Should float planes be banned from cottage country?

Published: January 8, 2020

float-plane Photo by Albert Pego/Shutterstock

“When I heard that Cindy Crawford uses a float plane to get to her place on Lake Joseph, Ont., I thought, Enough is enough!, especially after I saw her performance on Lip Sync Battle. Aren’t these planes just too loud and dangerous to be used on our busy waterways?”

This is a great question. Not because it is actually a great question, but because in a month of Sundays I could never have predicted such a screwball query landing in my laptop. Never mind Cindy Crawford (it’s easy if you try), the red flag that grabs my attention is yet another call for a ban, as if embargo is the first response when faced with something we don’t like. Following that logic, I propose a ban on those towel racks made from old wooden ladders, store-bought marshmallow-roasting sticks, and any dog that weighs less than four kilograms.

I jest, of course, because there are actually some pretty innovative marshmallow sticks out there. So back to the question: should we ban float planes? When I try to recall a time when I have been aggravated or endangered by a float plane the old memory bank draws a blank. I have been forced to take evasive action because of cottagers in boats though. I have witnessed a near-death PWC mishap. And I have been irritated by cottagers using stereos and generators and leaf blowers in July. Aircraft might be loud, but unlike other noisy things in cottage land, they don’t stick around for the whole weekend doing doughnuts and jumping wakes in your bay. They land, taxi, and take off again. Can the same be said of cottagers with our shorelines permanently altered by buildings and docks? That’s a rhetorical question, of course, because in my almost five decades of waterfront studies, the only thing I have to say about float planes is that I wish I had one of my own. Right now.

Some jealous cottagers might associate float planes with the annoying uberrich who have begun to invade certain lakes. This is a misguided connection because everybody knows that fixedwing amphibious aircraft are considered downmarket by the super-famous and the super-wealthy, who insist upon using private helicopters and their attendant landing pads when they infest cottage landscapes. By comparison, float planes are an everyman vehicle. To even suggest that they should somehow be prohibited verges on treason, because “flying floats” is as Canadian as can be, right up there with hockey fights and unprovable pricefixing at the gas station. Float planes are a symbol of the true north strong and free and one of the only ways to explore that wilderness, especially when much of our “land” is really water.

That’s the romantic part. Float planes are also flying pickup trucks, shuttling people and supplies to places inaccessible by road. Like Cindy Crawford’s cottage, I guess. As a kid I used to fly in Cessnas with my dad. All the vistas were jawdropping, but without floats the only contact we had with that scenery was a stop at a small airport for fuel and lunch. With a float plane you and your sandwich can land in the middle of that wilderness.

To truly appreciate the overwhelming Canadianness of float planes—and to understand why a ban is a dumb idea— you only have to check out the names of some of the best and the brightest. Both the de Havilland Beaver and Otter are legendary Canadian bush planes, and how could they be otherwise with names like that? Other aptly named float planes include the Fairchild Husky and the Murphy Moose. Here’s some food for thought: the beaver, the otter, the husky, and the moose are among the few animals immortalized on Canadian coins. Is it not significant that the Royal Canadian Mint also saw fit to strike coins for their estimable aircraft cousins, the de Havilland Beaver and the Twin Otter? How much more Canadian can you get? Ask the folks at Fleet Aircraft, who built the Model 80 Canuck. Ban float planes? You might as well ban ketchup chips and long underwear.

On my lake, a few hours north of the “Celebrity Triangle,” float planes are as common as loons. They are flown by professional airways, running shuttle services for paddlers, campers, and islanders. Many cottagers here are pilots, and if you’re lucky to have one as a neighbour, there is always the chance of a spectacular tour. Having float planes around just makes me feel good—proof positive that I am on a large body of water and some distance from “civilization.” It’s confusing at first, but once you figure out the Hinterland Who’s Who of float planes according to registration numbers or paint schemes, a timely wave when you’re outside doing chores can get a wing waggle in reply. Like the obligatory cottage boat wave, it’s friendly and civil. Try it sometime and say “Hello, Cindy!” Very Canadian.

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