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Remembering Lorne Christensen: A skyward journey of aviation and community legacy

A memorial gathering will be held at the Prestige Hotel on Feb. 17
Long-time Sooke resident Lorne Christensen died on Jan. 30. A memorial gathering is scheduled to take place on Feb. 17 at the Prestige Hotel.(Photo contributed)

Elida Peers | Contributed

A true Canadian patriot, perhaps that’s what stands out most about Lorne Christensen.

Born in Nanaimo in 1937 into a family of West Coast mariners, Lorne lived a singular experience and accomplishment before dying on Jan. 30 in Sooke.

Lorne embarked on life’s journey shaped by his father, Bill Christensen, a B.C. Provincial Police constable. Bill Christensen joined the Navy to serve in the Second World War, instilling in his young son a zest for life.

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With his dad away, his mom waited out the war years in Victoria, raising Lorne and his older sister Dola; like many kids in those war years, Lorne did not see his dad again until he was eight.

In 1864, a Danish seaman named James Christensen arrived on the coast as a bosun. He later became a master mariner, and the skipper of the Dunsmuir tugboat called “Lorne.” James’ son, Captain Andy Christensen, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a coast pilot.

Bill and Marie Christensen named their son Lorne and their daughter Dola after the Dunsmuir family due to their connection with the famous tugboat, the youngest daughter of B.C.’s premier, James Dunsmuir, and his wife, Laura.

In 1947, when he was 10 years old, Lorne first travelled to Port Renfrew to spend the summer with his maternal grandmother and her new husband at Bear Creek Camp.

On his own, he went by bus to Shawnigan Lake and then by B.C. Forest Products speeder across the Bear Creek trestle to reach their cabin, equipped with a wood stove and gas lamps.

Several exciting summers followed, and when Lorne was 17, no fan of school classes, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, headed to Quebec and began training as an airplane mechanic.

Lorne was to spend many years flying in Canada’s Arctic. Still, his first introduction came when the Air Force sent him to Yellowknife and Cambridge Bay on special projects.

Back from the north, Lorne’s next assignment was in Newfoundland, followed by a posting to Cold Lake, Alberta.

Fun-loving as he was and enjoying the camaraderie of his buddies, it was at this time that he witnessed the cancellation of Canada’s innovative Avro Arrow fighter jet project by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and felt outraged. Perhaps this began his lifelong habit of expressing strong political opinions when he felt events were detrimental to his beloved Canada.

Unsure of where his future lay, Lorne next went with his family’s maritime traditions and worked for the CNAV doing pilotage chores in B.C.’s coastal waters. This was when he decided to take flying lessons; encouraged by Victoria Flying Services, he graduated with his private pilot’s license on a Cessna 150 in 1960.

Starting as a dock boy with Bob Langdon of Island Air Lines at Campbell River allowed him the flying hours needed towards his commercial license, and his career began.

Flying flight after flight in challenging coastal conditions, Lorne loved it all.

In 1966, he learned of an opening with B.C.’s Ministry of Highways. He soon flew a Beaver for Highways Minister Phil Gaglardi out of Kamloops. Before long, it was the executive Lear Jets, an exhilarating experience he looked back on later with many fond chuckles.

When this period ended, Lorne was in the captain’s seat for airline flying – this included Great Northern Airways, Nordair, Canadian Pacific Airlines, Canadian Airlines, and later, flying for Royal Airlines in Toronto and Air North in Whitehorse.

He developed a reputation for his skill in training pilots and was mainly known for training pilots on Boeing 737s.

Meanwhile, Lorne had relocated to the West Coast, which he knew well, and set up a home in Sooke, where he married Donna in 1981. In marrying Donna, he became father to Stephen, Carina, and Anita, as well as his daughter from his previous marriage, Angela.

Thriving in his new family life, Lorne entered community affairs, joining the Sooke Lions Club, where he particularly enjoyed camaraderie with Tuck Vowles.

Over the years, he served as president, vice president, and treasurer. He worked on many projects, including the Hard Times dances with Mike Thomas and the Lions Phone Directory with Al Beddows.

“Lorne was awarded a lifetime membership and given many accolades over his years with our club,” said fellow Lion Steve Wright.

“Lorne was well known and respected for his compassion, integrity, determination, respect and honesty. He was so highly thought of in our club.”

One of my memories of Lorne was organizing the Turn of the Century Ball at the Sooke Community Hall on Dec. 31, 1999, when he even arranged monogrammed champagne flutes for the special celebration.

His love of history also led him to organize a B.C. Police Historical Exhibit at the Sooke Region Museum in his retirement from flying at age 73.

His fascinating biography, Tides, Turbulence and Tailwinds,” was published in 2019, a treasure he left for his family.

A memorial gathering will be held at Sooke’s Prestige Hotel on Feb. 17, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.


Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum. Email