City pilot restoring legendary bush planes found up north

One of the two Norseman float planes recently purchased by Sarnian Steve Orr, arrived in Sarnia on May 30 after landing in the St. Clair River. Glenn Ogilvie

Troy Shantz

A Sarnia businessman is restoring a pair of vintage Canadian-made bush planes he found in the woods of Northern Ontario.

Steve Orr, owner of Bayview Chrysler Dodge Ltd., discovered the two grounded Norsemen earlier this year near Red Lake, Ont., where they’d been damaged in a hailstorm.

“There’s some great aviation history with that particular plane,” said Orr, who was recently recertified to fly.

Designed by Robert B. C. Noorduyn, the Norseman was built in Montreal and introduced in 1935. It quickly gained a reputation as a versatile aircraft that performed well in difficult locations.

During the 1940s, dozens of orders arrived from the Royal Canadian Air Force and U.S. Air Force.

The single-prop, nine-cylinder Norseman was produced for 25 years and came equipped with floats, skis and fixed landing gear. Registered in 68 countries, it even saw service in the Arctic and Antarctic.

The two planes Orr is restoring have the call signs JIN and KAO.

JIN was in service with the RCAF from 1941 to 1953 and based in Aylmer Ont. during the Second World War. Orr said his father was a wireless operator and probably on a Norseman.

Later, the plane was owned by a number of northern airlines and was used in the 2003 Canadian film The Snow Walker.

Orr, who originally earned his wings in the 1970s, assembled a crew and ventured north. Accompanied by Jason Brent and Dennis Ryan of Huron Flight Centre, and Brian Rhodenizer, owner of Northwind Aviation, they found the two planes deep in the boreal forest outside of Red Lake.

Both were full of holes, but JIN’s engine was still operational, Orr said.

“After 10 months of sitting in the bush it just fired up right away. It was just beautiful.”

With room for nine passengers, Norseman became taxis for northern Ontario hunting camps and lodges. The plane is so beloved around Red Lake, 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, the town holds an annual Norseman Festival and is known as the Norseman capital of the world.

The other aircraft, KAO, had to be disassembled and driven back to Rhodenizer’s shop in St. Thomas, Ont.

But JIN was fixed up with 80 patches over three days and ready to fly back to Sarnia.

“They’re in the bush and all Brian had was a box of tools … to repair one plane and completely dismantle another plane,” Orr said.

Orr and Brent flew JIN back to Sarnia on May 30, a trip that took nine hours and two fuel stops before touching down in the St. Clair River.

The plan is to restore the aircraft over the next several months and find a Canadian who wants to buy it.

“Our goal is to try and keep JIN in Canada,” Orr said.

KAO, on the other hand, will take longer to restore. Because it was originally used by the USAF it will probably be sold to an enthusiast or private airline south of the border, Orr said.

“People really want to know the history. We want to keep it as original as possible.”