A salute to Claude Steven­son

Long­time care­taker of Har­bour Grace Airstrip rec­og­nized by pi­lots’ as­so­ci­a­tion

The Compass - - NEWS - BY TERRY ROBERTS edi­tor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

A well-known per­son­al­ity in the prov­ince’s avi­a­tion com­mu­nity who is cred­ited for help­ing re­vive and main­tain the his­toric Har­bour Grace Airstrip has been hon­oured with a pre­sit­igous award from an as­so­ci­a­tion that rep­re­sents gen­eral avi­a­tion in this coun­try.

Fam­ily mem­bers of the late Claude Steven­son were on hand April 12 to ac­cept The Pres­i­dent’s Award from the Cana­dian Own­ers and Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion (COPA), which staged a board meet­ing in this prov­ince for the first time in its 61-year his­tory.

Steven­son was the airstrip care­taker and a long-time mem­ber of COPA. He passed away March 27, 2013 at the age of 87.

The pres­ti­gious Pres­i­dent’s Award rec­og­nizes Steven­son for his life­time com­mit­ment to avi­a­tion in the prov­ince. The award was ac­cepted by two fam­ily mem­bers, great niece Natasha Power and great nephew Richard Moores.

Steven­son was nom­i­nated by Ray Hawco, a fel­low pi­lot and air en­thu­si­ast. Hawco used to land at the airstrip in the 60s and 70s, and got to know Steven­son.

“This was the only airstrip in North Amer­i­can that is un­changed since it was built in the early 20s. The fact that Claude un­der­took to bring it back to some kind of life in the 60s speaks to his pas­sion and love of fly­ing,” said Hawco.

Steven­son earned his pi­lot’s li­cence in the mid-60s and based his 1946 Er­coupe sin­gle en­gine air­plane at the field. He quickly took an in­ter­est in the airstrip, and poured his ef­forts into main­tain­ing and im­prov­ing the field.

“It was lit­tle more than a muddy, rocky path that few cared for,” said Bryan Hood, who, along with Theo We­ber, have suc­ceeded Steven­son as the field’s care­taker. Both have hang­ers at the site, which is lo­cated be­twen Lady Lake and Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial High­way.

“About all it was used for was grow­ing hay by lo­cal farm­ers. Roads crossed the field and rocks and brush made it un­suit­able for use,” added Hood.

Steven­son, with help from friends and mem­bers of the Har­bour Grace His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, grad­u­ally got the field back in or­der. The rocks were raked off, brush was trimmed back and fer­til­izer and grass seed were added to the bare spots on the field. New grass cov­ered the field and a perime­ter fence was built. The roads were re-routed and by the mid-70s the field was in bet­ter shape than ever, Hood ex­plained.

The of­fi­cial re-open­ing of the airstrip took place and the Trans­port Canada list­ing went from aban­doned to ac­tive, which is quite rare.

“From this point on, Claude, for the most part sin­gle­hand­edly, mowed and main­tained the field, fly­ing reg­u­larly from there for 40 years. In the process of pre­serv­ing this his­toric site, in its orig­i­nal state, he also in­tro­duced many people to gen­eral avi­a­tion in his plane,” said Hood.

“He flew un­til 2006, into his 80s, and even af­ter re­tir­ing from fly­ing con­tin­ued to main­tain the field, vis­it­ing it al­most ev­ery day.”

A lit­tle his­tory

The airstrip was built at the re­quest of, and with the help of Stin­son Air­craft Ltd. of Detroit so one of its air­craft, “The Pride of Detroit,” could use it as the North Amer­i­can hop­ping off point of Sch­lee and Brock’s round-the-world flight at­tempt.

Built in 1927, it is New­found­land’s old­est air­port and is ap­prox­i­mately 2,200 feet long and 200 feet wide.

From the be­gin­ning, with its strate­gic lo­ca­tion, the field would host many trans-At­lantic flight at­tempts, in­clud­ing Wi­ley Post and Charles Kings­ford Smith.

The most fa­mous,

how­ever, oc­curred in 1932 when Amelia Earhart started out on the first suc­cess­ful solo trans-At­lantic flight by a woman.

Er­roll Boyd, the first Cana­dian to fly the At­lantic, also used Har­bour Grace as his hop­ping off point, Hood ex­plained.

Hood de­scribed Steven­son as a “win­dow to the past on some of these events in avi­a­tion’s golden age.”

Steven­son was re­garded as a quiet man, but when ques­tioned about the his­tory of the field, he would tell of meet­ing Earhart in 1932, and he dis­tinctly re­mem­bered the air­craft “Lady Peace” and famed First World War avi­a­tor Ed­die Rick­en­backer ar­riv­ing at the field in 1936 fly­ing a DC-2 air­liner.

These events, and the fact that he lived in Har­bour Grace, likely prompted him to learn how to fly in On­tario in the mid-60s, Hood noted. He also pur­chased his Er­coupe there and af­ter a m emo r a b l e jour­ney, which in­cluded an en­gine fail­ure over Nova Sco- tia, flew it home to Har­bour Grace.

To­day, the airstrip is a Na­tional His­toric Site, and is one of the few sites any­where from avi­a­tion’s golden age that re­mains vir­tu­ally un­changed, since those dar­ing pi­o­neers set out from it to chal­lenge the un­for­giv­ing North At­lantic.

“This is in no small part due to the ef­forts and com­mit­ment of Claude Steven­son,” Hood wrote in a mes­sage to The Com­pass.

“All of New­found­land’s avi­a­tion com­mu­nity will miss Claude and all of us thank him for pre­serv­ing the site for our use. I am also sure that many, like my­self, who were first in­tro­duced to fly­ing by Claude, wish to thank him for keep­ing avi­a­tion alive at the site.”

COPA rep­re­sents more than 18,000 pri­vate pi­lots and own­ers across the coun­try.

Sub­mit­ted pho­tos

The late Claude Steven­son is pic­tured in front of his 1946 Er­coupe sin­gle en­gine air­plane at the airstrip in Har­bour Grace.

Photo by Gary Heb­bard/spe­cial to The Com­pass

RIGHT: A much younger Claude Steven­son is seen step­ping aboard an air­plane. Two de­scen­dants of the late Claude Steven­son are seen ac­cept­ing The Pres­i­dent’s Award ear­lier this month. At cen­tre is great niece Natasha Power, while great­nephew Richard Moores is at right. At left is Kevin Psutka, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Cana­dian Own­ers and Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion (COPA). The Pres­i­dent’s Award is one of the top honours pre­sented by COPA.

Sub­mit­ted photo

An aerial view of the Har­bour Grace Airstrip.

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