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North Star falling: Young boxer, politician, respected pilots, national CEOs, local mother died in mid-air collision

This is part 3 in an in-depth series looking at the mid-air collision between a Trans-Canada Airlines North Star passenger plane and a Harvard training plane from the Royal Canadian Air Force training base south of Moose Jaw.

An up-and-coming boxer, a twin sister, a politician, a mother, pilots and presidents/CEOs of national companies were some people who died at 10:02 a.m. on April 8, 1954, during the mid-air collision that claimed 37 total lives.

The Times-Herald published in its April 9 edition the full list of people who were on the Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA) passenger plane when it and a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Harvard trainer collided over northeast Moose Jaw. 

Most victims were Canadian — the lone local victim was Martha Hadwen — while several others were from the United Kingdom.

There could have been more victims, as the TCA North Star can carry 48 passengers; however, it was flying with fewer people on this route. 

The casualties

The crew included pilot Capt. Ian Bell, co-pilot First Officer Douglas Gutherie, steward Louis Penner and stewardess Marjorie Quinney, all living in Vancouver.

Bell, 37, was originally from Calgary and was described by his family as “the most careful man in the world.” He left behind his widow and a 10-year-old son. 

Quinney and her twin sister, Marion, were both TCA stewardesses and had been photographed together two years before. After the incident, Marion gave up her job and moved back home to London, Ont., to live with her parents. 

The passengers included Rodney Adamson, a Progressive Conservative member of Parliament from Ontario, his wife, Cynthia, Rupert Don Baugh from Quebec, Abraham Belzberg from Calgary, Oscar Blanck from Vancouver, W. I. Brook from Vancouver, Egbert Cameron from Winnipeg, TCA employee Alan Craig from Vancouver, TCA employee J. Crossen from Vancouver and Alice Edwards from Scotland. 

Furthermore, there was June Finney from England, Harry George from Toronto, G. H. Gillett from West Vancouver, George Goodall from Scotland, John Goodall from Scotland, Moose Jaw’s Martha Hadwen, Gordon Hutton from British Columbia, Donald Matheson from Montreal, William Harry McLean from New Brunswick, Alex (Sandy) McVey from Victoria, and TCA employee Carol Nelson, 23, and her daughter, Caroline, 4, from Toronto. 

There was also Dorothy Nelson from Calgary, Mary Pirie from Scotland, Thomas (Pat) and Patricia Reid from Toronto, W.T. Reid-Hunter, an area land agent for Shell Oil Company in Calgary, TCA employee Andrew Smart from Winnipeg, George Stanton from Montreal, George and Joan Sweney from Vancouver, David Wilson from Toronto and RCAF training pilot Thomas Andrew Thorrat from Scotland. 

Notable figures

Thomas Reid, 59, was a well-known and respected northern bush pilot — he spent 39 years of his life flying and once flew a 40,000-kilometre trip in northern Canada — who had retired and became aviation sales manager with Imperial Oil. 

He began his flying career in 1915 and won a Distinguished Flying Medal in the First World War, while in the Second World War, he received the McKee Trophy for meritorious service in advancing aviation in Canada. 

The Sweneys had been married since December 1953 and were returning home for the first time since George, president of Vancouver Iron Works, was injured in a Quebec train wreck in February. Investigators found their wedding certificate in the plane wreckage.

Blanck had moved to Vancouver from Winnipeg and started one of the West Coast’s largest restaurants, “Oscar’s,” in the heart of Vancouver’s entertainment district. 

Wilson was president and general manager of a Toronto leather goods company. 

Hutton was the chief engineer and general manager of Heaps-Waterous Engineering in New Westminster, B.C., which in 1954 was one of the largest Canadian engineering firms with 1,000 employees. 

Following the Second World War, he travelled hundreds of hours finding new business worldwide. In the early 1950s, United Airlines gave him a plaque for flying more than 100,000 miles — plenty of travelling in the early days of commercial aviation.

Hutton rushed to catch the TCA plane on April 8 so he could arrive home and surprise his family. After his death, the company went bankrupt. 

Against the wishes of her brother, Carol Nelson took a cancelled seat on the North Star plane. Jack told reporters that he had driven her to the airport the night before, and Carol said she knew she was an “extra” passenger and that the only hope she had of taking the midnight flight was through a seat cancellation. 

Jack said he attempted to convince her to take the 8 a.m. Thursday flight, but she was in a hurry to start a week-long vacation in Calgary with a friend. 

While Carol took her young daughter, she left her five-year-old son with Jack. 

A Moose Jaw mother

Martha (Schulz) Hadwen, a descendent of first-generation Mennonite immigrants from southern Ukraine in Russia, was born in Rush Lake, Sask., on May 25, 1917. She later married Steve Hadwen on Jan. 10, 1942, and they remained in the southwestern community until 1945 when they moved to Moose Jaw so he could work at Swift’s meat-packing plant.

The family fell on hard financial times after Swift’s laid off Steve, and with his lack of education and marketable skills, combined with few local employment opportunities, the strain was immense. The proud couple refused social assistance, so Martha found income through other means, including marketing artificial crepe-paper flowers and becoming a cleaning woman.

On that fateful morning, she was cleaning the home of Gordon and Betty Hume at 1324 Third Avenue Northeast. She was alone in the house when the TCA North Star’s fuselage fell onto the building just after 10 a.m., immediately engulfing the structure in flames and igniting the 250 gallons of fuel oil in the basement.

A Times-Herald article reported that she normally cleaned the Hume’s house on Wednesday but — for whatever reason — went there Thursday. Meanwhile, Mrs. Hume had taken her two children to the dentist 20 minutes earlier while Mr. Hume was at work.   

A boxing hopeful

McLean was headed west in pursuit of a dream when he died on his first plane flight, two days after his 22nd birthday. He was described as a hard-hitting puncher who fought in Maritime rings as Harry McLean. 

The up-and-coming boxer was headed to Calgary for an April 13 bought with the Canadian light-heavyweight champion, Doug Harper. 

“It would have been the most important fight of his short professional life,” the April 9 Times-Herald article said, noting his relatives and friends said he was confident he could “trim” Harper and acquire international fame.

Brother Howard, 17, said his older sibling was happy about participating in the fight and was confident he would win. Furthermore, he figured he would “hit the top someday” and saw the bout with Harper as his “first big chance.”

“The boy and his wife had great hopes and plans,” said Edgar, his father.

McLean’s wife was expecting their first child in May.

Editor’s note: The information for this series came from the Moose Jaw Public Library archives, the Moose Jaw Museum and Art Gallery, and