I spent 15 years living in Manitoba, near Winnipeg. That’s when some friends turned me on so completely to wilderness travelling. I did many canoe trips into the rivers that flow west into Lake Winnipeg (there are many of them, arranged like rungs of a ladder up the 300-mile length of the lake’s eastern shore), and quite a few of these were fly-in trips. A number of us would get together for the adventure, we’d book an Otter from Northways Aviation, or Whiteshell Air Services, and off we’d go, fly-in and fly-out. (This is the only way to canoe!)
In the course of time I met many of these pilots. Also, I make my living as an airline pilot and I came to know many more who had left the bush for the “big time,” flying the jets. But on layovers, over a few beers, as they talked about the northern places they’d once flown to, a note of nostalgia would creep in – tinged perhaps by an unspoken regret. Then one told me of his brother who had come south, tried the “blue suit flying,” and abandoned it and returned to the north. This was the spark I needed (I’ve always admired people who go their own way), and Bush Pilot’s Song came into being.
As my floats touch the water, the sun’s behind the trees.
And the lake is barely rippled by the evening’s dying breeze.
I tie up this old Otter – pull the engine tent on tight,
For the first load of tomorrow will be airborne at first light.
And I fly—y, up north most every day,
And I fly—y, it’s always been my way.
I’ve been up here for far too long but I still like what I see,
‘Cause I live here in the north, and the north lives here in me.
First there was a Vickers, next a Moth on floats,
A Fokker and a Fairchild and an Norseman hauling boats.
Stuff it in, tie it on, we’d haul it all away.
The kind of northern flying, I’m doing here today.
So I start this 1340, and it rumbles into life.
You can see the blue smoke flying, but soon it idles nice.
And when I hit the throttle, the water turns to foam,
I love the way it drops away and leaves me free to roam.
You know the men I fly with, mostly end up south.
They chase the blue-suit flying. They seem to have no doubts.
And though I have been tempted, I need no other call,
From break-up in the springtime, to freeze-up in the fall.
I have flown with dead men – their bodies cruelly torn.
And over Berens River once a baby girl was born.
The rich men from Chicago,
The quiet, steady, Cree.
(No matter) who they are from near or far they all have flown with me.
[Chorus, repeat the last 2 lines, and end]