned up yet, it didn’t look any worse for having sunk and then sitting around on the side of a lake for 10 years. It was being flown by Buffalo Airways (Ice Pilots) at the time it decided to go for a swim but it was still in the green and orange colours of the Newfoundland and Labrador Forestry Service.

You can check out all of the great photographs and videos of the recovery and restoration on the FARS website: . They are looking for parts and donations so please visit the website.

As you can tell I had a great visit to Dunvegan and Fairview. I encourage anyone flying towards Peace Country in northern Alberta to plan a stop in Fairview. You will enjoy the visit with COPA Flight 174 and they will be happy to arrange a visit to the Canso project.

Look for the Fairview airport in our Places-to-Fly section on Their second annual Fly-in Breakfast in recent times is scheduled for Sunday, July 24, 2011, and will be a celebration of the 65th birthday of the Fairview airport. I hope to see you there.

Meanwhile, keep your prop spinning.