Maybe you’ve seen the large, bright white flying boat in the skies around the Saanich Peninsula. Or, if not, perhaps your were part of a fundraising team that pulled the unique aircraft with a thick rope from its base at the Victoria Airport.
Or perhaps you’ve sen it parked at its hangar at the west end of Beacon Avenue, where downtown Sidney meets the industrial park, meets the border of North Saanich.
It’s a Catalina aircraft – or Canso if you prefer – and its owned by North Saanich’s Bob Dyck. He found it in Hay River in 2010 and purchased it from Buffalo Airways. Why was he interested in the aircraft? Well, he actually flew one while fighting forest fires. An experience pilot, he fell in love with the Canso and wanted this one for his own and to share it with the community.
And there’s a deeper reasons for that, too. This specific Canso was built in Canada in 1943 and was delivered in ‘44 to the Patricia Bay Air Station (now known at the Victoria International Airport) where it would serve the Royal Canadian Air Force as an extended range patrol and anti-submarine aircraft during the Second World War. By 1948, with the war over, it was converted into a search and rescue aircraft and was retired in 1961 – sold off to various owners and turned into a cargo plane and a water bomber for the government of Saskatchewan. It was later sold to Buffalo Airways – which is where Dyck found it.
In 2010, he returned it to its original home base, to have an educational tool for people interested in the area’s flying history.
“And we’ve been flying it out of here ever since,” he said.
The plane needed a lot of work and Dyck teamed up with a group of dedicated volunteers, mechanics and engineers to form the Catalina Preservation Society. Based at a hangar at the end of Beacon Avenue, they’ve been working to restore the aircraft to its original Second World War configuration – and they’ve come a long way. After years of work, paint and new decals, it’s flying again. It made a fly-past in early June during the dedication of the Lost Airmen of the Empire art installation in North Saanich and has traveled to the U.S. for a few air shows. Society spokesperson Pat Phillips says it doesn’t fly fast, but it stays up for a long time and catches many an eye.
Most recently, the Society was able to find and install a pair of observation blisters to the rear fuselage of the Canso. They are the distinctive ‘bubbles’ in the back, which are used by airborne observers. Phillips noted the Society’s aircraft is just one of around 12 still flying in the world. In all, there were some 3,800 of the aircraft built.
The aircraft, Phillips said, attracts a lot of attention, not least by some of the people who flew them over the years. That’s why the Society is open to the public – a fact that some people might not realize.
To highlight the Canso, the Society is hosting their second annual Hangar Dance on July 29 at Victoria Air Maintenance at the airport. Phillips said for $50 each ticket, people can come and enjoy dinner and dancing in an aircraft hangar – complete with installed dance floor and big band, The Commodores. Overlooking it all will be the Canso.
Limited, by-donation, aircraft rides (not in the Canso itself) will be available and people will be able to tour the main attraction itself. Doors open at 4 p.m. and the music starts at 6 p.m. For tickets, call 250-656-7600. Proceeds will go towards the ongoing operation and restoration of the Canso.