by Jane Gaffin
Anytime a group starts talking about celebrating transportation, it conjures up the memory of an incredible racket inflicted on Whitehorse 46 years ago.
The still, February night sky was rent by the sudden high-pitched whine of a Harvard.
Stunned residents remembered what they were doing when the old skybuster swooped over the quiet town, heading north along Second Avenue on the downwind leg of the traffic pattern.
People claimed the Harvard sucked shingles off rooftops and shattered fragile teacups.
They also were positive that the young, goofy pilot had flown under the Robert Campbell bridge that links the downtown core to the Riverdale subdivision.
Ed Hadgkiss would have if he could have. But the low structure was supported with pilings too closely spaced to permit clearance for the 44-foot wingspan.
He liked the story so perpetuated the myth. It was a while later that the Harvard’s yellow paint was damaged by the propeller wash from a DC-6’s full-engine run-up. Gravel and debris spewed against the parked Harvard. What he said to the airport manager and what he told gullible listeners were two different things. He liked to regale listeners with the story that the paint was scratched when the pilot misjudged his distance while flying under the bridge.
That tale earned him a reputation as a bold and reckless haywire.
Ed Hadgkiss was born in Haney, British Columbia, now known as Maple Ridge, on November 30, 1942. He grew up in the shadows of the Haney Brick and Tile plant that his dad managed. The brickyard hummed with engines and big machinery. His toys were real conveyor belts, big shovels and trucks.
He had an affinity for anything that was powered by an engine. Yet he wasn’t satisfied to leave the engine alone. He had a fondness for fixing them — even when they worked fine.
A school chum introduced him to motorbikes and motorcycles. Among his litany of mechanical misadventures was a trip to Salt Lake City.
Hadgkiss phoned California to order parts, then phoned home to ask his parents to send money to pay for the parts.
It wasn’t long before he was fascinated with big transport trucks.
He could sense and sort out the complexities of a double-box gear shift and get a unit rolling. After some instruction, he could master the technical aspects quickly.
He probably could have been an exceptional mechanical engineer. But classrooms gave him mental indigestion.
His father, a chemical engineer, struggled with the youngest of two sons over homework to get Ed through school.
Ed preferred monkey-wrenching and doing odd jobs for Haney-Hammond Motor Freight. His boss’ mother was the office manager. Mrs. Harris’ house was located next door to the freight yard. She loved to feed everybody. And she had known Ed since he was in a stroller.
At suppertime, Ed would lift the lids of the pots bubbling on the stove and peek inside the oven. Then he would phone home to see what was on his mother’s menu. Whichever sounded most appetizing to his likings is where he ate his evening meal.
A few years later, he bought a red four-by-four International truck and camper.
The future beckoned. The 22-year-old forged north to the Yukon in August, 1965. Within a few days of reaching Whitehorse, he had landed a job as a partsman at the Cassiar Asbestos garage that maintained a fleet of trucks for the Cassiar mine in northern British Columbia and another fleet for United Keno Hill’s silver mines in the central Yukon.
Soon, he was taking flying lessons and had earned his private pilot’s license by October, 1965.
In June, 1966, he was in British Columbia purchasing a Cessna 120. Friends teased that the side-by-side, two-seater aircraft was too small inside for the pilot to have room to change his mind.
On his way home, the Continental’s fresh major overhaul betrayed him with a broken crank shaft and he had to execute a highway landing. This was his expensive introduction to owning an airplane.
He was undaunted. The problem-solver, with the help of his supportive father at the other end, patched up the dilemma and enjoyed many hours in CF-LRS.
Then Ed set his sights real high in February, 1968, He went to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, to buy a mothballed Harvard from Crown Assets Disposal Corporation.
The air force had replaced the advanced trainers — this particular one built in 1952 — with modern, sophisticated equipment. The government was selling the surplus to civilian buyers.
Military pilots ranked the Harvards as a love-or-hate relationship. The oil and gas smells and exhaust fumes caused some students to heave; other pilots inhaled the same odours like aphrodisiacs.
On Valentine’s Day of 1968, Hadgkiss was homeward bound with his prize. The noise was music in his ears. The 5,700-pound show piece, powered by a nine-cyclinder Pratt and Whitney, had about seven times more energy than the Cessna 120.
The gallant old lady guzzled gas at 40 gallons an hour. But Hadgkiss, who was determined to afford his toy, wanted to gain experience flying a complex aircraft.
Besides, the Harvard, under registration CF-XEN, was a fun airplane. It commanded attention on the ground or in the sky. And Hadgkiss loved attention.
However, less than two years later, the adventuresome pilot, close to his 27th birthday, poked the Harvard’s nose into B.C.’s black-hearted coastal weather on November 10, 1969. On board in the rear seat was his 18-year-old friend, Kathy Rheaume.
Over three months passed before the wreckage was spotted accidentally on February 22, 1970. The plane was found upside down on a mountain ridge. The Harvard trainers were built-to-crash because so many green students tended to misjudge and pile them into the ground. XEN sustained minimal damage and the two occupants escaped unscathed.
The natives believed that anybody who went into uninhabited Roderick Island would never be seen again.
Sure enough, the couple was never seen or heard from again after Hadgkiss penned a short message in the aircraft’s logbook that indicated to searchers that they were heading for the sound of the lighthouse foghorn on Finlayson Channel.
Their mysterious disappearance generated a monumental search and opened one of Canada’s most intrguing missing persons’ cases of the day.
The details and historic particulars are told in this writer’s book Edward Hadgkiss: Missing in Life. Readers are warned that the biography has no ending.