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Videos showcase life of bush pilot in 1930s northwestern Ontario

Jul 05, 2020 01:00PM ● By Editor

Watch Charles Robinson;s first documentary here paying tribute to his Dad's bush pilot career

Charles R. Robinson with the remains of the de Havilland Fox Moth he was piloting in 1935. An in-flight fire forced Robinson to land the plane on a frozen lake; Robinson and his passenger spent the night in a trapper's shack and were later located by a search party. Photo: Phil Robinson/Provided

From CBC News · Thunder Bay - July 3, 2020 

A new series of short documentaries created by a Thunder Bay man is giving people a glimpse of life as a bush pilot in northwestern Ontario nearly a century ago.

"That was during the time when the gold mines were just starting to open up around Red Lake, and the Ear Falls area," Phil Robinson, himself a retired commercial pilot, said about the videos, which feature his late father Charles R. Robinson, who had a 60-year career as a pilot.

"People who never really had an appreciation or an understanding of how things developed back in the 30s, and early 40s, this gives them a better insight as to 'holy cow, the things that people had to go through in order just to get the basic food supplies up to the miners, and ongoing support as far as the fuel, and technical support," Robinson said.

The videos are being compiled using footage from Charles's personal 8mm film collection.

"As a kid, we would gather around and every so often, maybe once a month or so, and my dad would … put his movies on," Robinson said. "We were always finding it fascinating, because he would provide a bit of a narration along with the movies as they were playing."

"I got to be pretty familiar with his background, and what he did," Robinson said. "He passed away in the late 80s, but his movies, I kind of unofficially inherited them."

Robinson said digitizing and releasing his father's movies was always in the back of his mind.

And during the pandemic, Robinson thought it would be a good project to pursue.

Robinson's oldest son converted the film to digital, and Robinson set about editing it together.

More than 1,000 views

"As I got into it, I got more and more energized and enthused about it, and said 'hey, this is pretty good. With all the footage that I have, I can probably turn this into a two, maybe even a three-episode effort," Robinson said.

The first episode was uploaded to YouTube, on Robinson's Charter Flight Network channel, on June 17. As of Thursday, it had more than 1,000 views.

The eight-minute video is essentially a look at Robinson's father's daily life as a bush pilot in 1930s northwestern Ontario.

Future episodes, however, will focus on some pretty harrowing moments Charles Robinson encountered, including an in-flight fire.

"He was flying a de Havilland Fox Moth, and it's kind of a unique airplane where the pilot actually is outside, because it's like an open cockpit, but the passengers are inside," Robinson said. "He was flying from Red Lake to Kenora, this is in 1935, with one passenger on board, and smelled smoke."

Then, Charles saw smoke and flames coming from the passenger cabin, Robinson said.

"[Charles] could actually see out where the door was opening, and the passenger was actually trying to jump out," Robinson said. "He had to what they call sideslip."

That maneuver put pressure on the side of the aircraft, specifically the door, so the passenger couldn't jump out while they were still 2,000 feet up, Robinson said.

Charles made a forced landing on a lake. The plane burned completely, but Charles and the passenger spent the night in a trapper's shack, and were then located by a search party.

Robinson said he plans to have the second episode ready by mid-July.

To read the original story and see related reporting, follow this link to the CBC Thunder Bay website.

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