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Who’s Who: Rusty Blakey

Sudbury Living Magazine April 14, 2013 Sudbury's Stories No Comments on Who’s Who: Rusty Blakey

The Rusty Blakey Commemorative Sculpture at Science North was erected in August 1988 in memory of Thurston Rusty Blakey, a Northern Ontario bush pilot for nearly 50 years. Blakey (1911-1986) was one of the north’s pioneers in aviation.

He transported  supplies and mail to the communities along the coast of James Bay, delivered men and equipment to mines, and ensured the safety of passengers from remote areas seeking medical care in urban centres.

Blakey flew for Austin Airways, Canada’s oldest airline. It was founded by Chuck and Jack Austin in 1934 and played a leading role in the development of Northern Ontario.

He flew countless flights for cartographers and aerial photographers: he was the first pilot in the world to drop dry ice crystals which revolutionized forest fire fighting methods.Legend has it Blakey hung around the docks of Austin Airways on Ramsey Lake until they gave him a job. In 1938 Blakey received his commer

cial pilot’s licence after having soloed for only five hours.

Much of the time, the only maps available to Blakey were ones given to him by native people. He quickly learned to memorize his routes with the help of identifying landmarks.

According to the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame website, Blakey flew Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson in his plane while he was campaigning in the north.

After his death, research of his flights logs showed that Blakey had flown in excess of 67,000 hours. 

He received many awards including the Ontario Bicentennial Citizenship Award and Honorary Life Member of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association. He was a member of the Order of Canada and was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.

Sudbury businessmen Risto Laamanen and Bill Plaunt started the Rusty Blakey Heritage Aviation Group in 1987 as a tribute to their friend.

The commemorative sculpture, overlooking Ramsey Lake at Science North, was created by Lynda and Ron Baird.

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