In the summers between my years at the University of Lethbridge I would work at the Yukon Transportation Museum (YTM). I sold trinkets in the gift shop, gave tours to visitors, went disc golfing at lunch, napped underneath the train exhibit, put a tip-jar at the exhibit entrance, and generally relished my low level of responsibility; it was a perfect summer job.
In those years, CF-CPY (the DC-3 weathervane) was not on its current pedestal in front of the YTM because it had been taken down for refurbishing. Instead, it was stored in the giant warehouse at the back end of the museum.
On weekends a group of volunteers (mostly men, well past middle-age) would let themselves in and spend a few hours polishing and painting the old aircraft. But when they weren’t there I was allowed to show off the airplane to curious travellers. It was the best part of my job.
“We heard that there’s some sort of DC-3 weathervane around here,” they would say.
“Well normally it would be outside on a pedestal with its nose facing into the wind, but unfortunately it has been taken down for repairs,” I’d reply.
This produced a change of expression — from boyish enthusiasm to world-weary acceptance. I’d let the disappointment sink in for a few seconds before continuing with faux-reluctance.
“Well, actually, it’s being stored in our garage at the back of the museum. If you’d really like to see it, I suppose I could show it to you.”
Eager nods and broad smiles all-round.
I would lead them back, throw open the doors to the warehouse and watch as their jaws dropped. There was always a moment of silence before the stories started to flow; it turns out that everyone over the age of 60 has a DC-3 tale to tell. Here’s a typical anecdote:
“I flew to California in one of those things back in ’54. We went right through a storm and I thought the damn thing was going to fall out of the sky.”
No doubt CF-CPY also flirted with disaster on occasion, but the difference between it and many other DC-3s is that between the late 1950s and 1970, when it flew its last flight, CF-CPY serviced Northwestern Canada, one of the most remote regions on Earth.
Due to a lack of infrastructural support, the history of aviation in the Yukon is the history of brave and ingenious men and women who used all available tools to solve problems as they arose. There was no other option.
CF-CPY (now back on the pedestal) is a fitting tribute to our aviation tradition. The qualities of creativity and ingenuity that were indispensable to our early aviators were also shared by a group of airplane buffs who turned an old relic into the world’s largest weathervane in 1981.
In the summer of 2012, when YTM curator Casey McLaughlin announced plans to yarn bomb the DC-3 — which involved putting a patchwork sweater over its fuselage and wings — the idea was met with grumblings of dissent.
I can understand this — after all, to the uninitiated, yarn bombing is a weird and hippyish art form.
But if you dig a little bit deeper you’ll see that the creativity present in our early aviators and again in those who envisioned the airplane as a weathervane, is also apparent in the team that wrapped CF-CPY in blankets.
The yarn bombing of August 2012 was not the death knell of Yukon aviation history, as some naysayers would have us believe, but rather a singular affirmation that the spirit of the early aviators remains alive and well in our territory.