Harvards fly on Remembrance Day
Three of the historic aircraft flew over Toronto ceremony
Three historic Harvard aircraft from Oxford County flew above Toronto’s Old City Hall on Nov. 11 as part of that city’s annual Remembrance Day ceremony.
Bjarni Tryggvason, a former Canadian astronaut and president of the all-volunteer Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association, led the three-plane formation leaving Tillsonburg about 10:15 a.m. Saturday with fellow CHAA pilots Scott McMaster and Percy Contractor at a speed of about 120 knots (222 kilometres per hour).
“It was chilly, but nowhere near as cold as these planes were designed to take,” said Tryggvason. “On the ground getting ready, it’s chilly, but just dress for it. It’s fine. the airplane has a heater in it. These planes were used to train - through the war and after the war - all year round in the Prairies. If the temperature is cold, preheat the airplanes. The planes we used were inside a heated hangar overnight.”
After the Old City Hall tribute, the Harvards flew over the East York Civic Centre on Coxwell Avenue, past the Veteran’s Wing at Sunnybrook Hospital on Bayview Avenue, and over IBEW Local 353 on Lawrence Avenue East before returning to Tillsonburg at about 12 p.m., continuing a CHAA tradition that goes back about two decades.
“The planes actually fly better in the cold,” said CHAA chief technical officer Shane Clayton. “A lot denser air … they fly great. They were modified from the originals for winter operations. They were fine in Texas, but up here in the middle of February … you pre-heat the oil within a half-hour or so of the flight.”
“If you get it properly preheated, it’ll purr like a kitten. They flew them 50 hours a month, year round. We could do flights here (after Nov. 11), but usually they’re down for the winter. We do maintenance, inspections, and cosmetic stuff.”
Contractor, a CHAA pilot from Toronto, commutes to Tillsonburg during the summer months to fly Harvards.
“Usually the organization operates every Saturday from the end of March until Remembrance Day,” said Contractor, who started flying Harvards in 2009.
The flight to Toronto was Contractor’s fourth or fifth Remembrance Day trip.
“Each flight in and of itself is special, whether it’s 20 people or 20,000 people. It depends on the ceremony - sometimes we do a fly past over a funeral and it’s obviously very special for the people there. Sometimes we’ll do a fly past over a fall fair or the opening of a museum. Each of them are special in their own way, but this one today, Remembrance Day, I would say does have a little more significance.
“It’s everybody in the country, in their own time zones, commemorating the event. And of course, it’s a very great privilege, not just for us but for everybody here, to actually fly over the biggest city in Canada.
The whole trip, from wheels up to wheels down, lasted just over one hour and 45 minutes, said Contractor.
“That’s typical. I’d say maybe a little on the shorter side. Sometimes it’s 1:55, it’s always around there. You want to be there a little bit early so you have time to orbit.”
Four Harvard aircraft fly over the Woodstock Cenotaph on Saturday, Nov. 11, during the local Remembrance Day ceremony.