Editor’s Note

As a child, I didn’t pay much attention to airplanes. Like most boys at the time, I was obsessed with cars. (When I was a teenager in the ’50s, my …

Illustration by Brian Morgan

As a child, I didn’t pay much attention to airplanes. Like most boys at the time, I was obsessed with cars. (When I was a teenager in the ’50s, my taste in porn ran to Car and Driver.) I can’t remember my first flight, although I would have been in my early twenties, and the plane would have been a Trans-Canada Airlines Viscount. I was never afraid of flying, but I have always marvelled at the miracle of aeronautic engineering that can lift a Boeing 747 off the ground and transport me from Toronto to London in seven hours. Now and then, I’ve daydreamed about learning to fly but never took the necessary steps, which I regret. I know people who can pilot a plane, and I envy them the feeling , shared by scuba divers, of doing something humans aren’t supposed to.

I came late to my love of airplanes. In the ’80s, I joined a small group of gentlemen adventurers who canoed Arctic rivers in the summer. Over the years, they did more than a dozen trips and took me on eight. Some rivers, like the Nahanni, now attract canoeists and whitewater rafters by the hundreds, but even they are so remote as to be almost beyond reach. What makes any of them accessible is an airplane that became the workhorse of the Canadian North, because it can take off and land where others can’t—including, as it happens, on sand and gravel riverbanks. I refer to the Canadian-made Twin Otter, whose remarkable story David Wilson tells in this issue (“Air Apparent”).

My freshman river was the Burnside, which runs north through the barren lands in what was still Northwest Territories, from Contwoyto Lake to Bathurst Inlet in the Beaufort Sea. In July 1983, eight of us flew to Yellowknife, where we chartered a Ptarmigan Airways Twin Otter to ferry us, our gear, and four canoes to a pre-arranged put-in. The seats on the plane’s starboard side were temporarily removed to make room for our canoes. The flight took two and a half hours, during which I experienced for the first time the western Arctic’s vast beauty, miles and miles of tundra and small lakes, the habitat of caribou, muskox, bears, wolves, foxes, hares, squirrels, countless bird species—and, as I would soon learn, mosquitoes. (In some of my photographs, my companions are wearing hats blackened with the relentless insects.)

We were on the river for ten days. John Turner had canoed it a few years before he became prime minister, and he kindly loaned us a copy of his notes (maps are unreliable on glacier-fed rivers, where the water levels vary from year to year). There was plenty of whitewater, which I came to enjoy, and a daylong portage at the end of the trip, which I didn’t. I have many memories, but two of the most vivid are of the Twin Otter flying south after depositing us on the river and, days later, reappearing—its engines audible before it was visible—to take us home. When it dropped us off, I felt what a child feels when his parents say goodbye on the first day of school: fearful and alone. On its return, I felt what he feels reconnecting with his family at the end of that first day: triumphant and relieved.

I would fly to other rivers in other Twin Otters, but not until I could no longer physically manage such adventures did I appreciate the plane’s importance. Not only did it open up the North; its commercial success was instrumental in creating Canada’s robust aviation industry, now the fifth largest in the world, ahead of Russia, Japan, Brazil, and China. Borrowing from the Twin Otter, Bombardier pioneered the design and manufacture of STOL (short takeoff and landing) technology and is now the world’s third-largest manufacturer of commercial airplanes, behind Boeing and Airbus. It has always bothered me that the cars Canadians make are all designed elsewhere. Not so our planes. The Twin Otter, as Canadian as a canoe, proves that we are so much more than mere hewers and drawers.

This appeared in the December 2013 issue.

John Macfarlane
John Macfarlane is the editor and co-publisher of The Walrus.
Mark Cabuena
Mark Cabuena had his artwork chosen for American Illustration 27.

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Jennifer Hollett I have been devouring The Walrus's Summer Reading issue and remarking on the quality of all of the contributions from our former and current Fellows. It reminds me that every issue of The Walrus is a culmination of the efforts (including lengthy fact-checking) of the editorial team, the emerging journalists they train, and the generous supporters who make all of this happen.

Through The Walrus Editorial Fellowship Program, we have the privilege of training the next generation of professionals who are passionate about the integrity of journalism. In the Summer Reading issue, 2021 Cannonbury Fellow Connor Garel wrote a piece on Frankie Perez and the art of breaking. Tajja Isen contributed an excerpt from her first book, Some of My Best Friends. Isen, who also began her career at The Walrus as a Cannonbury Fellow, is currently Editor-in-Chief at Catapult magazine.

Our 2022 Chawkers Fellow, Mashal Butt, was instrumental in making sure we got the facts straight in our Summer Reading issue, having fact-checked six features, including Sarah Totton’s short story “The Click.” And in our September/October issue, you can read a cover story on housing affordability by our 2022 Justice Fund Writer in Residence, Julia-Simone Rutgers. (Rutgers is now a climate reporter for The Narwhal.)

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Jennifer Hollett
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