Still soaring

One of YK’s greatest aviators, the late Arnie Shreder has a charity relay team walking – as well as a burger named – in his honour

As Yvette Shreder drops a worn-out cardboard box on her kitchen table, a bit of dust and the stale smell of old paper fill the air. “It’s gotta be in here,” she says, looking intensely into the box and rummaging through. “Ah, here you go, maybe you can find something in this.” Shreder holds out a small, navy leather book. On the first page, the name of the owner is hand-written: Captain Arnold Roderick “Arnie” Schreder, the late chief pilot of Buffalo Airways. Yvette’s dad.

“He saved most of his logbooks, old photos, certificates, licenses – all sorts of pilot-related stuff,” she says. As Yvette thumbs through the box of documents, she tells her dad’s story.

Arnie was born in Kingston, Ont. on Nov. 21, 1942. His father, Malcolm, was a ground-scout in the First World War and later became a psychiatric nurse after moving the family to Weyburn, Sask. Growing up on the prairies, Arnie was captivated with the crop dusters that buzzed the fields near his home and at 17, got his private pilot’s license.

A few years later, Arnie followed in his father’s footsteps and became a psych nurse with the Prince Albert Penitentiary. When an infestation of worms took hold of the canola fields in the early 1960’s, the province called on pilots from all over Canada and the U.S to crop dust the entire region. Arnie was one of them, and he never went back to his nursing job.

“After that, he made a few hops North,” Yvette says. “First it was flying for McKenna Airline out of Fort McMurray and then Ptarmigan Airways here in Yellowknife in 1974.”

It was in Yellowknife where Arnie would stay. The lure of the North took hold – along with a few business ventures. He worked for Raecom Air and then partnered with YK Air Services in the early 1980’s.

“I remember dad taking me on work trips growing up,” Yvette says, looking through another old logbook. “We’d go fishing or, if we landed at an exploration camp, we would eat as much of the camp food as we could. I grew up around airplanes and hangars, it was all very normal for me.”

In 1984, Arnie got called for a new challenge: to fly refurbished cargo planes from the Second World War at Buffalo Airways.

“Buffalo Joe (McBryan) would call our house early in the mornings to get dad out of bed and fly those old war planes,” Yvette says. It was with Buffalo that Arnie moved onto the larger – and more difficult – C-46, a rugged plane known for its ability to transport cargo to remote locations. At one point in his career, he was one of only three Canadian pilots licensed to operate the C-46.

But to those who knew him, flying came naturally. Reading his list of qualifications and aircraft he was licensed to fly, one might ask, “So what doesn’t Arnie fly?” Twin Otter. Check. 185. Check. Aztec. Navajo. All Cesnas. All Pipers. Turbo Beech. Norseman. Check, check, check, check, check, check. And those are the aircraft outside of the fleet he regularly worked with, which included the DC-3, DC-4, Electra, C-46 and his favourite, the CL-215 waterbomber.

“From a technical standpoint, he was a natural pilot and knew how to safely operate every aircraft he flew,” says current Buffalo chief pilot, Justin Simle. But to Simle and the several hundred more that Arnie trained, calling Arnie a great pilot was a given. To them, the words “mentor,“ “teacher,” “father figure” and “friend” seem more fitting.

“In the twilight of his career, he wasn’t looking for more flying hours to put on his resume, or any other personal gain, and so his focus was to train every young pilot that walked through the Buffalo hangar the best he could,” says operations manager Mikey McBryan. “And he gained a lot of respect from the young pilots for that.”

When the TV show Ice Pilots NWT debuted, Canadians got a first-hand account of Arnie: a respected pilot who, as Mikey says “got things done.” But in subsequent years, the Ice Pilot fan base grew to know him as much more than a pilot. Like Simle says, Arnie’s character shined bright. And then, in one of his last great feats of skill and character, Arnie had his proudest moment in an aircraft. He was asked to recreate the bombing of a dam for the U.K.-produced documentary Dambusters. Arnie, strapped into a War World Two era DC-4, dropped a spinning drum on water that skipped and blasted through a makeshift dam. Oh, and he did all of this while flying 200 miles/hour at an altitude of 45 feet. On his first try.

“It was like watching Ray Bourque hoist the Stanley Cup,” Mikey says. “I watched a legend do one last incredible feat.”

Two months later, in November 2010, the celebration and adulation was ripped from the Buffalo family when the news came: Arnie had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

“That was a tough blow,” Yvette says. “My step-sister was diagnosed with cancer a year earlier, and now this.”

Yvette’s step-sister – Arnie’s step-daughter – Kaitlyn Stewart was already battling and recovering from a more treatable form of cancer. A big part of Kaitlyn’s strength to recover came from her team in the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in Yellowknife. Yvette thought it would help Arnie and the rest of the Shreder-Stewart family to continue what Kaitlyn started the year prior. Family and friends walked at the 2011 Relay for Life, Kaitlyn and Arnie were side-by-side. The following year, Yvette entered a new team called “Arnie’s Angels” but Arnie wouldn’t make it. On May 5, 2012, Captain Arnold Roderick “Arnie” Schreder had died.

“We raised over $5,000 in a few weeks, but it was a hard time for us to focus on the relay. We hope to raise a heck of a lot more this year,” Yvette says.

This year, “Arnie’s Angels” is looking to raise $10,000 or more. Ed But, owner of Coyote’s Steakhouse & Lounge, is helping the cause by donating $5 to the team for every Arnie Burger sold throughout the year – a buffalo burger, of course.

“We’re doing a car wash, wing-eating contest and silent auction to help raise money,” Yvette says. “More than anything, it’s a good chance to celebrate dad’s life.”

You can see Arnie’s roll-up-your-sleeves approach to things in Yvette. The phone rings. It’s one of the team members for “Arnie’s Angels” and they need to meet about one of the events. “We should probably organize this box full of dad’s stuff too,” Yvette quips. “Well, one of these days I’ll get around to it. Right now, I have to get things done.”

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