The fascinating, feisty and forthright woman who just landed the Beaver with the delicacy of a feather in a Northern Canadian blizzard was bound to be excellent friend material, I decided. It was November of 1985. Theresa Bond’s strong handshake and cheerful greeting sealed our fate.
After being snowed in at Cassiar for a few days, the forecast foretold a break in the weather. Theresa would finally be able to make it home to Atlin which was also just below the Yukon border, but many miles west of Cassiar. She asked me to drive her back to the air strip outside of the Cassiar mining community.
As we drove through the waning blizzard, she asked if I liked the North. I told her, “I love being around Northern people. You people are so self-sufficient, yet so neighbourly and kind.”
We arrived at the supposed runway. It was no more than a blurry, white field with a suggestion of a lump at one end. She pointed in the direction of that mound, “There! Drive to the plane.”
The minute I pulled my 4 x 4 beside the plane, she jumped out and began her inspection. I left the Bronco running, not chancing a stall. Picking up on our previous conversation, she yelled out to me, “Can you imagine what this world would be like if each of us kept our own back yard clean? Just our own back yard! Imagine if everyone did that!”
Theresa Bond’s enthusiasm fed everything from piloting to being a friend, from pontificating to being quietly patient. Theresa put her whole self into anything she was spotlighting. Her goodness and fine qualities were not the product of any particular belief system. She simply lived with integrity.
“Do you have any heroes?” I asked her on another of her visits.
Theresa lit up, “Mother Teresa! Not out of any religious conviction. It has nothing to do with spiritual beliefs. I keep those between me and the gods.”
“What are ‘the gods’?” I asked.
“Who knows? Do you know who God is?” I knew she wasn’t looking for an answer.
She went on, “Look at how much that one little nun accomplishes. She’s always three years behind in her paperwork! I hate administration. I want to be just like her.”
I said, “Did you hear about Mother Theresa accepting a free hospital in California?”
“Yes,” she said, “And they had to wait three years to hear whether or not she wanted it. And when she DID respond, she told them to rip out everything she considered to be a luxury – like too much plumbing!” she laughed. “Mother Theresa told them to keep their hospital if they were going to fuss about the expense to strip it down. I’d love to get away with being exactly like her.”
While I listened, I considered the two women working together and realized they would be similar in stature.
Theresa had come to Canada from England and, after a divorce, met and married Dick Bond who had established himself as a legendary bush pilot in the North. Dick and Theresa settled in Atlin, British Columbia, a community of extensive wilderness and exceptional beauty. The area has been dubbed the “Switzerland of Canada”.
Unfortunately, Dick’s flying career had ended when emphysema literally took his breath away. Though Theresa owned and operated a grocery store in Atlin, she had a competent staff who freed her sufficiently to give her time to secure a pilot’s license. In the early eighties, she slid into the cockpit of her Beaver and began carrying people and cargo into various parts of B.C. and Yukon.
I arrived in Cassiar in October of 1985, with a three month contract to correct a financial crisis that the School District was experiencing. After getting the District back on its feet, I was persuaded to accept a three year contract. Part of my role as Secretary Treasurer of the Stikine School District was to engage the pilot most qualified to fly District officials to Board Meetings. School Board Trustees met once every three months in various locations throughout the large district.
In the summer, Theresa piloted her reliable Beaver, a bush plane that supported Hilary’s expedition to the South Pole, with pontoons, wheels or skis. We landed on crude airstrips or lakes. She managed landings on land, water, ice or in snow. If there was no landing strip near the meeting location, Theresa would radio someone and tell them which lake would be our airport.
Theresa’s diligent professionalism was fully recognized and appreciated by the Trustees. They chose her as one of two School District pilots who diligently adhered to all air traffic regulations and stood up to any person naive enough to question a pilot’s decision. Bush Pilots always had the last word. Our lives depended upon it.
And so did hers.