A historic floatplane that was once a familiar sight in the skies over Vancouver Island and has since become a landmark will now be owned by the City of Campbell River.
At a meeting earlier this month, Campbell River councillors voted in favour of taking ownership of a de Havilland Beaver floatplane that was recently erected on a beam alongside Highway 19 at the Campbellton entrance.
Council also agreed to spend $3,500 to install a plaque that honours those who worked on the restoration project.
The 1950s de Havilland Beaver floatplane — known as the “workhorse of the north” was restored by volunteers and installed in April of this year. The restoration was spearheaded by the Campbellton Neighbourhood Association and was done to commemorate the city during the 1960s when the Tyee Spit was considered the busiest floatplane base in Canada.
Coun. Ron Kerr, who made the motions, called the restoration project fantastic and said those who were involved in it put at least a half-million dollars of work into the plane.
“I know that the people were involved with the building of it and constructing of the project…went over and above,” he said.
Coun. Sean Smyth said that after talking to those involved in the restoration, ongoing maintenance costs will be minimal to the city because of how much work has gone into the old floatplane.
“I never realized the extent of the amount of work that went into this. They have put multiple layers of clearcoat on it, they’ve painted the inside and out, stripped the inside, they’ve put drainage throughout any areas where water may collect in the airplane. They did a lot,” he said, adding. “The upkeep on this will be minimal at best. Wash it with soap once every two years maximum, it’s going to look good for a very long time.”
However, Coun. Tanille Johnson questioned whether the city would be responsible for replanting trees in the area, claiming that eight trees had been removed to make way for the plane. She also claimed the city was required to plant 40 new trees where the plane is located.
“There was a no disturbance zone that was disturbed…and some trees were removed that weren’t supposed to be removed from that area. There are supposed to be 40 new trees planted in that space to replace those and I am just wondering if that responsibility would remain with CNA or if that would transfer over to us.”
City staff confirmed that a few trees had been cut down when the plane was erected but that new trees would be replanted in other areas of Campbell River because the plane is located on a highway right-of-way.
Meanwhile, Coun. Kerr disputed Johnson’s claims that eight trees were cut down and said if there were trees that came down “they were brush.” He also said there is also no place within the area around the plane to replant trees.
“Actually, there should be more trees removed so that the plane is visible,” said Kerr.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring mayor and council will be held, although no date has been announced yet.
Nine year journey not over yet
The idea to install a floatplane at the Campbellton entrance, which is a neighbourhood in Campbell River located west of downtown along the river banks, first came about in 2013.
Bill Shaw, past president of the Campbellton Neighbourhood Association, said at the time, the idea was to install something that would beautify the area around Highway 19A and 14th Avenue and create an entrance feature for the neighbourhood.
“When one comes into Campbellton by the freeway, visitors enter an area which is old, industrially oriented, and is not the nicest picture of what Campbell River should look like,” said Shaw. “So the idea was to put something which would distract the visitors when they first came into town so that they wouldn’t look at the rundown industrial sites on either side of the road.”
Shaw, who was president of the Campbellton Neighbourhood Association at the time, said they considered other ideas such as a boat, and a giant fish but eventually landed on a floatplane.
“Early on, it became apparent that this would be a very good idea and certainly be attractive,” he said.
The only downside with a floatplane was that the neighbourhood association had to go out and actually find one. Fortunately, they came across Bill Alder, the president of Sealand Aviation, who donated them an old 1950s de Havilland Beaver which was no longer airworthy.
“That was a huge step in the right direction,” said Shaw. “So, we got an airplane but we had it all in parts.”
Shaw said because de Havilland Beavers are in such demand it is very expensive to find one that is certified by Transport Canada as airworthy and de-certified ones are difficult to find too.
“When the beaver aircraft does have an airworthiness certificate it goes for a minimum of three-quarters of a million dollars and up without the airworthiness certificate the airplane is recycled junk,” said Shaw. “So that’s why we got it. The certificate went off of it and Bill Alder contributed it to us.”
Over the course of nearly a decade, hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars went into restoring the old bird, said Shaw. He said countless people throughout the community contributed to restoring the plane.
“It was only this year that we finally got the whole thing put together,” said Shaw, later adding. “We figured the value of the aircraft donated as such with everything involved is around $250,000 in an airplane.”
After getting the plane restored and support from both the Ministry of Transportation and the City of Campbell River, the floatplane was finally installed on a 25-foot high stand in April.
“It was well worth it,” said Shaw. It looks great.”
Although the plane has been handed over to the City of Campbell, it isn’t the end of the project.
Shaw said there is a phase two which involves eventually installing flood lights and operational lights on the plane, creating a wheelchair-accessible pathway, and possibly an area for parking so visitors can safely check out the old floatplane. He also said they plan to install information boards about the aviation community and the history of aviation in Campbell River and on Vancouver Island.
“This project isn’t nowhere near done,” he added.