Memorial marks crash

637 monument
Monument marks where 1939 plane crash occurred. Photo: DND

Joanna Calder

As Remembrance Day, November 11th, approaches, we honour those who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Deep in the New Brunswick forest lie pieces of metal wreckage, partly covered in pine needles. They have been there for 80 years.

Nearby is a new granite monument honouring the two Canadian airmen who died at the site—the first to lose their lives on Canadian soil during the Second World War.

Although Canada declared war on Germany on September 10, 1939, planning and preparation for the conflict were well underway throughout the summer. High on the priority list was ensuring the protection of the East Coast from enemy action. Northrop Delta aircraft from 8 Squadron, a photographic survey unit at Royal Canadian Air Force Station Rockcliffe, in Ottawa, was tasked to reinforce anti-submarine patrols along the coast and over the Atlantic Ocean.

On August 27, six Deltas left Rockcliffe, headed to Sydney in Cape Breton to take on their new task. Delta No. 673 was piloted by Warrant Officer James Edgerton “Ted” Doan and his mechanic was Corporal Dave Rennie.

Delta 673 never reached Sydney. On September 14, after several delays due to mechanical issues, Doan and Rennie took off from Lac Mégantic, Quebec. Somewhere near Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, the aircraft disappeared. Despite intensive searches, the wreckage and the crew were not found.

Nineteen years later, employees of J.D. Irving, Limited discovered the wreckage as they surveyed land in preparation for building a logging road. Although the aircrew’s remains had disappeared over the years, there was evidence they had not survived the crash. Some of the wreckage was sent to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.

On September 14, 80 years to the day after Doan and Ritchie lost their lives, a small group journeyed to the crash site to commemorate their lives and honour their sacrifice.

J.D. Irving, Limited has protected the remote location, which is, essentially, the airmen’s gravesite. The land is no longer available for logging or industrial purposes. In 2017 the company cleared a logging road and trail into the site, and erected an explanatory plaque. Now, a permanent granite monument has been placed at the crash site to commemorate the loss.