by Dave Yanko
LA RONGE -- Doug Chisholm was looking for ways
to justify hanging on to his small aircraft when a pal from
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
Chisholm understood some of the lakes and islands in northern Saskatchewan
were named after people killed during the war, but he said the number
"I thought: 'Wow, I wonder how many people would be interested
Woodland Aerial Photography took wing.
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.
|- 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.
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
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.
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.
|One of Chisholm's
tributes, without the frame.
"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
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.
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.
|- courtesy Doug Chisholm
|Phaneuf Lake, a
'geo-memorial' to one of Saskatchewan's war dead.
"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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