Shortly before midnight on 8 February 1945, a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Canso bomber, on its way from Tofino to Coal Harbour, suffered engine failure just seconds after takeoff and crashed into a hill overlooking a bog. There must have been plenty of similar crashes during the war but this one is unique in that it has been left in place for 61 years. A few days ago, I hiked there and had a little brush with history (and insects).
It was not an easy hike, which made the experience even more interesting. We had a car but had to abandon it and walk about 1km along the Pacific Rim Highway, before plunging into the forest, where a trail led us to an abandoned building. It could easily have been inhabited by the Blair Witch or one of her buddies.
From there, the going got rougher as we descended into the bog. Some kind person had strung up a rope and a series of flags to indicate the route, but nimble feet and a keen eye were essential if you didn’t want to be up to your armpits in peaty water.
Eventually, we came to an open area with no trees overhead and took a moment to look up at our surroundings. And there was the plane.
Before you judge me for finding entertainment in morbidity, I should mention that all 12 passengers onboard survived, with just a few injuries, thanks to the quick reactions of the co-pilots. This is all the more incredible when you consider that there were four 100kg depth charges also on board, for dropping on enemy submarines. This area of Vancouver Island acted as the front line in defending Canada from Japan during the war.
Once the survivors had been recovered, after a night in a tent made from parachutes, the army came in to get the guns and electronics. They removed the depth charges and detonated them close by. I found this out afterwards and it explained the crater full of murky bog water just before the wreckage.
As for the wreckage itself, it is a skeleton. Anything salvageable has been removed by collectors or vandals, so no wheels or propellers remain.
There is a sense that graffiti may be the only thing keeping this plane together.
But when you consider the effort it takes to get there, it feels like an interactive memorial. I was there on a hot sunny day and still got chills at the thought of spending a night in a damp bog near the bonfire that was my flight out of Tofino.
We soaked up the atmosphere for a few moments, but all the flies in the vicinity wanted to have an orgy in our sweat, so we ran back through the bog to the 21st century.