Early History of the Nanaimo Flying Club
The beginnings of the “Nanaimo Flying Club” started with H.B. “Bus” Matthews, a RCAF Flight Lieutenant in WWII. During the summer of 1945, shortly after his return to Nanaimo, he, his wife Mary, a friend Bill Power, & Bill’s wife, were inspecting the landing strip at Cassidy near Nanaimo, when “Bus” came up with the idea. The paved runway had been built during the war by the military in 1942, used to ‘train’ glider pilots. Now it was abandoned. Why not use it to train civilians how to fly?
“Bus” took his idea to business friends. They liked it & supported “Bus”. This would be the first civilian flying club on the island! A non-profit organization to promote flying. The best evidence of how “Bus” planned, then formed the club can be found in the articles that were published in the ‘Nanaimo Free Press’ during 1945 & 1946.
Once “Bus” had the interest of the general public, he sought approval from both, Nanaimo and Ladysmith councils that land was available at the Cassidy Airport for such a project. Next, was to secure members, elect officers, to proceed with legalities of obtaining a federal charter, then on to purchasing aircraft.
Newspaper clippings reveal the club was first referred to, as ‘Nanaimo & Upper Island’ Flying Club. This was the name chosen & used on the application for Letters Patent. Membership fees were $25, with annual dues of $10, to join the newly formed club.
The first officers of the club were President, Frank Honey; Vice President, Dr. Larry Giovando; & Secretary, Bob Stacy. Directors were: H.B.”Bus” Matthews; Bill Powers; Norman Corfield & Jack Bateman. These are the names that first appeared on the application, for the Letters Patent. The Nanaimo Flying Club name was accepted in a letter dated 10 of December 1945. Draft form of Letter Patent was drawn up on 13 of January, 1946, entered into register, on the 4th of February, 1946, and recorded in Ottawa on the 6 of February, 1946, by the Honorable James Joseph McCann, Acting Secretary of State of Canada. The Nanaimo Flying Club had it’s Federal Charter!
Nothing much was left at the Cassidy Airport after the military had left. There was the original farmhouse & barns, another house, a pump house, & a 3-seater outhouse.
The club members moved one of the homes a little north of midway, & closer to the tarmac. This would be the ClubHouse. They renovated it, putting in electricity and bathroom facilities. They had a caffee bar in it, later sold coffee & doughnuts, etc. on weekends. This added a few pennies to the club’s coffer. When Queen Charlotte Airlines was established & began flying out of Nanaimo later in 1946, a portion was leased to them.
Harry McCracken, an ex-airforce pilot, & maintenance engineer of WWII, was asked to instruct single engine for the newly formed Nanaimo Flying Club. During WWII Harry was a flying instructor, sent to England & trained as a heavy bomber pilot.
Airforce pilots who had been taught during WWII required 2 hours in civilian aircraft & had to pass an exam before they would qualify for their private pilot’s license. These licenses were not issued until January 1946. Although Harry already had consented to being ” on salary” for the Nanaimo Flying Club as instructor on the single engine aircraft & would perform maintenance on the club’s aircraft, he didn’t receive his private pilots license until the first club aircraft arrived.
Two Tiger Moths, CF-CHZ and CF-CIL, originally were air force aircraft & had been at Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Norm Corfield financed their purchase, the club paid his loan. These planes were in Vancouver before coming to Nanaimo. They cost $1,500, used 8 gallons fuel & 1.25 quarts of oil per hour. Sometimes the aircraft ran out of oil before fuel. The club members converted the old barn on the airport, this is where they hangered the aircraft. Rates to fly the Tiger Moths were: $8 solo, $12 dual. The club advertised scenic flights, many people experienced their first flight in a NFC owned aircraft during 1946.
Until Harry got his license, another young ex-air force pilot, Bruce Tait, who already received his civilian license, would take the first few people up for joy rides. Bruce attended university in the fall of 1946 & did not become a clubmember until 1989. Bruce rebuilt a Tiger Moth, it was hangared at the Nanaimo Airport until very recently.
Harry’s logbook reveals his first flight recorded in the club’s Tiger Moth, was March 17, 1946. Harry would be with the club for the next 7 years until 1953. First on salary, then he purchased the 2 Tiger Moths from the club & managed the club business of instructing by himself; he also did the maintenance.
The Tiger Moths were sold in 1947, replaced by 2 Cessna 140s. Harry sold these in 1953 before leaving Nanaimo to fly for West Coast Air in Vancouver, for 14 years.
After Harry moved to Vancouver, “Bus” Matthews was involved with getting the club back on track. He & Fred Vey went over to Vancouver, made arrangements to purchase a Cessna 120, CF-ECP, which cost $2200. Later 2 Luscombes’ were purchased ,CF-IDT & CF-DRO, which the club had for ~5 years.
It is doubtful if membership ever reached 50 members during this era. By 1959 it had dwindled to ~12. When the aircraft was involved in an accident, it was decided that the club would disperse. The clubhouse was removed to the auto wrecker’s property just south of the airport. This is how the Club ended the era of the ’50s.
The Club was resurrected in 1966 when 8 local enthusiasts got together & bought a Mooney, CF-VEL . The Club progressed very well. They got Box 6 at the post office (still have it) & an ESSO credit card. But to expand the membership, they started an association membership. CF-VEL went to William’s Lake in 1969 but a few years later it was brought back & remained until it was landed gear up. It was sold in 1989.
Minutes indicate that November 28, 1968 was the beginning of the Nanaimo Flying Club that exists today, although it was not until the January 23, 1969 minutes, that it was reported “That the Nanaimo Flying Club Association has taken over the Charter & is now known as the Nanaimo Flying Club”. March 6, 1969 minutes reveal “That the legalities concerning the charter are now complete”.
During this time the meetings of the Club were held at the Queen’s Hotel in Nanaimo. The first meeting in November 1968 had 11 members & 3 guests present. It was at the 2nd meeting on December 19, 1968 that the SUSTAINING MEMBERSHIP FEE was set a $50 & a yearly membership fee of $12. The sustaining membership rate increased in January 1, 1970 to $100 but lowered again to $50 when very few were joining the Club. It remained that way until 1979 when it was again increased; to $100. Increased again in 1991 to $250.00 where it remains today in 1998. Annual membership fees gradually increased & are now $60 plus GST.
Construction of a hanger was started in the fall of 1969, using material that was obtained from demolished buildings, donated material, good deals, plus a lot of volunteer labour. By the spring of 1971, half of the hanger was completed & leased to Lake Air’s Engineer.
Once the engineer’s portion of the hanger was completed, a couple of members prepaid for inside hanger parking, so cement could be purchased & poured in the club’s portion of the hanger. Later, a bathroom was erected in the corner, under the stairwell leading to the club room upstairs.
The club room was only a shell in 1972. For over a year meetings were held at the homes of the president or vice president. The first meeting was held in the upstairs club room in May of 1973. No flooring, just plywood. Flooring was later donated & installed by Norm Graham. The furniture was all donated, too. A donated furnace was installed in the fall of 1973. In due-course, other furnishings were added, & many a good party was held upstairs, besides the monthly meetings, plus a satellite school during the summer of 1976.
By then, it got pretty crowded upstairs, & a motion was passed in May 1976 to start construction of an addition to the hanger, underneath the sun deck. This rose slowly, & wasn’t useable until September 1979, when our first meeting & party was held. This room was large, eventually had a kitchen area with cupboards, bathroom, fireplace, pool table, & shuffle board. In 1986, an extension of 25′ was started to the north, now that’s where the club’s meetings are now held.
We members of today can be thankful for what was done these past 50 years. For if it were not for the visions and actions of the Club’s founding member “Bus” Matthews, nor for those that persevered during the “fifties” until completely discouraged, or those that revived the Club in the “sixties”, and those in the “eighties” that continued on, all for the sake of “FLYING” and the Nanaimo Flying Club. We, in the “nineties” are enjoying the fruits of all those volunteers that went before us. May we show our gratitude by working hard and continuing on, as we celebrate the 50th year of the Nanaimo Flying Club Charter.