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Northwestern Ontario 'pioneer' inducted into Aviation Hall of Fame

Harvey Friesen helmed Bearskin Airlines for more than 40 years
(Bearskin Airlines LinkedIn photo)

The late Harvey Friesen, the former president-CEO of Bearskin Airlines, was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in Calgary on Sept. 14.

He died in 2014 at the age of 65.  Jason Friesen, Harvey’s son, accepted the award.

The hall recognizes the accomplishments of individuals representing the best of Canadian aviation and aerospace. 

Other inductees include Second World War fighter pilot and aviation executive Ken Lett, leading aviation and aerospace medical expert Dr. Gary Gray and Keith Hopkinson, considered the father of home-built aircraft in Canada.

The company regards Friesen an “aviation pioneer” who was instrumental in starting scheduled air service with wheeled aircraft at the same time when Ontario underwent an airfield construction program in the late 1970s and early 1980s into many remote, northern communities.

Friesen joined Bearskin Lake Air Service in 1970 when he was 22. At the time, the company was a small air charter operator servicing remote Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario. Two years later, Friesen acquired a 50 per cent share of the company. After five years he became president and CEO. 

Bearskin expanded to service more than 20 First Nation remote communities and grow to include Thunder Bay, Kenora, Winnipeg and northern Manitoba. Friesen sold Bearskin to Winnipeg-based Exchange Income Corp. in 2011.

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Friesen was said by the company to be an enthusiastic supporter of aviation and in the development of northern communities, fundraising and other acts of philanthropy through Bearskin’s work with Hope Air and free non-emergency medical flights for those in financial need. 

A company statement said Friesen “unselfishly led the way” as president and CEO of Bearskin Airlines until his retirement in 2014.

With Bearskin celebrating 60 years of service, the company said Friesen “unselfishly led the way” as president and CEO of Bearskin Airlines until his retirement in 2014.

“This is a powerful reminder that by honouring our legacy, we can build a solid foundation upon which future generations can continue to soar to greater heights,” the company said.

“We celebrate Harvey Friesen not only for his outstanding contributions in aviation but also for his philanthropic leadership of Bearskin Airlines.”