On the banks of the Rideau Canal in the town of Smiths Falls, Ontario resides a Harvard aircraft that has stood guard as a memorial to those that served on the type for over half a century. Having grown up not far from Smiths Falls, I have always had a soft spot for the yellow plane in the park. It was always a stopping place on the way to go camping with my parents and remains today as a place to explore with my children. I have often wondered about the history of the aircraft and as I got older I found myself looking into the identity of the now 80 year old aircraft that played such a large part in Canada’s war effort.
One of the best advanced training aircraft ever built, the Harvard became a mainstay of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Canada first received Harvard Mk.II aircraft from North American Aviation in the United States in early 1940 and Harvard IIBs were first ordered from the company Noorduyn in Montreal, Quebec in January 1940. Noorduyn eventually built 2800 Harvards for the RAF and RCAF. The aircraft were so effective in the training role, that production was restarted in 1951 at the Canadian Car and Foundry in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where 550 Mk.4s were produced for Canada and its allies.
Noorduyn Aviation Limited and Canadian Car & Foundry Co. Limited produced a total of 3,350 Harvards during and after the Second World War. From 1940 to 1955, the vast majority of British Commonwealth pilots received some training on Harvards. Strong but unforgiving, the aircraft required a delicate touch to keep straight during landing and take-off. It proved an ideal advanced trainer with the last examples serving in the RCAF until 1965. Canada built more Harvards than any other aircraft type.
Owned by the City of Smiths Falls, Ontario the subject of this article was acquired by the 443 Rideau Wing, Royal Canadian Air Force Association for display in 1964. Found in the province of Quebec and transported by road to Smiths Falls via Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, south-west of Montreal, the aircraft reportedly took part in the Salaberry-de-Valleyfield Christmas parade in a quick thinking decision by the truck driver to avoid having to wait for the parade route to re-open!
Placed on display in Victoria Park during 1967 as a Centennial project, it was mounted on a pedestal over a concrete panel holding a plaque honoring “Those Who Served”. Initially the aircraft was displayed with post-war RCAF markings with the number “443” painted on the fuselage to represent the local association branch. Interestingly the restored aircraft incorporated North American T6G canopy sliding sections, no doubt used to replace damaged or missing originals. In later years horizontal tri-colour stripes, used on aircraft assigned to the RCAF Staff College, were added to the vertical stabilizer and rudder in recognition of association member LT. Gen. Don McNaughton. These markings were referenced from an official image of Harvard Mk.4 20414, an aircraft flown by McNaughton while an Instructor in the RCAF.
By the early 2000’s the Harvard was starting to show its age and the decision was made by the City of Smiths Falls to refinish the airframe. It was removed from display in 2007 for cosmetic refurbishment by David Carlaw of Campbellford, Ontario and returned to the park later that same year. The aircraft was re-finished in generic wartime RCAF markings, but retained the “443” on the rear fuselage sides. An investigation of the airframe by Mr. Carlaw at the time of its refurbishment revealed that the aircraft was a Noorduyn manufactured Mk.IIb with many Canadian manufactured components still present, including 1941 dated main wheels that were made in Windsor, Ontario.
The structural investigation of the airframe revealed numerous areas of stress and damage likely caused by hard landings or other incidents while in use but there was no evidence of civilian markings or paint schemes visible when the existing surface coatings were removed. The aircraft appeared to have been heavily stripped of usable parts at some point prior to being put on display with the interior being completely stripped of all components including data-plates, making a positive identification impossible. Inquiries into the aircraft’s history made by Mr. Carlaw at the time were met with numerous dead ends as no records relating to the acquisition of the aircraft existed at the RCAF Association or the City of Smiths Falls.
The aircraft is often erroneously identified as a Mk.4 20443 as a result of the “443” fuselage markings and T6G canopy sliding sections. The aircraft retains the openings in the wings for a .303 Browning machine-gun and a gun camera, both features not used on the Mk.4, identifying it as being in Mk.II/IIb configuration.
I had hopes that I would be more successful in my research but as a result of the now considerable amount of time that has passed since it was placed on display most of those that were involved in the project are no longer with us or have no records left to study. Hopefully one day the aircraft will be uniquely identified but the continued mystery of its wartime service in no way diminishes its value to Canada and to those that continue to benefit from its existence to this day.
Refurbished Harvard gets official honours Rosanne Lake, Renfrew Mercury. Tuesday, April 15, 2008.
Local Connection to the Yellow Peril of Victoria Park Tony Palermo, Smith Falls This Week. June 24, 2010. Pg.5
Harvard! The North American Trainers in Canada David C. Fletcher and Doug MacPhail, DCF Flying Books, Dundas, Ontario. 1990
Canadian Military Aircraft Serial Numbers: www.rwrwalker.ca.
A special thanks goes to David Carlaw for his assistance with information relating to his work on the aircraft.