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The History of the Edmonton Balloon Club

Updated: June 18, 2002

The Edmonton Balloon Club has been incorporated and active since 1973 and is rich with history and individuals who have been members of the club. 


Edmonton Balloon Club Adventures, Travels and Happenings

Year Club Adventures Club Happenings
1973  
  • First Club meeting started by Brian Hval and 18 people which included Charlie and Gwen Littlewood
  • Export A balloon race in Edmonton
1974  
  • Charlies Solo in Chipman and first lost balloon!!
  • Draft of Club Bylaws
1975  
  • Club gets Sandy Mactaggart’s balloon CF-POP donated.
1976  
  • Club buys Albatross from Stan Wereschuk
1977
  • Western Canadians in Red Deer
 
1978    
1979
  • Canadians - Grande Prairie
  • Balloon Post
  • Frank Chiovelli edits and prints the first edition of POPTALK
  • Club flew Edmonton Journal banner
1980
  • Canadians - Grande Prairie
  • Balloon Post Alberta’s 75 Anniversary
  • Club flies Balloon Post flight for Alberta’s 75th Anniversary in Edmonton
  • Club flew Edmonton Journal banner
  • Club members get married: Doug and Lynn Lemkay
1981
  • Rites of Spring
  • Bruce Brown flew POP for a record 2 hours
  • Pat Collins - Edmonton’s first female pilot
  • EBC flies first ReMax balloon in Edmonton & Alberta
  • EBC purchased "Voyageur" after several controversial meetings. It is their 3rd balloon.
  • Lost balloon flight from Spruce Grove (Doug Lemkay and Bruce Brown)
  • There are 18 balloons in Edmonton
1982
  • Canadians - High River
  • Raven
  • Balloon & Antique Car Rally - Calgary
  • Three club balloons, (ReMax, Albatross and Voyageur), are seen regularly in the sky
  • First balloon course through Edmonton Parks and Recreation put on by the club. Was a huge success and many new members resulted.
  • Balloon Events Committee was formed to organize Colorfast Cup for Universiade and other events
  • First special shape flys in Edmonton, the Nu-West house
  • Balloon club expedition to Canadians in High River Amateur night - Wet T-shirt and Wet shorts contest, Ted and John B’s piball making factory, balloon club song
  • Club members get married: John Kerr and Pat Stuparek
1983
  • Medieval Days
  • Colorfast Cup ‘83
  • Canadians - Grande Prairie
  • Barrhead Weekend
  • 10th Anniversary of Club
  • January - Albatross II flew for the first time with Charlie and Alex as pilots
  • Colorfast ‘83 event primarily organized by balloon club members
  • Pop, Albatross II and Voyageur fly in Barrhead (all at the same time)
  • Club members get married: Pat Collins and Ted Shields
1984
  • Canadians - Barrie, Ontario
  • 1st Alberta Champ - Carstairs
  • Thorhild
  • Ron Yandeau’s memorable solo and water landing
  • Canadian Championships in Barrie, Ontario - Club takes both Voyageur and Albatross II and participates in Amateur night with their folk song group. Sky fishing derby!!
  • Sixteen is established as minimium age for voting and earning crew points
  • As the Pope is flying into Edmonton, John Kerr is flies near his approach path
  • Alex "flew with Stan and lived" on the clubs first night flight
  • Club now has a logo, letterhead, advertising, grant money
1985
  • Canadians - Okotoks
  • Jasper Park Lodge Tether
  • Alberta Champ -
  • Okotoks - Snow, Ranchmans, and more snow
  • Club jackets were designed and sold
  • Landowner Relations Committee was established
  • Club begins to discuss donating POP to the Aviation Hall of Fame
1986
  • Canadians - Grande Prairie
  • Mundare Kubasa Run
  • Sangudo flight
  • Balloon ports a hot item in Edmonton/Alberta
  • First long range planning session at River Valley Outdoor Centre
  • POP goes to the Aviation Hall of Fame
  • Club meetings at the 700 Wing
1987
  • Western Cdns - Red Deer
  • Saskatoon Balloon Chase
  • Forestburg
  • Alberta Games - Sher Park
  • Alberta Games held in Sherwood Park with Balloon Club key organizing group
  • Club Operations Manual published
  • Poptalk computerized for first time
  • Club meetings became smoke free
1988
  • Kodak Olympic in Calgary
  • Raven Rally
  • First Chase Vehicle purchase by Club 1981 Suburban
  • First Club Open House at the Rivervalley Outdoor Centre
  • Western Lotteries Airship flys in Edmonton
1989
  • Canadians - Grande Prairie
  • Raven Rally
  • 15th Anniversary fund raiser - the Peter Shostak Print
  • Launch ‘89 in the Aviation Hall of Fame/Convention Centre
  • Marion Kaiser’s exciting solo in the rain
  • High cost of insurance forced the club to only fly one balloon
  • Club members get married: John & Debbie Bortscher, Murray and Penny Scholtz
1990
  • Klondike Balloon Rally
  • Club gets the use of Yellow Pages envelope
  • Club members get married: Doug Lunty and Dianne Tomm
1991
  • World Championships

- St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que

  • Raven Rally
  • West Edmonton Mall flight
  • Worlds in St.Jean attended by a number of club members
  • Club donation of pins, patches and balloon post to Soukup & Thomas Balloon Museum in Mitchell, South Dakota - arranged by Orlean Moran
  • Club gets a portable computer from the AFBS
  • Club flys the Pumpkin Balloon in WEM Waterpark
1992
  • Alberta Champ - Millet
  • Drumheller
  • Club has a booth at the Edmonton Sportsman Show
  • Alex flies a 91 year old Millet passenger
  • Club members get married: Stan Wereschuk and Vivian Souder
1993
  • Vernon, B.C.
  • Drumheller
  • Vernon - Voyageur and Yellow Pages with 10 club people
  • Club is 20 years old
  • Meetings at Pelican Bay Restaurant for " all you can eat" shrimp!!
  • Club members get married: John  Klein and Sheila MacDonald
1994
  • Canadians - Lethbridge
  • Vernon, BC
  • Drumheller
  • Alberta Champ - Bowden
  • Yellow Pages became Mellow Yellow after purchase from EdTel for $1
  • Second Model balloon completed - 14 feet tall
1995
  • Alberta Champ - West Edmonton
  • Bill Arras arrives from US to attempt world records with help from balloon club members
1996
  • Alberta Champ - Forestburg
  • Club now has a web page at: www.ualberta.ca/~anagorsk/ebc.htm
  • Reynolds museum in Wetaskiwin no longer using POP, it is moved to the Aviation Museum in Edmonton
1997
  • Drumheller
 
1998
  • 25th Anniversary Celebration
  • Sandy Mactaggart’s Oil Drop balloon is tethered and donated to club
  • Edmonton Balloon Club is 25 years old
1999
  • Hosted the Alberta Championship in Stony Plain, Alberta

 

2000    
2001
  • Drumheller
  • Canadian Championships, St. Jean. P.Q.
 
2002
  • Vernon B.C.
  • Drumheller
 

Balloon Club Presidents, Poptalk Editors and Number of Members

Year President Poptalk Editor Members
1973 Brian Hval  

15

1974      
1975 Gwen Littlewood    
1976      
1977 Charlie Littlewood    
1978      
1979 Charlie Littlewood Frank Chiovelli  - first POPTALK  
1980 Bruce Brown Paul Marck

56

1981 Alex Nagorski John Bortscher

56

1982 Alex Nagorski Susan Stuparek

79

1983 Murray Scholtz Gail Brown

83

1984 Pat Shields Joan Yandeau

71

1985 John Kerr Joan Yandeau

83

1986 Doug Jacobi Joan Yandeau

65

1987 Mary Lou Marino Marilyn Francis, Maureen Kates , Cassie Strumecki

78

1988 Alex Nagorski Maureen Kates, Sue Cooling, Ed Cooke

78

1989 Cassie Strumecki Ed Cooke, Sue Cooling,
John Phillips, Orlean Moran

69

1990 John Phillips Ed Cooke

54

1991 Marion Kaiser Dennise Duquette

43

1992 Lloyd Barnhart Dwight Wells

43

1993 Dennise Duquette Dwight Wells  & Krysia Jarmicka

45

1994 Marion Kaiser Cassie Strumecki

40

1995 Elaine Lee  

36

1996 Elaine Lee/John Cornelius  

31

1997 Kathy Pongar  

30

1998 Kathy Pongar    
1999 Kathy Pongar    
2000 Kathy Pongar    
2001 Don McLean    
2002 Eleanor Macallister    

10 Years Ago.... It Seems Like Yesterday!

I was surprised the other day when Gail Brown called me to ask for a few remarks on the Edmonton Balloon Clubs 10th Anniversary. It was hard to believe a decade of ballooning in Edmonton had already passed! Perhaps I should share with you some of the events of the early days. The present club members may not recognize some of the names but they all have contributed to the successful club you have today.

In 1973 the Calgary Balloon Club had just ordered its first balloon when I was transferred to Edmonton. I had been looking forward to ballooning and we had held meetings in Calgary for a solid year with no balloon. So upon setting up residence in Edmonton there was only one thing to do start up another club and get a balloon!

I put an ad in the Journal and rounded up a group of about 15 people who met in the basement of a school. Charlie and Gwen Littlewood I believe were at the very first meeting. The club got off to a quick start. First the Alberta Free Balloonist Society allowed the EBC to operate under its legal charter until the club could arrange its own. And second we already had a balloon in Edmonton.

Sandy MacTaggart was instrumental in getting the club off the ground. In 1965 he had purchased a Piccard balloon. In those days you almost had to learn to fly by yourself, so Sandy had some early mishaps and adventures. The manufacturers were not of much additional help because we were all learning just what you could and couldn’t do in a hot-air balloon. Anyway by 1973 it was some time since Sandy had last flown. But the EBC persuaded him to drag out the balloon and see if it could still fly. We went to Sandy’s beautiful residence and tethered the balloon in the backyard. A few weeks later after being satisfied the equipment was fully airworthy, Sandy made a free flight in the country with the support of the eager EBC ground crew. His control was superb and he touched down by a road. There must have been a line of 30 cars chasing the balloon, only a few of which were true chase crew. Some claimed the balloon had crashed, others though it was a UFO!

Due to personal commitments Sandy realized he would not have enough time to train the pilots the club would need to grow and fly. So he did an extraordinary thing. He sold POP to the club. The club did not have much money so he loaned the club the money to buy his balloon! Furthermore he funded the training of two pilots. Dale Lang was brought up from Calgary and started training Del Michaud and Charlie Littlewood. As the EBC’s first President, I was naturally in line for training but you guessed it …. I was transferred back to Calgary after spending over a year and a half getting the EBC going! So I missed Out again..., but not for long.

Some of us look back at the early 70's and now consider them to be the "golden days" of ballooning. The reaction of the public was tremendous. Almost every flight would bring a great number of cars to chase the balloon. People would drop everything and run after us! Farmer and landowner reactions were ones of awe and terrific excitement at being privileged to have a balloon land at their place … even in the crop.

Of course it was not all roses! The equipment we had was generally unacceptable by today's standards. Burner output was marginal and we used "sudden death" deflation systems. Oddly enough the 1965 Piccard was perhaps the most advanced balloon even in 1973. But we had our problems with it too. A lot of time was spent by inventor-genius Doug Rygalo attempting to cure the problems of getting the deflation system to deflate when it was supposed to! An how many pilots flew POP and had their helmets set on fire when they opened up the burner bypass too much? Yes we had some novel experiences! I soloed in POP and had the round top of my helmet melted flat!

In the years since 1973 the EBC has grown into one of the best ballooning organizations in North America. It would not have been possible without the contribution of its members over the years. Ballooning as a club has a lot of rewards …. and a bit of frustration (as when any group of people gets together to accomplish something). The EBC members have done a lot! And there is more to be done. There now is wide public interest in ballooning and a whole new generation of pilots to be trained and educated in safety and courtesy in ballooning. And a club is one of the best places to do it. Congratulations on the progress made in the last 10 years, lets see what the EBC can do by the 20th anniversary!

Brian Hval
EBC President 1973


The First Year of the Edmonton Balloon Club
by Mary Lou Marino

"To see the world from the top ——
With the freedom of the wind"

This motto announced the first meeting of the Edmonton Branch of the Alberta Free—Balloonist Society on August 22, 1973. Brian Hval, who had been instrumental in establishing the AFBS a year earlier in Calgary, transferred to Edmonton and soon rallied Edmonton members into forming their own organization. The August 22nd meeting held in the downtown Public Library, was a promotional one, featuring a film on the World Championship held in New Mexico and Larry Horack (then pilot of the "Export A" balloon) describing his "adventures as a professional hot-air balloonist". A discussion session followed covering such topics as membership, buying a balloon, and the Export A Balloon Race.

Although there is no record of how many people, or who, attended this meeting, there was enough interest that another meeting was scheduled for September 20, the "first official" meeting of the Edmonton Balloon Club, which was chaired by Brian Hval. Eighteen people attended this meeting, including Charlie, Gwen and Jeff Littlewood. They discussed arrangements for the Club to use Sandy MacTaggart’s Piccard AX—5 and also watched films of the Export A Race.

First Balloon Race in Edmonton

The first documented balloon race in Edmonton was the "Great (?) Export A Balloon Race". According to AFBS records, MacDonald Tobacco decided to sponsor two balloon races in Alberta during 1973: for one day, September 1, in Calgary and one day, September 2, in Edmonton. It seems that ten balloons were scheduled to launch from Mayfair Park (these were pre-Hawrelak times), and pleas were made at the first meeting of the fledgling EBC to provide crew for these aerostats. The only fact we know about the "A Race" is that it was won by one Mark Duffus, a pilot from Peterborough, Ontario. Mark not only "volunteered many helpful hints about balloon operations" during the race, but also later corresponded with Club officials about winter operations (e.g., preheating cylinders before flight) and about the possibility of selling his balloon to the Club. Otherwise, recorded details of this event are sketchy, but include references such as:

  • "how a chase truck lost its balloon!"
  • "the ground crew member who was bounced out of his truck!"
  • "organized confusion at Mayfair Park!"
  • "the blonde on 104 Street who did not (...censored...) or his truck! (Egads!)"
  • "how we got indigestion on our invisible breakfast!"
  • "Ed Yost, inventor of the modern hot—air balloon, and what he says about amateur ballooning"
  • "debauchment of Society members at the MacDonald Hotel and other matters best left unsaid!"

 Do these "insights" from Edmonton’s first race evoke similar experiences at more recent events, e.g., the Nationals or Colorfast? Can anyone, such as Charlie or Brian, fill in any details? Should we have a Club contest to "complete this story", especially the one about the blonde on 4th Street?

First Club Balloon

In another article in this edition, Charlie Littlewood has provided background on POP, the Club’s first balloon. Sandy MacTaggart made his offer to the Club in a letter dated September 7, 1973:

"I happen to be the owner of what is essentially a Piccard, Model AX—S. although at the time when it was brought into Canada some years ago, it had to be imported in pieces and put together by me. It is therefore registered as a home—built balloon, and as such is subject to a restriction on passenger carrying for a further nine hours of flight. It is, however, an excellent balloon, capable of carrying three people. Very little has to be done to it other than a complete check—over and reregistration.

If your group is interested I would be prepared to enter into arrangements to permit the club to utilize it after the necessary hours of flying have been put on to enable passengers to be carried.

I would hate to see Calgary establish a commanding lead over Edmonton in this important sport and would be glad to hear from you if you are interested."

The club had access to this balloon thereafter, using it for tethers, crew and pilot training, and free flights. A year and a half later, in May 1975, Sandy "sold" POP to the Club.

Activities of Members During the First Year

Charter members of the Club, those attending the first official meeting included (in addition to the Littlewoods):

Doug Rygalo Don Seller Carl Blumer
Tin Chan Cordon Sears Brian Hval
Tony Nelson Brian Sears Sandy MacTaggart
Bill Fleury James Wood Shirley Walker, Acting Secretary
Trevor Hager Roger Kiemin John Schlosser

In subsequent months they were joined by:

Jerry Wennes Malcolm Baster Jean De La Bruyere
Ross Little Del Michaud Teruo Kabota (from Ft. McMurray)
Lloyd Ash Brian Johnson

Where are these people now?

As would be expected, some members were more "involved" than others. For example:

Malcolm Baster, an air traffic controller at the Industrial Airport (also pre—Municipal days) talked about proposed air regulations for Manned Free Balloon Operations. One concern expressed about the proposed regulations was the requirement that persons flying in a balloon must wear safety belts or safety harnesses. The Club subsequently wrote to the MOT that members felt that seat belts would be more of a hazard than a help in balloon operations. Malcolm was elected to the post of President in March, 1974.

Brian Hval, who as President of the Club for the first year, was kept busy with negotiations with the MOT, e.g., about selection of launch sites and the proposed air regulations. Also, Brian was actively engaged during those early months in rewriting the Bylaws of the Society in order to disassociate it from the AFBS. By March of 1974, the Club had become a free-standing Society, no longer directly affiliated with the Calgary-based group.

Charlie Littlewood spent considerable time preparing the fuel tanks for winter flying. This included painting and insulating the tanks and assembling a manifold system for fuel supply in POP. Charlie was also noted for his design of a storage rack and preheater for the tanks: "The preheat method using light bulbs effectively raises the cylinder temperature about 60 degrees above that of the surrounding air . . . just ideal for winter ballooning." The system Charlie devised was later adopted by the Calgary Club. During the first year Charlie served as Treasurer for the Club and was involved in many discussions about membership fees and fund-raising to buy a balloon.

Doug Rygalo, who volunteered the use of VHF radio equipment for communication between balloon and chase crew, also gave a talk to Club members about "equipment available for effective ground to air communication." Doug was one of the first pilots to take his training on Club equipment.

Trevor Hager served, with Malcolm Baster on the first Balloon Selection Committee. This Committee was formed after Larry Horack offered to sell his Raven 550 A balloon to the Club and to train a pilot as well. Although the Club did not have the funds to purchase this balloon at the time, the Committee was delegated the responsibility of looking into the possibilities and to get information on other balloons that might be suitable for the Club.

We can see that this first year was not unlike more recent years, with concerns about maintenance and equipment, negotiations with MOT, air regs, training, balloon selection, and of course funding.

First Pilot Training

Although the Club had access to POP, which Sandy MacTaggart alleged was capable of carrying three people, experience had shown that POP was not adequate for pilot training. Throughout the 1973-74 winter, various options were explored to bring a pilot and balloon to Edmonton to provide the. required training. These included a fellow from Flint, Michigan, Larry Horack with his Raven, and Mark Duffus (the A Race winner) from Ontario.

The Club finally arranged a one-week summer training camp. Two student pilots, Charlie Littlewood and Del Michaud, underwent training with Dale Lang in his Semco balloon. The camp was held at Ukrainia Park, near Mundare, 46 miles east of the City. The agreement with Dale provided that he would receive $1200 for training the two pilots. The two students agreed further to supply propane, tent, trailer, meals and ground crew.

Brian Hval has speculated that a pilot’s first flight is often the worst he ever experiences, but for some reason that does not deter such pilots from continuing with the sport. As an example of this phenomenon, Brian recalls Charlie’s first training flight in the Semco. Charlie and Del had successfully launched the balloon from the field near Mundare and headed out in a westerly direction, flying over a few stands of trees here and there. Soon, however, they realized that they were heading back in the same direction from which they had come. They also realized that the wind speed had picked up considerably -- gusting to 30 miles per hour. Their landing back at their launch site was, of course, a hard one, with the Semco’s aluminum frame basket tipping over completely. With such a force of impact, not only Charlie but also Dale found themselves rolling out of the basket. As they picked themselves out of the dirt, they looked up to see the Semco ascending several hundred feet and flying off in that fine breeze. The land-bound pilots had to chase it for about a quarter mile before it sank to the ground and could be retrieved. For Charlie, this was an unforgettable flight, but not a deterrent to further adventures. He and Del both managed to complete their training and are still wishing us all "soft landings."

by Mary Lou Marino


Edmonton Balloon Club History
by Charlie Littlewood (1979)

A history of the Edmonton Balloon Club would not be complete without something on ballooning activities before the club was formed. Ballooning in Alberta really started in 1967, Canada's Centennial Year. As part of the centennial celebrations, a flight of several gas balloons was made from the city of Calgary. At the same time, a few enthusiasts in Calgary decided to form a club to promote the ballooning sport in Alberta: they called it the Alberta Free Balloonist Society.

In 1973 Brian Hval, President of the Alberta Free Balloonist Society, formed a northern branch of the society. The first meeting was held in the theater of the city Library in August of that year. The MacDonald cigarette company sponsored a balloon race in Mayfair Part with eleven balloons at about the same time. The interest generated by this balloon race provided an instant membership for the new club.

In 1975 or 1976 the northern branch of the Alberta Free Balloonist Society disbanded and the Edmonton Balloon Club took its place. The main reason for this separation was a reluctance of the Calgary members of the Alberta Free Balloonist Society to participate in possible financial losses of the Edmonton Group.

The first balloon in the Edmonton Balloon Club was an AX-5 Piccard, loaded by Sandy Mactaggart. This balloon is interesting because it was one of the first balloons in Canada. Sandy first flew it in 1968. It was often flown by club members in the Fort Saskatchewan area in 1974. In the spring of 1976 the club obtained a second balloon, an AX-7 Cameron which was bought from Stan Wereschuk. Most of the flying now is done with this Cameron Balloon, which is named Albatross.

A continuing problem in the club has been the shortage of pilots. When the Edmonton members first met in 1973 there was only one pilot, Sandy Mactaggart. In the summer of the next year, a training camp was organized with the intention of training two more pilots - Del Michaud and Charlie Littlewood. We (including Gwen and Doug Rygalo) camped in apart at Mundare, east of Elk Island Park and flew whenever the weather allowed it. We hired Dale Lang, a professional pilot from Calgary, to bring his balloon and train us. As is usual with ballooning, the weather limited the training time and at the end of two weeks only one pilot was trained, Del Michaud. After the camp Charlie continued to train under Del and became a pilot about a year later.

The club has participated in annual competitions which were held for the western provinces and this year became a national competition. The 1977 competition was in Red Deer. The first night flight in Canada in a balloon was made during this competition. ON the evening of July 23rd, the air was calm and the weather was settled. Stan Wereschuk went from a pizza house to bar telling everyone near him that this was the time to make a night balloon flight. Early the next morning about a dozen cars followed him to the Red Deer College campus and aided by many auto headlamps, Stan proceeded to get the Albatross balloon ready on the campus lawn. Some special equipment for this flight was instrument lighting, and a rotating red beacon under the gondola. At 3:05 AM the balloon was ready; ground helpers released their grip on the gondola and the balloon lifted up into the darkness. After this, all that could be seen was the rotating red beacon and the occasional flare from the burner. Stan flew at about 1000 feet altitude with a light north-east wind. After nearly three hours he came down near the Red Lodge Provincial Part - a flight of about 30 miles. By this time it was daylight and a safe landing could be made.

A good part of the current activities of the club is the training of pilots. The club now has three student pilots. To raise funds, the club sells rides and makes promotional flights for shopping centers, sports events, etc.

Charlie Littlewood
November 1979


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