Memoir takes flight from the Arctic to Africa

Oak Bay pilot writes his memoir in retirement, launches Saturday at BC Aviation Museum

Oak Bay resident Capt. Robert Gartshore regales a life spent in the air as he launches A Life of Flight at the BC Aviation Museum

Snowbound in Oregon, a husband and wife pass a laptop back and forth, each tapping out a few paragraphs.

It was several years ago, says Bob Gartshore, recalling how he and late wife, Joy, started writing their life stories.

Each created a book they bound and gave to their five children.

After some cajoling, discovering Agio Publishing, and a little fine-tuning, A Life of Flight takes off this weekend at the BC Aviation Museum on the Saanich Peninsula.

A Life of Flight: One Pilot’s Story from Piper Cubs to 747s and Beyond follows the Oak Bay retired pilot’s storied 44-year flying career during a period of rapid aviation development – that ranged from Piper Cubs to “the queen of the skies,” the 747.

With a private pilot’s license in hand after high school graduation, Gartshore applied to CalTech (Calgary Technical College) to pursue aeronautical engineering. When the Korean War broke out, he shifted focus to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

“I thought I’d much rather be flying than be drafted into the infantry, so I joined the air force,” he said.

Captain Gartshore logged more than 21,000 hours flying to six continents for the RCAF and three airlines.

“It was right after the war and pilots were a dime a dozen,” he said of his post-military career. He became Wardair’s first international pilot, and an instructor on numerous aircraft, Link Trainers and simulators. Gartshore’s local claim to fame was as the first pilot to land a 747 at Victoria International Airport.

In A Life of Flight he shares the tales of landing at a cloud-shrouded, Greenland airstrip with both primary aids inoperable; exercising penguins on the tarmac; flying alongside his son as co-pilot; grazing the tail on a hillside during a cloudy landing; and flying beside a UFO.

“I love the Arctic. Flying over it was most interesting,” he said, recalling days ferrying supplies around what is now Nunavut and the adjacent territories. “Sometimes when the weather closes in you get challenged.”

Harrowing tales from the north balance challenges faced in Africa, where he flew on a volunteer aid projects. Those volunteer hours opened his eyes to poverty, people living under cement slabs with little food and polluted water. For nearly two months he flew from a little pock-marked airstrip to similarly bomb-marked airstrip, dodging holes in the gravel runways to deliver UN supplies.

Gartshore earned his pilot’s licence in 1949 and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force the following year when the Korean Conflict broke out. Six years later he switched to civilian aviation, first as a flying school instructor, then as a pilot for Canadian Pacific, Wardair and Canadian Airlines. Following his retirement, Bob and Joy continued living in Victoria – close to their five children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren – moving five years ago from Gordon Head to Oak Bay.

The book, about $20, is available in person or online. Visit agiopublishing.com to learn how to get the book online.

A Life of Flight takes off Saturday, Sept. 24 with a book launch from 2 to 4 p.m. at the BC Aviation Museum, 1910 Norseman Rd., Sidney.