*Based on a conversation with Heather Moores
Researching and writing about the aviation history of Harbour Grace is eye-opening because of the heroic and daring endeavours undertaken by transatlantic aviators. It is almost unimaginable that so many were eager to climb into aircrafts characterized at the time by unreliable engines and flimsy fuselage to fly over the treacherous Atlantic Ocean. Whether they succeeded or failed, the stories of those aviators are well-documented as part of the history of Harbour Grace. What is not often talked about are the stories of those who took it upon themselves to maintain the airport and continue its soaring legacy. One of these unsung heroes was Claude Stevenson.
Claude, a native of Harbour Grace, grew up in a similar way as many Newfoundlanders, bobbing on the lopping waters of Conception Bay in search of the day’s catch. As a young man he travelled to Toronto to complete a motor disassembly and rewinding course, quite the distance in the mid-twentieth century. While taking the course, he secretly left Ontario every weekend, travelled to Nova Scotia, and took pilot lessons on a rural farm. Keeping the lessons hidden from his family and friends was surprisingly not overly difficult, as unlike today, where everyone is constantly connected and accessible, Stevenson was unreachable while in Nova Scotia. He eventually bought his own second-hand plane, training with it in Nova Scotia, and after each lesson, a local farmer hid it in his barn until the following weekend. This continued for an astonishing two years. Stevenson returned to Harbour Grace after completing his course, to the shock of his family and friends, he descended from the sky in his second-hand plane and landed at the Harbour Grace Airport. They had no idea he knew how to fly a plane.
Shortly after Claude returned to Harbour Grace, he had made his mark on the history of the Harbour Grace Airport. In the 1960s and 70s Claude crushed stone, trimmed bushes, and mowed the grass of the airport, keeping it perfectly shaped for his favourite hobby and for the benefit of the community. One funny incident from his time maintaining the airport happened at the start of the winter, when Claude would normally remove the windsock flying above the airport and repair it by hand in anticipation of the spring. The Town sought to remove the windsock and sent its own officials to climb the pole for it. Using ladders and safety equipment from the Harbour Grace Volunteer Fire Department, they reached, stretched, strained, and climbed. They could not reach the windsock. After hours, Claude showed up at the airport, laughing at the struggling workers. He approached the pole, unlocked a small latch at the bottom, and began turning a small handle, which lowered the windsock in seconds.
In the late 1970s and 80s, Claude frequently took his nieces and nephews flying above Conception Bay, Trinity Bay, and the historic regions of Harbour Grace. Guy Moores was a primary school student in the late 1970s when Claude took him flying. Guy had done a project in September of the fourth grade, the teacher had each student write about their favourite summer activities. When Guy wrote that he had soared over Conception Bay on summer days in his uncle’s small monoplane, the teacher could not believe it. When asking Heather however, she was told it was all true, to her amazement. Claude would take them flying from 5am to 7am and have the young kids at school for 8am.
Claude Stevenson never sought recognition for his decades of maintenance and contributions to the Harbour Grace Airport, not even after building a wooden plane hanger that still stands at the airport today. Many pilots since have made use of Claude’s hanger. He continued to maintain and fly from the Harbour Grace Airport every year until his passing in 2013, at 87 years old. In 2014 he was posthumously awarded the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association President’s Award due to being an “enthusiastic caretaker” of the Harbour Grace Airport. His legacy remains pertinent, as without him, the Harbour Grace Airport would not be as accessible and usable as it is today, perhaps not usable at all.
Authored By: Francis Finlayson
Conversation with Heather Moores