A passion strong enough to last a lifetime
A lifelong passion for aviation connected Austin Douglas with the Canada Aviation and Space Museum – where he’s been a dedicated volunteer for over a quarter of a century.
Douglas – who recently celebrated his ninetieth birthday – retired from a colourful career at Transport Canada in 1990. At the tail end of his career, he worked on the master plan for the Rockcliffe Airport, located right behind the museum. The following year, he began his volunteer work.
“It became a habit,” says Douglas of his volunteer work. “When you’re a volunteer it’s not a job – you’re doing exactly what you want to do.”
At first, he volunteered in the museum library, conducting research to identify air photos for inclusion in a database. More recently, he has been assisting in preparing materials for the children’s program at the museum.
A retired civil engineer, Douglas worked at airports for Transport Canada for 37 years – after working on airports in Australia for four years. He says he got his first taste of handling aircraft in the 50s – when he moved from Winnipeg to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
“It was a small airport with a small flying club – no big waiting lists,” recalls Douglas. “That was the easy way to learn how to fly; you take half an hour off your work day and go flying. I flew all around that area – Prince Albert, North Battleford, and Meadow Lake.”
Douglas received his recreational pilot’s license in 1954 and his commercial pilot’s license in 1956. A special highlight from that chapter of his life was taking recreational flights to take in Canadian Football League (CFL) games.
“I used to fly to Regina and Edmonton for football games,” says Douglas. “I’d see the game, stay overnight and then fly back to Prince Albert.”
He adds that the Prairies are the epitome of ideal weather conditions for a pilot.
“The best weather for flying was always on the Prairies,” says Douglas. “So I got to love that – it gave me a chance to see Canada in the raw.”
Another very special memory for Douglas was the rare opportunity to take a ride on an Avro Lancaster, a British four-engine Second World War heavy bomber.
“My son hired the Lancaster in Toronto – it was $8,000 for an hour,” he says, adding that his son brought along his two daughters for the ride. “We took off from Toronto and we flew over Niagara Falls twice and came back – it was a wonderful experience.
“It was a gorgeous day; we flew over Toronto itself at low altitude – we got special permission to do that – and then we took off for Niagara.”
For Douglas, memories like these encapsulate the passion he feels for flying.
“These are the things that instill the love of aviation in you, because the backbone is to go and do it,” he says.