Roland Szyska is leading a kilometre-long trek through the dense Northern forest, his rubber boots sinking into the wet moss with each step.
Guided by his global positioning system unit, Szyska, a Tembec Inc. forestry technician, comes to a stop. "John, do you want to come up here?" Szyska asks, signalling for Timmins dentist John Shaw, at the rear of the group.
Szyska wants Shaw, the driving force in rediscovering one of Canada's most famous plane crash sites, to be the first person in 43 years to reach the Bill Barilko wreckage.
Nobody has been here since June 8, 1962. Almost 11 years before then, Aug. 26, 1951, a single-engine Fairchild 24 piloted by Henry Hudson dove into this thick black spruce forest, 75 kilometres north of Cochrane.
Barilko, the Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman who had scored the Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal four months earlier, and Hudson, a dentist, were flying home to Timmins from a fishing trip on the Seal River. Battling strong headwinds, they didn't make it.
From today's Toronto Star article Toronto Star (registration required), it appears that the spot of the plane crash of Canadian hockey hero Bill Barilko has been marked with a small sign.
The purpose of this trek, aside from seeing what is here, is to erect a memorial plaque and take steps to ensure the site is preserved, something Schmidt said Tembec, which is licensed to harvest in the area, will work to accomplish.
Shaw has brought an aluminum sign, which will survive the harsh Northern winters, that reads: "At this location August 26, 1951, hockey player Bill Barilko and dentist Henry Hudson lost their lives. Rest in Peace." Beneath the wording, a yellow Fairchild 24 model G is depicted.
Shaw holds the sign up to the old spruce behind the pontoon, while Szyska nails it into the trunk.
Sounds like it will be a tough location to get to, but certainly would be an interesting travel destination.
For non-Canadians, Bill Barilko was player for the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club. In 1951, he scored the winning goal in overtime to propel the Leafs to the Stanley Cup, the hockey championship trophy. 5 months later, his plane disappeared over Northern Canada, and it was 11 years until his body (and that of the pilot) was found. Interestingly, the Toronto Maple Leafs went on an 11 year drought, only winning the cup again in 1962, when Bill's body was recovered and he was buried.
Bill Barilko was fading into hockey legend when The Tragically Hip, a popular Canadian band, recorded a song called "Fifty Mission Cap." In the song, the narrator tells the story of Bill Barilko, indicating in the chorus that he stole the lines from a hockey card he keeps in his fifty mission cap. A fifty mission cap is the leather cap that bomber crews wore in WWII. After 50 missions, the crew were allowed to sully their otherwise neatly pressed and proper uniforms, and their leather caps were creased and cracked. It was an indication to all that saw them that their were veterans, and an aspiration of rookie bomber crews to get their fifty mission caps.