The Dryden Observer

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Joe Amodeo and Drydenaire

Latest posts by Mel Fisher (see all)

Joe Amodeo was one of those larger than life, charismatic figures who seem to dominate any room he happens to be in. A Toronto native, he was a WW2 military pilot, and probably trainer as well; after the war he did some bush flying around northern Manitoba and our beautiful northwest.

He married Dryden girl Brenda Berrey, and determined that a flight training school at Dryden would be in his future.

In the 50’s the Northcott farm (originally pioneered by Beattie brothers) extended on the east side of Van Horne Avenue from the top of the hospital hill all the way to and even into Wabigoon Lake, east of Government dock.

Trevor Northcott was an enthusiastic young pilot, and he perhaps along with others developed a landing strip on the waterfront, running northeast from near the present Government dock. Before that, in the 40’s, local flyers were able to fly wheeled aircraft from a grass strip which ran north and a bit east from about where Husky Oil is now; that was the corner of a dairy farm owned by Jim Hatch, patriarch of the Hatch family, who liked the idea of flying and went out of his way to help.

Getting back to Northcott’s farm, Trevor and Joe arranged for Joe to acquire a favourable property on the lake, and this became Drydenaire, Joes flying school and air base. Claybanks Road was extended to it from Van Horne Ave, and the site is now a bed and breakfast.

There was a real demand for a training base. Reliable personal snowmobiles for recreation access to wilderness were still in the future. A small aircraft on floats or skis opened up the whole country to recreation use, along with small-scale commercial uses such as prospecting or minnow harvesting, and was a very attractive idea.

Quite a number of Dryden folks learned to fly at Drydenaire; it was a busy little school for a while. We flew on floats in summer, and skis in winter.

As soon as the ice was safe in fall, a runway would be marked by a row of little spruce trees stuck in the snow on Wabigoon Lake, east of the paper mill’s ice road to Contact Bay. Most of the wood used by the mill in those days came from limits south of Wabigoon Lake, the wood being harvested in winter and piled on the lake ice at several landings, including Contact Bay.

Big booms were towed down the lake to the mill all summer. Logs which had escaped a boom and floated free on the lake were a hazard to boats for decades, and still are to a small degree as sunken logs get legs and come up.

They were a real hazard to aircraft; on at least one occasion an aircraft struck a floating log on landing, and was pretty much wrecked. There would be some downtime in spring, after the ice became too thin to land on, and in fall waiting for the ice to be thick enough to land on.

More to come.

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