|Ed Zalesky, who died on Sept. 3 was one of that second generation of true pioneers who contributed so much to the history of flying in British Columbia. Everyone connected with aviation in those days knew him. Museum of Flight members from its Crescent Road days can never forget him. Newer members should know of the legend who was primarily responsible for our existence. |
Too young for the war, Ed quickly joined the ranks of that important post-war generation of BC aviation enthusiasts. Born in Alberta, raised in Abbotsford, from an early age he was an enthusiast and soon an Air Cadet.
|In 1951 he and his beloved Rose, whom he had married in 1950, got their PPL’s at Art Seller’s Langley flying school (she went solo before he did!). In 1952 they formed Pacific Wings at YVR to sell light planes. It sold the first imported aircraft after the war time ban was lifted, became also a flying school, overhaul shop, Piper dealership and air charter service. But Ed’s enthusiasm outran harsh commercial reality and in harder times in 1963 he sold out, managing to break even. |
Ed and Rose then formed Western Aviation Sales. Its used-part division became a thriving North America-wide supplier of parts and aircraft sales, and its Sports Aviation Supply a significant provider of ‘home built’ parts and equipment. By 1970 Ed was as usual looking for new opportunities and the company was sold to two employees, Gogi Goguillot (later to become a museum Manager at Langley) and Doug Henderson.
Then came thoughts of retirement. But Ed and others had become concerned about the drain of Canadian historic aircraft out of the country. So in 1970 to – at least – reduce this, Ed and Rose, together with Bill Thompson, Ron Stunden and Barry Jackson formed the Canadian Museum of Flight and Transportation, based on the family farm at Crescent Road in Surrey. (The original vintage car interest never took off and efforts were concentrated on aircraft although only many years later was the official title changed).
With Ed and Rose now on the job full time and the driving force, the collection of aircraft, whole, in parts, wrecked, and of artifacts grew. In 1977 the CMFT was officially incorporated. Ed’s enthusiasm and continual chasing of new ideas, realistic as well as sometimes fanciful, was carefully balanced by Rose’ efficient administration and the site was soon covered with exhibits, some complete, others in various stages of disrepair and three barns, small hangars, were full. The ‘office’, in fact the old farmhouse, groaned under the weight of paper and books and other artifacts. Collection, refurbishing, rebuilding by volunteers was fully under way. When old enough, active parts were played by Ed’s daughter April and son Mark (amongst other jobs he did major work on Dr. Jack Pickup’s Waco which now flies with us). All the time Ed was cajoling and encouraging and criticizing, not afraid to upset people from time to time by his frankness and outspokenness and – occasionally crazy – ideas which he often happily left to others to bring to fruition.
In 1985 the blow struck; Surrey Municipality, as part of a major plan for the north shore of the Nicomekl river, expropriated the site. Ed and Rose led the fight, supported by many members, to at least remain as part of a tourist attraction but to no avail. In 1995 Surrey finally evicted the museum which found a new home on Langley Airport.
It broke Ed’s heart and sadly he withdrew completely from Museum affairs. Anyway his restless mind was as ever probably looking for something new. In the meanwhile he was busy sorting out the many artifacts and sectioned aircraft that had been his personal property, not the museum’s. The allocation was amicable although there was later some muttering from members not fully in the picture. Ed then set about starting slowly to dispose of his share, almost going back to his Western Aviation sales days.
Meanwhile Rose had had a fall which affected her memory and Ed was concerned about her. He also had his own health problems. Thirty years earlier he had been diagnosed with a severe form of cancer. With typical determination and refusal to accept what he did not like, assisted by some unorthodox treatment, he had overcome it and returned to normal life. That was just typical of the man who knew what he wanted and drove inexorably past problems to get it, was not concerned with the past, was never short of new ideas – particularly with the automatic assurance that someone else would sort out the details. Unfortunately, just as his museum had finally had to admit defeat and move, so when recently the cancer did after all reappear he had this time also no alternative but to acknowledge defeat.
At a well attended Celebration of his life on September 15th at the Crescent Legion there were many glowing and affectionate personal tributes.
Ed Zalesky was an exceptional man, entrepreneur, unconventional, always full of initiative, never dull, always enthusiastic, always busy, always a friend, much loved and appreciated by so many. As a founder of the Canadian Museum of Flight, a director and leader for its first 25 years, his work must always be recorded as part of our history.