Aviation in Canada started in Nova Scotia, in 1909. From that time on Canadians have been active participants in man's conquest of the skies. As the second largest landmass on Earth, Canada has always had difficulty in controlling its vast deposits of natural resources, including forestry. In 1918, the British Columbia Forestry Service investigated the use of small aircraft to patrol the province's lumber producing forests. Unfortunately that first spotter plane crashed into the rooftop of a Vancouver doctor and ended the first experiments with aviation and forestry.

Following the First World War, the Canadian government was gifted a number of surplus warplanes from the Royal Air Force and US Navy. Thus was formed the Canadian Air Force. These planes and the men who crewed them began the first civil duties in Canada. Besides forestry patrols, these men mapped parts of the country, carried out customs inspections and flew government officials and officers to remote settlements. After the Royal Canadian Air Force was created in 1924, their primary focus (especially in Western Canada) was on forestry patrols, including the National Parks.

Also in 1924 the Ontario Provincial Air Service was created to meet the transportation needs of the province of Ontario. Leading the way with modern equipment the OPAS grew into the largest provincial air service and has remained that way, even today. With half a million square kilometers of land to patrol and protect, it was during the Second World War that an Air Service pilot first developed a system to drop water from a plane onto a fire below. Slow and ineffective, it wasn't until 1957 before another OPAS pilot, Tom Cooke designed his innovative roll tank for the de Havilland Otter. Adapted for the smaller Beaver, Ontario had the largest fire fighting arsenal in the world.

Soon, other Canadians were experimenting with fire fighting aircraft. Within a few years Boeing Stearmans, Grumman Avengers, Martin Mars and Consolidated PBYs were all dropping a mixture of retardant and water onto forest fires across the country. In the late 1960s, Canadair designed and manufactured the world's first purpose-built fire bomber, the Canadair CL-215. Almost 40 years later, its descendant, the CL-415 is still in production.

Canadians were also responsible for turning the fledgling helicopter into the most versatile fire fighting tool in the world. Besides being able to quickly move fire crews and their equipment to a fire, with the Canadian designed 'bambi-bucket,' any helicopter can turn from transport to fire bomber in mere minutes.

Whether in the modification or utilization of aircraft in meeting the needs of our country's forests, or in the development and use of state of the art technology for the prediction and detection of fire, or the rapid deployment of fire fighting resources, Canada has been, and will remain the world leader.

Flying Fire Trucks
The History of Aerial Fire Fighting in Canada
An upcoming book by Trevor McTavish