James Morrice has a piece of Canadian history: a 1942 Tiger Moth single-engine airplane. It was used to train pilots in Saskatchewan during World War II.

A seasoned pipeline patrol pilot of 43 years who does aerial surveillance for the oil industry, Morrice purchased the plane nearly two years ago, and had it delivered in early June.

"I've got about ten thousand, five hundred hours flying time, with probably twenty types [of planes] under my belt, as far as flying is concerned, but this airplane here particularly, it's certainly a much different airplane to fly than what I'm used to," he shared. "It's just a different era, and a different time, and a lot more challenging airplane for me to fly as the modern versions are."

He said being able to own a unique piece of history is exciting for him, and his plane in particular is the Canadian version of the Tiger Moth, the C model, which was utilized in training Canadian cadet pilots in the 1940s. It was built in Toronto, then distributed around Canada for the elementary training plan program for the cadets to start their their training for the Second World War.

"Interestingly, Weyburn was a training facility at the time, but it was more stage two, when the pilots graduated from the cadets and the fleet finches at the time, they moved on to more of the advanced higher performance airplanes. So here in Weyburn, they trained on the Canadian Harvards and the Avro Ansons, which was a twin-engine airplane. So these pilots moved on to either fly the Spitfires, the Hurricanes, Lancaster bombers and stuff, once they got over to Germany."

The Tiger Moth is made from Sitka spruce wood, which comes from British Columbia. There are only one or two people in the world who can machine cut the wood, which gets 25 coats of fabric and paint. The antique planes must still comply with modern Transport Canada regulations, which can only be done by a select few individuals worldwide. 

Morrice said this airplane is not like modern planes, as it is quite wind-vulnerable. 

"When you get this airplane at certain winds, especially crosswinds, it's very vulnerable to ground looping and accidents. That's how a lot of the accidents, I think, probably happened in the day when these young cadet pilots didn't have a lot of time behind them and they would get into conditions, and once you lose the control of an airplane like this, it's gone, like there's only so much you can do to recover from certain things."

This is why Morrice said he was so impressed by how the Tiger Moth got to Weyburn from Lacombe, Alberta, by his friend Dan Garyfalakis, an antique airplane builder from Ontario. 

"Dan has numerous hours in these airplanes, so I had full confidence in him. The day we brought it home, Dan just did a stellar job flying this airplane. I'm just so impressed by the way Dan handled the airplane."

He said most planes wouldn't be pulled out of the hangar on a day like that, with wind gusts of 50 kilometres an hour. However, Dan has about 1,000 hours flying the Tiger Moth planes. In fact, he specializes in rebuilding these planes, which he said have all likely been crashed at least twice in their time.

Garyfalakis shared, "This guy, the resident of this town, born and raised here, was kind enough to buy this airplane in good faith three years ago, a piece of Weyburn, Saskatchewan, history. All the people that built that plane, worked on that plane, and the majority of them were women, are all dead. Everybody that trained here and built that building out there, they're gone. But he, in good faith, being a great Canadian, and citizen of your town, bought this airplane, and he's had a long, long journey, and he's invested a lot of time and a lot of money to be able to bring this airplane here and have a flying history monument of our past and what our parents and grandparents did to have freedom in this country."

Morrice noted, "That's the thing that's so intriguing about it. It's not a real useful airplane. But for me, it's so steeped in history and significance, for what it it means for inevitable freedom, that these young pilots sacrificed. Thousands of them didn't come home, and they all started on this airplane."

"I work on those plans every day," said Garyfalakis. "I talk to people that have those planes, but very rarely you kind of come in touch with what it really was, and a Tiger Moth I have in Toronto was from Britain, and the pieces of wood, everything is real. I tell people as they get in, 'that piece of wood that you got your hand on right now, kids at 17, 18, went from this plane, and trained and went in a fighter and went out there and got shot down over Germany, and you're touching the same piece of wood'."

"If anybody is so lucky, to be privileged enough to have a ride in this airplane, they need to realize, there's a lot of time, a lot of expense, and that's a chance of a lifetime." 

This plane, sold by a family and the Wetaskiwin, Alberta, where it was for several years, was used at #34 Elementary Flying Training School in Assiniboia, and at the #19 EFTS at Virden, Manitoba, and it had 1,609.25 airframe hours when struck off of service, and then was sold post-war to two separate private owners prior to Morrice, who said he'll enjoy it the way someone would enjoy a classic car. 

"I'm planning on taking it out on nice summer evenings and nice mornings, because I don't really want to risk the airplane. I'm a high time pilot, but not a high- time in this type. It's a war bird. They are a different flying airplane. They take a bit of time to get a feel for them and I want to be careful. I mean, it's a part of history, so I don't want to risk the airplane or myself or anything."

As Morrice explained, even though he purchased it in August of 2022, the plane wasn't ready to be brought to Weyburn due to work needing to be done on it, which is why it's a good thing he knows Dan.

"This engine is one of those things, especially when they sit around, corrosion can take effect. A lot of people don't know a lot about these engines and Dan is the expert on these engines, and it was a blessing to get Dan into my life. But it was also a real emotional rollercoaster because it went from like, 'what have I done and what is this going to cost me?' But here we are. It's beautiful now. What an elation. It's been such a long road and every time we kind of kept running into things, [needing parts], and to see that finally, when I rolled into the airport here and Dan was leaning on the wing comfortably, and that airplane was sitting here in Weyburn, like I just can't say how just so fulfilling it was. Unbelievable. Surreal."

He said the work will never end, as it is a 'maintenance airplane'. "You've got to really keep up on the maintenance. For instance, every 25 hours you have to take the valve covers off, drain the oil out of that, and you have to have to check the valve clearances. There's just a lot more maintenance involved in an old airplane like this."

Dan or another expert, he noted, will have to do yearly maintenance on the plane as well, to keep it flying safely. Flying the Tiger Moth well, however, will become an artful hobby over time. With around 15 hours total time in a Tiger Moth at the museum in Saskatoon, Morrice said he's got a ways to go.

"So I'm hoping to be like my friend Dan someday. He flies this airplane like there's no tomorrow. And again, obviously, with his skill showed when he brought the airplane home, and I can't get my head around that because I'm not even going to open up the hangar door when it was as windy as the day that he brought the airplane, much of that is a testament to his skills."

"I don't think the average person realizes what actually happened here, and how important this tiny town was to go and fight Germany," Garyfalakis emphasized.

"From 1942 to 1945, all the people in Weyburn heard were this type of aircraft flying over day in, day out," said Morrice. "They trained 1,700 pilots for the war effort. The Weyburn airport was constructed in late 1941 as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. In its barely two years of operation from 1942 to 19 44, it graduated 1,055 pilots and recorded more than 180,000 hours of flight time."

Garyfalakis said Weyburn residents will be looking skyward to see the Tiger Moth, as "it's got a distinctive look and a distinctive sound. You can tell it's something special."