Even Scrooge knows a goose is essential to celebrate Christmas.
And that rings equally true for folks living and working on B.C.’s rugged Central Coast, who also depend on a goose for yuletide spirit.
Like Santa’s sleigh — and sporting the same signature red-and-white colour scheme — a “flock” of Grumman Goose aircraft brave rain, sleet and snow to get people and presents home for the holidays.
From Port Hardy on northern Vancouver Island, Wilderness Seaplanes operates the last commercial fleet of the historic aircraft, which fly year-round and act as a lifeline for more than 50 villages, resorts and work camps along the West Coast.
Dubbed an amphibious flying boat, the Grumman Goose was produced from 1937 to 1944. Only 345 were manufactured, originally conceived as “flying yachts” for rich business executives on the U.S. east coast. But the dependable aircraft has been used extensively in B.C. by aviation companies and the military for decades.
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The Goose has been serving B.C. coastal communities under different company banners for more than 50 years, said Vince Crooks, Wilderness Seaplanes’ operations manager.
“They were perfectly built for this job. They’re versatile and the right size,” Crooks said.
“They really haven't built an airplane that’s better for it, and that’s why it has survived.”
The Goose can carry a small set of passengers and cargo and is able to land at a commercial airport, on water or on a gravel airstrip equally well. It can even land on water and roll up a boat ramp if there isn’t a dock to attach to.
The company operates three Geese, the oldest of which is 83 years old. But given its long use in the region, the central coast has evolved into a hot spot of expertise in flying and maintaining the aircraft, Crooks said.
And it’s a good thing, because the Geese must fly flat-out during the Christmas season.
“We pretty much have to double up flights in the period of time leading up to Christmas,” Crooks said, adding the extra runs are more to accommodate cargo than passengers.
“We move a lot of boxes at this time of year, as you can imagine, especially in the last couple of years with everybody shopping online now.”
People travelling in and out of the communities don’t have many other options to get home with the wilder winter weather, Crooks said. BC Ferries service is infrequent, with limited space and booked months ahead, while travelling any distance by boat with the cold and wind can be risky.
Many people travelling to remote First Nations communities such as Klemtu, Bella Bella or Knight Inlet are often coming home after a long absence.
“A lot of young folks leave the villages, and it’s always fun to see when there’s a big reunion on the docks,” he said.
And half the boxes unloaded from the plane are often already covered in festive Christmas wrapping.
“When the Goose shows up, there are usually about a dozen people waiting for all their parcels and gifts and you can tell that they're pretty happy to receive them.”
‘The sound of coming home’
Josh Carpenter, Bella Bella’s airport manager, said the community, which boasts approximately 1,200 residents, is relatively small. But it still acts as a larger hub for people taking the Goose to even smaller surrounding First Nations villages.
Flying on the Goose itself isn’t really considered a special occasion because it's such a regular part of people’s lives on the Central Coast, he said.
“For us, it's like getting on the bus and getting off at your next stop kind of thing,” he said.
“It’s a necessary tool to get you to where you want to go.”
But the Grumman Goose is woven into the fabric of the coast’s communities, tying family, place and personal memories together, especially during the holidays, he said.
“I’ve been flying the Goose since the mid-’70s,” Carpenter said.
“I love those planes because to me, the sound of those engines is the sound of going home.”
Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer
Interesting article - thanks
Interesting article - thanks for doing this!
In 2015 and 2016, I had a few flights on the Goose in the same part of the coast, except that the planes were operated by Pacific Coastal. Did Pacific Coastal sell them off? Just curious.
Thanks for responding!
Thanks for responding!