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  High Tributes

by Dave Yanko

LA RONGE -- Doug Chisholm was looking for ways to justify hanging on to his small aircraft when a pal from
Doug Chisholm
Doug Chisholm
Regina called and asked whether Doug would mind photographing an island on Lac La Ronge.

"He told me a friend of his was not well, and that she always wanted to visit this island named after a brother who died in the second world war," says Chisholm, recalling the August, 1997 conversation. "So I told him 'sure'."

Chisholm, an aircraft mechanic with the provincial water-bomber fleet at La Ronge, searched out Souter Island on a map and hopped aboard his Cessna 180 float plane that's parked on the lake right across the road from his house.

"I went out, circled around and took some pictures," said Chisholm, who was then 45. "But this begged the question: 'Who was this (Souter) fellow and where was he from?'"

His curiosity piqued, Chisholm phoned the provincial mapping office in Regina looking for more information on Souter. No luck. What he did find, however, was a list of all 3,800 armed services personnel from Saskatchewan who died during World War II and the geographical site in northern Saskatchewan named after each one of them.

Chisholm understood some of the lakes and islands in northern Saskatchewan were named after people killed during the war, but he said the number 'flabbergasted' him.

"I thought: 'Wow, I wonder how many people would be interested in this?'"

Woodland Aerial Photography took wing.

During a one-week period in September, Chisholm shot 625 sites in 36 hours of flying time. His fuel costs were $2,000.
- courtesy Doug Chisholm
During a one-week period in September, Chisholm shot 625 sites in 36 hours of flying time. His fuel costs were $2,000.
By the end of September 1999, Chisholm had photographed 'on spec' 2,000 of these lakes, islands, bays, rapids, creeks and peninsulas. He intends to have the remainder shot within the next two years so long, he says with a smile, as his wife Kathy and their two kids continue to support him in the time-consuming project.

For a fee, Chisholm uses the image of a particular geographical feature to create a tribute to the service person after whom it's named. Each tribute includes a head-and-shoulders shot of the individual dressed in uniform, as well as biographical information such as age, home town, regiment and date of death. Chisholm uses a card-catalogue system to organize the research he gathers on each person.

He says some surviving relatives of people killed during the war are vaguely aware these memorial sites exist the naming of geographical features after those killed in the war was a provincial government project carried out from the 1950s to the 1970s. However, few know there's a site dedicated to the memory of their particular loved one and fewer still know what, or where, it is. Chisholm says it usually comes as a pleasant surprise when they're informed a pristine lake in northern Saskatchewan bears their family name.

So far, he has created tributes to 110 war casualties often more than one per family and he's in the process of discussing or researching many more.

Today, he's covering the cost of operating his aircraft. But he's found the rewards from the project are more than monetary.

"I'm continually amazed at the way families open up to me and tell me information. Each family deals with these matters in their own way. Some of these stories are really moving."

While attending an air show in Saskatoon not long ago, for instance, he met a man from Thunder Bay who lost his father during the war. The father was an airman from Regina, and Chisholm had taken a photograph of the lake named after him. The two men corresponded as Chisholm prepared a tribute.

One of Chisholm's tributes, without the frame.
One of Chisholm's tributes, without the frame.
The man's mother, he learned, was a British war bride who decided on her husband's death that she and her son would move to Regina as soon as the war was over.

"She took a boat to Canada and a train to Regina, where she was met at the station by her late husband's brothers and parents," Chisholm said. "They took her in and they helped her raise the young baby. He went on to become well educated, and now he's a judge in Thunder Bay."

There's more, says Chisholm. The judge's mother died in 1995. Before her passing, she requested her ashes be taken to her husband's grave at the small-town churchyard in France where he and his fellow crew members were buried decades earlier. Her son the judge travelled abroad to fulfill her wishes.

"They had a service in the church, the mayor was there," says Chisholm. "And so were the old men who were just boys when they saw the plane come down and crash. They went to the scene, and they were there when the burial happened. . . It was all very moving for him."

That's just one of the stories, says Chisholm. As many as 150 more of them will form a book the Canadian Plains Research Centre in Regina has asked him to *compile.

Phaneuf Lake, a 'geo-memorial' to one of Saskatchewan's war dead.
- courtesy Doug Chisholm
Phaneuf Lake, a 'geo-memorial' to one of Saskatchewan's war dead.
Each tale will begin with information and photos similar to Chisholm's tributes. In the two to three pages that follow, readers will get to know the person who was killed and the effect his death had on his family.

"How did the family feel, for instance, when the two boys didn't come home and the father still had to farm? Or when two of three boys were killed and the (surviving) one comes home?"

Chisholm said he used to think he knew a great deal about WWII because his father and uncles were in it.

"But I really didn't. I'm learning a lot."

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