By Chris Marchand
Ray Fread opens his book with perhaps the most perfect preface in the history of literature devoted to bush aviation.
“There was a time when the best pilot was the one who could fly the most overloaded, in the worst weather, with the most ice accumulated on his plane and fly the furthest beyond landing limits, after having drank the most in the bar the night before. I hear this type of behaviour is now frowned upon…”
Fread’s recently released autobiography ‘From Pickle Lake to Paradise: Life and times of a habitual lawbreaker’ is an undeniable page-turner and an entertaining window into the fast and loose world of bush piloting and Fread’s own picaresque persona.
Chock full of recognizable local detail and personalities, the book launches headlong into Fread’s troubled adolescence — of frequent and dangerous car chases with police and one close scrape that left him writing his final high school exams from the Kenora Jail.
Eventually, Fread’s calling came to him via a CBC television show of trapping and relocating polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba using DC-3s.
In the space of four years Fread became both a licensed aircraft maintenance engineer as well as a commercial pilot.
“I tried to write this book as I lived it, not by talking about puppies and ribbons and flowers,” said Fread. “I wrote it how it happened and with rough language at times. I wanted it to be authentic. I’ve looked up a lot of the air crashes and aviation history from around here and there’s nothing in writing. Even Transport Canada accident reports — many are just plain wrong.”
Fread’s career in aviation was far from limited to flying float planes and water bombers in the Northwest. From Canada’s arctic to the Caribbean and even the unique distinction of being the first floatplane pilot to operate in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Fread credits his wife Jane for great patience and support that allowed him to chase opportunities all over the globe.
He says the essence of being a solid bush aviator is a strong work ethic and enough versatility to get the job done yourself if need be.
“Anybody can push the throttles in an airplane,” he said. “Do you know how to work? Can you pump it? Can you load it? Can you catch it at the dock? Are you used to being away from home for long periods of time? It can be a lonely job.”