Casual Country 2018
Most people across the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast know Gideon Schuetze as an aviator. In 1966 he started keeping the books for his brother Dan’s fledgling bush plane company Wilderness Airlines in Bella Coola, then in 1969 he became a full partner with Dan and launched his storied bush pilot career.
By that time Gideon had six children with Dora Nelson, his wife and childhood sweetheart.
Gideon Sigmund Schuetze was born in 1930 to Luther and Gusti Schuetze in the remote community of Little Grand Rapids in eastern Manitoba where his father was a United Church missionary. The only way in or out was by float plane or boat, hence Gideon’s early attraction to becoming a pilot.
In 1945 Gideon moved to Bella Coola with his dad who had three churches to look after in the valley. When he turned 16 Gideon got his driver’s licence and took delight in chauffeuring his father on his pastoral duties. That’s where he first caught sight of Dora Nelson who was a member of the choir at Emmanuel United Church.
Gideon was 21 and Dora was 20 when they got married on Sept. 8, 1951.
Gideon thought he might go into the ministry like his father, so he entered Union College while Dora attended the Naramata Leadership Training School in Penticton. They returned to Bella Coola for the birth of their first child Rolf, in July 1952.
Gideon did a variety of jobs from logging to running his father-in-law’s store to driving a school bus. Then in 1958 he settled on becoming a teacher. “I was driving the school bus in Bella Coola and saw the teachers show up at 9 a.m. and head home at 3 p.m. So I asked the principal, how do you get into this racket?”
Gideon took Dora and the kids to Keremeos where his parents were now living, and headed off to teachers training classes at UBC. He received his first teaching assignment at Dog Creek Airport in 1959.
That’s when the flying bug bit Gideon hard. On weekends he took flying lessons in Williams Lake and in the spring of 1960 he got his pilot’s licence.
Dog Creek Airport shut down that year, so Gideon’s teaching career took him to Quatsino on Vancouver Island. In those days nearby Coal Harbour was an active Japanese whaling station and Gideon’s elementary class was given a tour of the whaling boats and processing plants.
During the summer the Schuetzes returned to Bella Coola where Gideon found work gillnetting for salmon.
Meanwhile Gideon’s brother Dan, also got his pilot’s licence, and in 1962 the two brothers hitchhiked to Fort Langley and bought a Taylorcraft airplane on floats and flew it back to Bella Coola.
In 1963 Gideon took a teaching job in Bella Coola, and this gave him the opportunity to gain more experience as a pilot flying the Taylorcraft.
By that time Dan Schuetze had flown enough hours to get his commercial pilot’s licence and in the spring of 1964 went into partnership with Dick Poet of Nimpo Lake and Wilderness Airlines. Dan and Gideon sold the Taylorcraft and Dan flew Dick’s Cessna 180 in Bella Coola and Dick purchased a de Havilland Beaver to fly at Nimpo Lake.
Unfortunately Dick died in October 1964 when his Beaver crashed at Fenton Lake in Tweedsmuir Park. Dan Schuetze and Daryl Smith bought Dick’s share of the airline from his widow, Helen Poet, and continued to operate Wilderness Airline, flying out of their base in the Bella Coola River.
Meanwhile Gideon continued teaching school in Bella Coola and flying any chance he could get to accumulate enough hours to get his commercial flying licence.
By the mid-1960s Gideon was wearing many hats. Besides teaching full time he was one of the organizers for building the new airport at Hagensborg.
He was also flying for Wilderness Airlines. Then in 1967 he took on the job as magistrate for Bella Coola. That’s when things got interesting.
Court was often held in Rivers Inlet where fishers congregated for the big sockeye runs and Gideon would fly down there to officiate. One Sunday he was flying the fisheries officer around and the officer spotted an illegal set where a gillnetter had tied his net to the shore. He got Gideon to land and issued the fisher a ticket.
The next weekend Wilderness Airline got a call from Namu cannery to pick up a guy for court, so Gideon was sent out to transport him to Bella Coola. It was the same guy that the fisheries officer had ticketed for his illegal net set.
The bigger surprise was when Gideon took off his pilot’s cap and donned his magistrate’s cloak to hear the guy’s case. Those were not sophisticated times on the Central Coast.
In the spring of 1969, Gideon retired from his teaching career and started flying full time for Wilderness Airline with his brother Dan. Daryl Smith left the partnership and formed his own successful airline, Pacific Coastal Air.
In January 1970 Gideon moved lock, stock and barrel to Williams Lake, where he and Dan had purchased Chilcotin Airways, originally founded by Rudy Johnson and several partners in 1950. Gideon ran the Cariboo component of Wilderness Airlines until 1975, when he and his brother Dan went separate ways.
Gideon renamed his company Sharp Wings and flew out of Williams Lake Airport until 2009. His flying career spanned 49 years.
This fall Gideon and Dora will celebrate 68 years of marriage. Asked what it takes to have such longevity in a relationship, Gideon says the biggest thing is to show each other how much they are appreciated.
“Dora amazes me by continually letting me know how much she appreciates me being around. That’s what makes the difference. I’ve done the same for her.”