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Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre:
National showcase in Sault Ste. Marie

Story and photos by Gord McNulty, CAHS Vice President

1 Beech 18 CF UWE

Beech 18 CF-UWE is the gate guardian at the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre

3 brochureAviation enthusiasts visiting Sault Ste. Marie, ON are certain to enjoy what is billed as the only museum dedicated to preserving the story of Canada’s bushplane and forest fire protection heritage.

The CBHC ( was founded in 1987 by a small group of volunteers at the downtown waterfront home of the original Ontario Provincial Air Service (OPAS) from 1924 to 1991. It has grown to become one of the three leading tourist attractions in Sault Ste. Marie.

Twenty-nine vintage aircraft, including exhibits of special significance such as the Beaver, Otter, a rare Husky, Norseman, Fox Moth, CL-215 and more, are displayed in a remarkable and informative collection.

The annual Bushplane Days Festival is a popular attraction. Check out an online video historical review of the festival on the museum’s excellent website. The CBHC is looking forward to celebrating the 25th Festival on the third weekend in September, 2021.

Outstanding films are a feature of the CBHC, a Museum Member of the CAHS. On a recent visit in early October, our socially distanced tour group enjoyed “Wildfires! A 3D Adventure,” an action-packed production illustrating the crew of a Canadair CL-415 of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources battling a raging forest fire.

The presentation underlined the hazards of water bombing and the skill of the aviators. It was filmed during an especially difficult summer in Ontario, involving more than 300 fires.
A wide range of exhibits including a tribute to Dr. Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut and a Sault Ste. Marie native, a gift shop and a children’s flight centre are also offered. Mitch Carson of the museum staff noted the centre has added 6,000 square feet of space to host more events, and remodelled its display area, main entrance and offices.


In highlighting some of the aircraft collection, visitors invariably begin with the outdoor Beech 18 “gate guardian,” CF-UWE, displayed on a pedestal. It was flown by Frontier Air Service and is an ex-RCAF Expeditor 3T. Another twin Beech, CF-MJY, formerly with Spartan Aero Services and previously a C-45H with the USAAF, is displayed in the museum. It was donated by Springer Aerospace.

7 DHC 2 Beaver

A famous example of the DHC-2 Beaver, CF-OBS, stands out in resplendent yellow OPAS colours. The second Beaver built, CF-OBS was the first of 44 bought by the OPAS.


CF-OBS is shown with the float-mounted roll-top tanks that allowed water to be dropped in a deluge, rather than in a trickle from bags that had previously been used to combat fires. The system was so successful that by 1960 all Beavers and Otters of the Provincial Air Service had been fitted with tanks. The Otters were also fitted with larger belly-mounted roll-over tanks.

6 Husky at CBHC

5 Fairchild F 11 Husky

An attractively restored Fairchild F-11 Husky is a prime attraction. CF-EIR looks good in the colours of Island Air of Campbell River, B.C. It was the last of 12 of these bushplanes, with the distinctive upswept rear fuselage, that were built.

The flying career of CF-EIR ended when it crashed near Cooper Bluff, BC, in 1976. It was obtained by the CBHC from the Western Canada Aviation Museum in 1994 in a trade.

Noorduyn Norseman CF-BFT

Norseman CF-BFT

CBHC has two examples of the Noorduyn Norseman. CF-BFT, on display, a Norseman Mk IV, has serial #17. The CBHC purchased it from Aeropac Flying Services in the Northwest Territories. The museum also has CF-AYO, the prototype Norseman. It starred in the movie “Captains of the Clouds,” with Jimmy Cagney. CF-AYO was lost in a fatal crash in Ontario’s Algonquin Park in 1952.


DHC-3 Otter C-FODU 1

DHC-3 Otter C-FODU

The museum’s DHC3-Otter, C-FODU, impressive in OPAS colours, was purchased by the service in 1960. It was damaged in a forced landing north of Moosonee in 1986 and restored by CBHC volunteers after a 10-year effort.

de Havilland Canada Turbo Beaver

The prototype DHC-2 Mk III Turbo Beaver, CF-PSM-X, is displayed in its attractive de Havilland Canada livery. It was donated to the museum after a long career as a DHC demonstrator.

de Havilland D.H.83C Fox Moth

A replica de Havilland D.H.83C Fox Moth has been one of the longest-running projects. C-FBNI dates back to 1992, when local dentist Dr. Ken Chessman decide to build a “memorial” Fox Moth for his father, RCAF Captain S.A. Chessman, who flew the type for Parson’s Airways in Kenora in 1946.

A derelict fuselage was purchased from vintage de Haviland restorer and CAHS member Watt Martin, of Grand Valley, ON. However, it wasn’t airworthy, so a new fuselage was built from donated hardware and new wood materials. George Neal, fellow de Havilland expert and CAHS member, provided enough materials to further project. Used wings were rebuilt and the tires were made in England.

A Gipsy Major IC engine was secured in a trade by John Lalonde, the restoration project lead. The engine has since been up and running and the aircraft has been outside at times. In 2017, John Lalonde and the restoration team were fittingly recognized by the province of Ontario for their significant contribution in preserving aviation history.

 16 DH89 Dragon Rapide

The museum’s D.H.89 Dragon Rapide, C-FAYE, certainly catches the eye. Built in England in 1944, the “Lady Faye” was purchased in 1976 by George Lemay of Calgary, overhauled in England and imported into Canada. It was given the registration of an earlier Rapide, CF-AYE.

The aircraft was thoroughly overhauled in 1982, and flown in Alberta and southern B.C. until 1990. It was purchased by the CBHC in 1995 from the estate of Lemay, with assistance from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund.

Stinson Reliant CF-BGN

A Stinson Reliant, CF-BGN, in Green Airways colours, was part of the OPAS fleet from 1937 when it was sold to Red Lake, ON-based Green in 1948. CF-BGN was burned in a grass fire set by vandals and restored by museum volunteers.

Bell 47D

A Bell 47D, CFT-ODM, is displayed in the configuration of one owned by the Ontario Lands and Forests in 1953. The first helicopter to be owned by a government agency in Canada, it was donated by Canadore College in North Bay.

22 replica Fokker F VIIb

Prized replicas include a Silver Dart and a Fokker F.VIIb-3m Tri-Motor. The “Friendship” was built for the 2009 movie “Amelia,” starring Hilary Swank in the lead role.

A Fairchild KR-34, C-FADH, is a rarity with a historic place in the collection. Built in 1930, the biplane was flown by Fairchild president Hubert Passmore before its purchase by OPAS the following year. Originally registered C-FADH, it flew with OPAS until 1944, when it was the first aircraft for the fledging bush airline, Air-Dale Ltd.

The aircraft was written off in 1948, but the wreckage was retrieved for restoration by a group of Air Service engineers. The restoration was completed in 1984, in time for the 60th anniversary of the Ontario Provincial Air Service, when the aircraft made its first flight in 36 years. It was registered as C-FADH when the original registration was no longer available. It is the only KR-34 in airworthy condition.

Larger aircraft include a Canadair CL-215 water bomber that was purchased by France’s civil defence agency and was part of a larger fleet to fight forest fires in southern France and Corsica. Registered F-ZBBT, it recorded 20,331 water bombing operations. It was retired in 1996 and donated by Bombardier Aerospace.

20 Saunders St 27

The museum displays a Saunders ST-27, C-GCML, in Voyageur Airways livery. One of only 12 built, it was donated by Voyageur of North Bay, ON, in 1994.

18 Conair Firecat

The museum’s Grumman Tracker, in “Conair Firecat” colours, represents Trackers that were modified for firefighting by Conair of Abbotsford, BC and flown by the Ontario Natural Resources ministry. This aircraft was originally a U.S. Navy example that Conair brought out of surplus before donating to the museum.

23 Republic RC 3

A colourful Republic RC-3 Seabee, CF-DKG, was donated by Air-Dale Flying Services. It was originally flown by Georgian Bay Airways.

There’s much more in the museum, as outlined in its comprehensive website. A visit to the CBHC offers a rewarding experience for everyone and is highly recommended.

Most of these photos were taken on a visit to the museum that I enjoyed in May, 2014. Conditions for photography were best at that time. The museum’s floor plan, regarding the positioning of the aircraft, has remained largely intact through the years.