If you have visited this blog before, you may have read the story of Big Louis, the intrepid mail carrier of the Peace Country. Big Louis was not the first, not was he the last, legendary figure in his family. Today, the story of Johnny Bourassa, son of Big Louis.
Flying Officer John Bourassa flew fifty two flights during two tours of duty in World War II. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, with a Bar, for his remarkable service and exceptional skills and leadership. The fate of a pilot in World War II was tragically predictable, yet Bourassa led his squadron through forty three missions without the loss of a single man.
In Peace time, Johnny came back to the Peace Country to work for Yellowknife Airways as a bush pilot. It was a job with its own brand of dangers, not to mention loneliness and cold conditions. Johnny, son of Louis, was well cut out for those kinds of hardship, however, having grown up with bush planes, dogsleds and long trudges in the snow.
On May 18, 1951 Johnny refueled at Bathurst Inlet, then lifted off for Yellowknife. He was not seen again. A search was launched along his flightpath, but no sign of Bourassa or his plane was to be found.
Four months later, on September 14th, a piece of metal glinted in the sun. Johnny’s airplane was found on the rocky shore of Wholdaia Lake, 350 miles southeast of Yellowknife. The aircraft was damaged very little considering its resting spot: obviously Johnny had landed with his usual skill.
He had left a detailed note in which he explained how he had gotten lost, apologized for causing people to search for him, and outlined his plan to walk to the far end of the lake, then head for Fort Reliance. It was 250 miles away, but Johnny had provisions and a cheerful outlook.
Faint footprints were found leading away from the plane, but after four months they were too obscured to follow any distance. A massive ground search of Johnny’s intended route was launched involving the Canadian Rangers. Evidence of a campfire and rations wrappers were found, but otherwise there was no trace of the pilot. Because he would have found a clear portage trail to follow had he made it around the south end of Wholdaia Lake, it is a good guess that Johnny decided to shortcut across the lake, or mistook ice for land in the honeycomb of islands and rocks, and drowned after falling through thin ice.
It was a tragic end for a man who was legendary for his strength and skill, a man who saved lives and who survived the worst odds. Not surprisingly, there were a few reported sightings of Johnny Bourassa in the years after his complete disappearance. Sadly, no trace of him or clues as to what happened to him have been found.
If you would like to see a picture of Johnny Bourassa, read the note he left in his downed plane, and find out more about this story in general, click here.
To see a website devoted to the legendary Bourassas of the Peace Country, click here.
To read about the connection between Johnny Bourassa and another Canadian legend, Farley Mowat, click here.