The family of former Prince Rupert pilot Mike Carr-Harris has successfully found a suitable location for a memorial bench to be built facing Seal Cove’s Seaplane Base in his honour.
After requesting to install a bench beside the three existing benches facing the seaplane harbour to the City of Prince Rupert, Marilyn Carr-Harris, Mike’s daughter, was told that further development on the plot of land that the three existing benches currently reside wasn’t possible due to the city not knowing whether the land was owned by them or the federal government, who approved the three benches already in place, and was situated in a spot that is vital in operating nearby utilities.
“[The city] offered other memorial bench options, none of which are in the location which is most important to our family and to my dad and his flying, so we let the city know that wasn’t an option for us,” said Marilyn, whose father Mike passed away earlier this year.
That space would be any spot facing the sea, with a view of the seaplanes landing and taking off – a scene quite familiar with the Carr-Harris family, who watched Mike take off and land at Seal Cove between the years of 1987, when the family first moved to Prince Rupert, and 1999.
He was regularly a chief pilot for North Coast Air Services, run by owner Jack Anderson, who himself has a bench placed at Seal Cove in his honour, Mike served a number of air companies in Prince Rupert, including Harbour Air and Inland Air in the dozen years he served the community.
Before Prince Rupert, he ran and owned an airline in Port Alberni. He flew up and down Vancouver Island and he later became a pilot with a company called the Flying Firemen, based in Victoria, where he ‘bird-dogged’ and led numerous wildfire-fighting missions in northern Alberta.
“He initially got into flying from being in the airforce in the ‘50s and he tested planes. He flew CF-100s and his squadron was the 419 Air Squadron. They flew out of North Bay, Ontario and he was … a navigator,” said Marilyn.
Flying bush planes in B.C.’s northwest as well as in the Yukon and the arctic, Mike even rescued a stranded archaeologist on King William Island in Nunavut, who was searching for remains from the infamous Franklin Expedition – a voyage by England’s Sir John Franklin, sailing with HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, in search of a northwest passage. In 2014, Parks Canada discovered the wreckage of HMS Erebus.
“The story is that one pilot made an attempt to rescue him from that area, but the weather was bad and he had to turn back. My dad met with that pilot in a bar and said ‘I’ll give it a try’. So in very dangerous weather conditions he managed to make a landing out of a very thin strip of lake, picked him up and said ‘I can only carry you, I can’t carry any equipment or bags’,” said Marilyn.
The Carr-Harris family has raised the $1,500 needed to build the bench and will receive help from the city in its installation.
“After reviewing the area, staff and the Mayor have contacted the family to offer up a new location for a memorial bench, which boasts the same view as the one identified in the initial request … Staff at the city will be working with the family to get the bench installed, and are happy to have a resolution that works for everyone,” said city communications manager Veronika Stewart.
“Mayor Lee Brain offered us an alternative spot, not too far from the three benches that overlook the water and has the same unobstructed view of the seaplanes landing and taking off. This is a suitable location that honours my dad’s legacy as a bush pilot of the northwest coast,” Marilyn wrote in a statement.
“[My dad] was a very humble man and very deserving of this memorial,” she said last week.