When George Theriault was in the Royal Canadian Air Force, on numerous occasions he was called upon to fly dignitaries like the prime minister to a secluded lake for a few hours or days of fishing, hunting or just plain relaxing.
In his wonderful book 'Trespassing in God's Country - Sixty Years of Flying in Northern Canada', he includes a chapter, 'Relaxing with the Prime Ministers'. In 1954, after retiring from the RCAF, he established the main base for Theriault Air Service at Chapleau. He had joined the air force in 1940 during World War II.
He reveals that before Prime Minister Mackenzie King retired in 1948, "I had several opportunities to socialize with him at his summer home in Kingsmere, a small lake in the Gatineau Park, where he loved to spend the weekends. He enjoyed the simple pleasure of sitting on his verandah and chatting about all the unimportant details of life."
Mr. Theriault gives an insightful look into the life of Mr. King when he was out of the public eye. One day he relates that the prime minister in "his very shy way" if he would do him a favour.
"He had some young children visiting from Ottawa, and he wanted them to see the country from the air in my J-3 Cub which I usually flew to the lake on weekends. He even offered to pay for the gasoline for the trips... Naturally, I agreed to the trips but wouldn't accept payment for the gasoline."
He tried to convince the prime minister "to come up for a spin but he politely declined saying that he only flew when he was on business. He preferred to have his feet on the ground when he was relaxing."
Just imagine sitting on a verandah with the prime minister today "sipping some cool drinks." Well, Mr. Theriault did, and was asked by Prime Minister King what the average air force pilot earned as a yearly salary, then added how much would a similar pilot flying for Trans Canada Airlines (now Air Canada make).
Mr. Theriault replied that he made about $4800 a year, and a TCA pilot about $10000 a year.
One of the other air force officials present asked the prime minister his salary. Mr. King "was silent for a while , and then responded that he made under $10000; this was in the summer of 1948!"
Turning to Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, who succeeded Mr. King later in 1948. Mr. Theriault wrote, "we found a boss who really liked to relax in a boat or canoe."
"If Mr. St. Laurent only had a few hours to relax and fish, I flew him in the Norseman to a private camp North of Ottawa ... we could leave Ottawa after 5:00 pm and return by 10 pm."
"Catching a fish seemed less important t o him than the experience of just sitting in the canoe moving his fishing line in and out of the water. In the privacy of nature, he seemed to allow the pressure of government business to dissolve. The hours spent with him in a canoe were beyond the realm of time. The transforming power of nature worked its magic on us both."
Mr. Theriault has provided an insightful behind-the-scenes look at two of Canada's long serving prime ministers. "Trespassing in God's Country" in its entirety is a great read. Russ Bannock, the former president of de Havilland Aircraft of Canada noted that it is a "magnificent story of his (Mr. Theriault's} life as a Canadian pilot.
My thanks to George Theriault and his son John for making a copy available to me. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org