Muskoka cottager Mark Nye was only four or five, paddling around a dock on Head Lake in Haliburton, when he heard the roar of a seaplane and watched one take off for the first time.
“I will never forget it,” Nye said. “I had a plastic toy seaplane that I was playing with at the time. My eyes just fixated on that propeller spinning around and making so much power, making so much noise, and I was intrigued and fascinated by it for my whole life.”
Nye kept the thought of the seaplane in the back of his mind until he took his first flying lesson in the 80s. At the time, he was too busy with work to commit to such an expensive hobby, but in the early 2000s, a friend of Nye’s decided to get his pilot’s license and encouraged him to do the same. They took classes together in Burlington, which plunged Nye back into his fascination with seaplanes. He got his license and started renting planes before joining the St. John’s Flying Club in Orillia, where he got certified to fly float planes. In 2013, he decided to buy his own: a 1980 Cessna 185 Amphibian.
Instead of joining other drivers on busy roads, Nye leaves his home in Mississauga and flies the plane to his cottage most weekends in the summer. It takes about 45 minutes to get from the hangar in Brampton where he keeps his plane to his cottage in Gravenhurst. He has a federally registered water aerodrome in the Muskoka Bay, meaning he can land and take off from the water in front of his cottage.
“After work, my wife drives up ahead of time to miss the traffic and then I drive up and the only traffic I have is on the 410 getting to the airport,” Nye said. “Once I get to the airport, I load myself and sometimes the dogs on the plane and fly straight up over the traffic and land in the Muskoka Bay.”
It can be difficult trying to land the plane amongst boat and seadoo traffic in the summer, Nye said, but he’s careful and takes precautions to make sure his plane isn’t too loud or disruptive to others using the bay. Boaters often come close enough to ask him questions about the plane and he likes to take his neighbours up for a flight when he gets the chance.
Nye said Muskoka is his favourite place to fly, in part thanks to the 1,600 lakes in the region. Along with giving him access to the skies above Muskoka, Nye’s plane also helps him reach the depths of the waters in and around the area by allowing him to fly to places where he and his son scuba dive.
“We fly out to Georgian Bay [and] there are wrecks on Hope Island and Christian Island,” Nye said. “The most amazing thing is to be able to be at the cottage in the morning, have breakfast, get in the plane, fly out to Christian Island, do a dive on a wreck and then be back at the cottage, and have all that done within three or four hours, which would otherwise require an entire day of travel.”
Although Nye does most of his flying in Muskoka during the summer, he comes up to the area in his plane about once a month in the winter to conduct ice surveys or take friends sightseeing. He’s been doing ice surveys in the area for about five years, aiming to help locals plan their outdoor adventures over the ice.
“Instead of just kind of flying around and looking for myself, I record video while I’m doing it and then I post that online and share it with snowmobiler groups so that the snowmobilers can get a good sense of where the currents are or the open spots in the lake,” he said. “That comes with many decades of experience snowmobiling and the realization that no matter how incredibly cold it is, the water under the ice is relatively warm.”
When you fly over top, you can see the blackness of the thin ice, Nye said, so the photos and videos allow snowmobilers to identify thin ice or areas of open water. Nye recommends that snowmobilers have local knowledge of the area and always test ice thickness and quality themselves, but he hopes that his photos can help residents avoid areas that pose serious danger.
Along with helping snowmobilers stay safe in the winter, Nye also used his plane to assist in the search for Kaden Young, a three-year-old boy that was swept into the Grand River in February 2018. It was a unique opportunity to use his aircraft for one of its specialities, he said, which is flying low and slow safely thanks to performance modifications.
“I had two GoPros mounted on the plane, which allowed me to capture high definition video images of the shoreline going up and down,” Nye said. “[I shared] that online and then that was shared by others and it received 9,000 views. Even people as far away as Australia were studying that video frame by frame to see if they could locate any sign of Kaden.”
Nye’s son was on board the plane acting as a spotter, but Nye was still very aware of the dangers of flying at a low altitude, such as the possibility of a goose coming through the windshield. He said the heartbreaking nature of what happened to Young, whose body was located near the village of Bellwood after two months of searching, led him to take the risk, which he felt was an acceptable one given his flying experience.
Along with taking video as part of the search, Nye regularly records his flights and posts them to his YouTube channel, which has hundreds of videos of flights, scuba dives and other adventures. Whether Nye is flying for a purpose or just for entertainment, it means a lot to him to be able to share the experience with others in person and online.
“A sightseeing trip becomes much more than just a sightseeing trip if I’m doing something that I can share with others,” he said. “I know I’m privileged to be able to fly like that and it makes me feel good to share it with others, knowing that it might help somebody and knowing that it might even save a life.”
To see more from Nye’s trips, visit his YouTube page. See photos from Nye’s trips below and watch the video to see a flight from Gravenhurst to Bracebridge.