Bearskin Airlines' roots are deep in the soil of Northern Ontario. John Heglund founded the company on July 17, 1963, naming it after Bearskin Lake, a remote First Nations community located 270 miles northeast of Sioux Lookout.
Henri Boulanger, and Bert Cone took over the company in 1965 and operated it as an air taxi service using float equipped aircraft. Harvey Friesen, originally from Warman, Sask., was a pilot for the company before purchasing a 50% interest in 1972. In 1977, Boulanger's shares were bought out, giving the current President control of the company.
In 1977, the company began its first scheduled route, carrying passengers between Big Trout Lake and Sioux Lookout. In 1978 a base operation was established in Sioux Lookout and a second scheduled route was launched, between Sioux Lookout and Thunder Bay. Shortly thereafter, Harvey Friesen moved to Thunder Bay to establish another base operation.
In the late 70's and early 80's, the provincial government embarked upon an extensive airfield construction program in Ontario's remote First Nations communities. Bearskin took advantage of this opportunity to commence scheduled service with wheeled aircraft throughout the north. For many years, Bearskin Airlines provided a vital link to more than 20 First Nation communities accessible only by air.
Throughout the 80's and early 90's Bearskin continued to expand and enhance it's service to many Northwestern Ontario cities, providing connections to Air Canada in Thunder Bay and Winnipeg. Using newly acquired 19 seat Fairchild Metroliners, expansion continued throughout Northeastern Ontario in the mid 90's, followed by Northern Manitoba in 1999. By the summer of 2003, Bearskin Airlines had expanded to include scheduled service to almost 40 destinations.
In early 2003 Bearskin sold its northern assets to Wasaya Airways who took control of Bearskin's scheduled passenger service to 21 First Nation communities. Wasaya is wholly owned by a number of Northwestern Ontario First Nation communities.
Today, the "Bear" continues to offer more than 100 departures daily to 17 destinations in Ontario and Manitoba. No other airline offers more service between Northern Ontario's key cities. Thunder Bay and Sudbury combined feature more than 25 departures daily and act as Bearskin's major hubs, linking Northern Ontario's 5 largest cities to Winnipeg, Ottawa and a number of smaller communities.
Exchange Income Corporation has completed its acquisition of Bearskin Airlines as first announced on September 15, 2010. EIC is a Canadian corporation who, in addition to Bearskin Airlines, also owns Perimeter Aviation, Keewatin Air and Calm Air.
Canadian Airline Blog
Sun, Apr 3 2011 4:36 PM
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