Family Lines

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Tag: Waterville Airport

Time travel

Colville by Andrew Hunter / Goose Lane

Colville by Andrew Hunter / Goose Lane

Time travel boggles my mind. Yet, as a memoir writer I do it almost every day. One thing different about my continuum is physically I stay in the same place. But sometimes something happens and I’m transported, both body and mind, to a different era.

My husband gave me a book about Alex Colville for Christmas. Colville was an artist famous for his stark and muted everyday images that seem to have something hiding in them. He spent a lot of time in the Maritimes, in and around the areas I know well. He lived in Wolfville, Nova Scotia and while I was growing up near the quaint town, I used to see him and his wife, Rhoda, at church, walking down the street or in friends’ parents’ homes as supper guests. It wasn’t until I graduated high school did I understand that Colville was one of Canada’s prolific painters.

I didn’t know him but I feel like I do. My parents have a few of his prints and I have one too. When Canada Post included Colville’s Church and Horse work as part of its “Masterpieces of Canadian Art” stamp series, Colville autographed special envelopes for the Wolfville post office. I bought five of the envelopes for my family and kept one for myself. Now I have a whole book to look at, at any time.

Flipping through his photos and images many of them are scenes from places I’ve lived and even include people I know. Seeing these paintings I enter a different world. A world that existed yesterday and still exists today. There are scenes of Blomidon, a prominent landmark that sticks out like a pot handle into the Minas Basin. When you’re driving down Highway 101 into the Annapolis Valley from Halifax, you see Blomidon. Then you know you are home. Also along the same highway is Freddy Wilson: “The Waver” who stands on an overpass welcoming travellers to Kings County. Colville’s painting of Freddy is included in the book.

West Brooklyn Road, 1989 / Professor of Romance Languages, 1973

West Brooklyn Road, 1989 / Professor of Romance Languages, 1973

On the page next to Freddy is a work that many people might puzzle over. But I know it’s the Acadia University physical plant and a former professor. Once in a class that I forget now, we were told a story about that painting. But it’s an unsettling one that I won’t repeat.

Main Street Wolfville is featured by Colville. As a background to the main image of a woman and a vehicle, is the war memorial and post office and in behind these landmarks, houses where I went to parties filled with vodka and youth. Grand Pre and the dykes are caught in brush strokes too. In another painting, my friend’s sister rides a horse. And another, there’s Waterville Municipal Airport; where I got my pilot’s license. Today, the airport is in the midst of closing but Colville captured it alive and buzzing. Is one of those planes the one I flew?

Colville went to Mount Allison University and I worked there long after he left. Some of his images remain though for all to see as murals on buildings. I’m wondering if his Milk Truck piece is set in Sackville in the late 50s. I think I recognize the curve in the road.

Because of Alex Colville’s art, I have a tether to another world. I didn’t know him but I feel he knew me.

Over and out: Waterville Airport

People in an airplane.

Taking my family for a flight at the Waterville Airport, NS.

A tiny airport in Nova Scotia is closing and for many of you reading this blog it won’t mean a thing. But for me, it’s where I first learned to check the oil, feel the wings for dents and bruises, kick the tires and then…fly.

The Waterville/Kings County Municipal Airport has been operating since the late 1970s. The aerodrome is in a nice little spot with its runway right in the middle of the Annapolis Valley. Sometimes the high hills (or North and South Mountain as Bluenosers call them) capture the fog and keep it prisoner in the early morning. Eventually it escapes and seeks refuge in the Bay of Fundy, sitting just over North Mountain. A few years ago I got stuck in the air in that dawn summer mist but that’s another story. For now, I’ll let other memories soar.

A few years ago, in the beginning of this millennium, I moved back to Nova Scotia from Alberta to become a pilot. I had been working as a journalist at a television station and needed a change. (TV isn’t the glamorous job you think it is.) Since I was young, I had always wanted to fly. When I was seven I saw my uncle’s airplane parked at his Winnipeg house and that was that. I wanted to go up in the air.

Learning to fly was cheaper in Nova Scotia, half the cost of Calgary. I moved back in with my parents and got a job at one of the two flight schools at Waterville. I become a part-time receptionist and hired hand helping out with planes.

I spent hours at the flight centre and often had two lessons a day. My very first flight was on a sunny spring day. My instructor Mark and I squeezed into the cockpit of a two-seater Cessna 150, XBR (or X-Ray Bravo Romeo). There was almost no room to move in the 150 but as we rolled onto the runway, it didn’t seem to matter.

Cessna 150.

The first airplane I flew – Cessna 150 XBR – at the Waterville Airport, NS.

Mark took the Cessna up into the air and as soon as we were levelled off – he handed me the wheel.

“You have control,” he said.

“I have control,” I said and pointed the red striped plane north. I flew us to the training area near the house where I grew up. Once I spotted it, a green roof sticking out of the brown forest, I circled a few times, looking almost right into my bedroom. It was a strange thought that, just an hour ago, I was in that room. Bound to the floor. Now here I was, in the air, hanging over my home.

I flew back to Waterville, picking out the runway with ease. It’s right beside the extra-large Michelin tire plant, which is why the airport is now relocating as the factory is expanding. I didn’t land the plane that first flying lesson, Mark did that. Landing for me would come later and I would only learn after a few “crash landings.”

Flying for me wasn’t about the freedom I hear many other pilots describe. It wasn’t about being higher than the ravens and the hawks and the eagles. It wasn’t about escaping earth. For me it was about fulfilling a life time goal. It was about doing something I aspired to do and never thought I would ever have the chance. Getting my private pilot’s licence meant the future was wide open and I could do anything I wanted.

During the year I was learning to fly, 9/11 happened. The airline industry faltered and it was hard for people to find flying jobs. Since then I’ve been taking a few commercial training flights even though it’s expensive and time-consuming. One day I would like to complete that goal too. One day.

With the closure of the Waterville Airport comes the end of flying lessons, parachute courses, ground school and many other things connected to aviation. But it’s not the end of the memories of taking off runway 28 and shooting straight into the sky, a blue sky when the weather is perfect.

“I have control.”

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