The story of Svend Serup, Northern BC builder and bush pilot

Taken in 1980, Svend cleans the windscreen of his Cessna 185 Skywagon as he waits out some unfavorable weather at Point Creek on Williston Lake. /SUBMITTED

By Andrea Arnold

Former Crescent Spur resident Svend Serup’s biography, “No Old, Bold Pilots,” co-written with daughter Sheila, tells of his life as a northern British Columbia builder and bush pilot.The title came to him many years before the book. In the introduction he explains how.

“In my early flying days in the 1950s, I heard the famous saying by E. Hamilton Lee: ‘Don’t be a show-off. Never be too proud to turn back. There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots.”

Many years later, when the time came to put a title on his collection of writing, that same phrase still rang true.

“I have decided to call my story No Old, Bold Pilots because I have lived through my flying days. My Cessna 185 on floats enabled me to be successful in my forestry work and to survive many flights through the treacherous Rockies in Northern B.C. Difficult flights I remember better than good flights.”

Serup came to Canada in 1949 after surviving Nazi occupation of his homeland, Denmark, unable to speak English and with only $50. He started his Canadian life in Northern Ontario. A few years later, with two Danish friends, he travelled to Prince George.

In 1952, a help wanted sign at Alliance Lumber Co. Ltd pointed them to Leboe Lumber Co. in Crescent Spur. The trio boarded a train that evening.

Serup started as a faller, and later worked as a logging contractor. In 1954, he earned his private pilot’s license.

“He would rent a Luscombe plane from the Prince George Flying Club and fly Wilfred Leboe to Quesnel and other areas for political speeches,” said Sheila.

Following his marriage to Julia Reid in 1957, they and their first two children moved to Prince George in 1964.

He later learned bush flying in his Cessna 185 Skywagon on floats. He flew around northern BC encountering harsh, unforgiving and unpredictable situations. One of his regular stops was the forestry work site, Peace Reach of Williston Lake. Serup transported staff, equipment parts, and groceries as he worked as the main supplier for Bill Kordyban Sr.’s Carrier Lumber mill.

The book also tells of the risks he took—of flying through treacherous snow squalls, logging in remote woods, and being pursued by a pack of gray wolves.

“Svend took calculated risks that few men dared,” the book summary reads.

The idea to write a book came after a particularly hard day in August 1989. After flying 530km and driving 670km in less than a day he wrote “Sometime I might write a book to be called a Day in the Life of a Logger.”

“He realized that few people understood the tremendous difficulties that lay behind the lumber brought to market,” said Sheila.

Serup was also active in Canadian politics and stood for election for all levels of government.

“Svend was compelled to speak up for the underdog and give voice to those who may not have been heard,” said Sheila. In a 62-year period, he wrote over 140 Letters to the Editor to newspapers in Western Canada and Ottawa.

The number of letters Serup wrote, both personal and professional, demonstrated his passion for democracy. The quality came as a surprise to Sheila.

“Svend did not complete high school as we know it today, but left school in his mid-teens to farm,” she said. “Yet he possessed a keen curiosity and sharp intellect about the world.”

Sheila’s favorite moment in the book writing process was understanding his motivations and actions, in the context of a growing province.

“As his daughter, I witnessed most of his life, shared his adventures and experiences, and became his unofficial co-pilot,” she said. While attending university she was grateful to receive many letters which described the daily ups and downs of his life.

She became more appreciative of her father’s skills as a pilot after reading about his near-fatal flying experiences. In the book, Serup describes two instances when his plane lost power and at the last second he got it fired back up, narrowly escaping destruction.

She admired him when he came to realize it was time to walk away from his plane for good.

“Most of all, I was struck by what a long life of hard physical labour he had. From his childhood days working on a farm, to his labours in northern Ontario and to the wild forests of northern BC, there was not a day in which he did not engage in strenuous physical work,” she said.

Sheila worked closely with her father as his dream of writing a book became reality. After his death in 2018, she finished the final chapters according to his wishes.

The final 306-page book, complete with 10 pages of full colour photos, can be purchased at the Rocky Mountain Goat Bookshop in Valemount, Books and Co. in Prince George, or the Central BC Railway and Forestry Museum in Prince George.

Sheila Serup stands holding the book “No Old, Bold Pilots,” she co-authored with her father, the late Svend Serup, telling of his adventures as a pioneering pilot in Northern British Columbia. /SUBMITTED
Father and daughter writing team, Svend and Shelia Serup. Taken in the late 1990’s. /SUBMITTED