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Captain Douglas Allen Vann: The Man Behind The Name

Story by Doug's Son, Richard Vann - October 28th, 2012 

Born on December 25, 1933 in St. Thomas Ontario, Douglas Allen Vann was the youngest child and had two older sisters. While growing up in St. Thomas, Doug played hockey and basketball, learned how to hunt and fish, and worked part-time as a mechanic in his father's automotive business. Doug grew up strong and tall to be six foot three inches and 210 pounds in his prime.

From a very early age, he dreamed of flying. Doug's dream came true on October 16, 1952, when he began his military career with the R.C.A.F. at Crumlin, Ontario and eventually became a fighter pilot flying the Sabre F-86. He was stationed overseas with No. 30 Fighter Squadron and saw service in France, Germany, England, and Morocco.

An interesting story relayed to me by the son of one of the pilots whose father was also stationed in Germany with Doug at the time was when our two dad's were almost sent to jail in France because Doug threw an empty whiskey bottle at a policeman while touring around Paris in a W.W.II surplus German staff car. Their Paris party ended abruptly with a mad dash back across the border into Germany.

While flying in the military, he earned several citations including a commendation for outstanding airmanship by safely landing his crippled Sabre fighter at the Chatham, N.B. airbase, as well as flying faster than the speed of sound (a big thing at the time). Doug completed his service with the R.C.A.F. on May 28, 1958.

Doug started his commercial pilot's career with Trans Canada Airlines on June 9, 1958. Based in Montreal, he flew the Viscount and L-1049. In 1960, he welcomed his daughter Sonya into the world. Then in 1961, he and numerous pilots, were laid off (I believe the largest Air Canada pilot layoff ever). During this layoff, he joined British European Airway based in England in 1961 and flew the Vanguard.

Doug was finally recalled back to Air Canada in late 1964, and with just three weeks left before his return to Canada, his son Richard was born. On February 4, 1965 he started flying once again with Air Canada and flew the Vanguard, Viscount and DC-8. He also began playing hockey with the Air Canada Montreal team.

Doug continued to enjoy flying and in 1970 he was promoted to Captain on the Viscount. In another twist of fate, while on a layover in Boston in 1971, he suffered a massive heart attack in the hospital waiting room and nearly died. This ended his career as a commercial pilot. His last flight log entry was February 1, 1971 Viscount 648 with a grand total hours of 9105:31. It was a crushing blow to a man whose first love was flying.

While convalescing for almost a year, Doug applied for and became a flight instructor with Air Canada in 1972. Based on the frequent gifts and bottles of booze I remember him receiving, he must have been well liked by his students.

Unfortunately, the heart attack also ended his hockey playing. Besides flying, hockey was one of his true passions. He would proudly tell his children that his nose was so crooked because he had broken it three times while playing hockey (as an adult, I would wonder if that was due to a stick, puck or punch). Since he couldn't play hockey anymore, he became the Air Canada Montreal team coach (but I think he was probably more chief organizer, team partier and beer boy).

Every year until his passing, he would organize a tournament against the Swiss Air team, and on other occasions, tournaments in California with Charles Shultz (The Snoopy Peanuts comic creator). As a young boy, I remember several times that he would apologize for missing my birthday, but would always follow with a big gift on his return. After seeing some pictures of Doug and his teammates with the Swiss hotties and his buddies smiling from ear to ear, I would later understand why Switzerland called him back every year.

Another interesting story that almost ended Doug's life even earlier happened in early 1976 while on a training mission near Havana Cuba sponsored by the Canadian Government. On March 18, 1976, a Cubana de Aviación Douglas DC-8-43 had a mid-air collision with a Cubana Antonov An-24.

I remember the story vividly and saw the official pictures of the accident: one engine fell off the wing and landed in a field; another engine caught fire and had to be shut down; over 20 feet of one wing was sliced off by the other plane's rudder and fell into another field; the hydraulic lines were almost completely severed (my father said another 2 inches and it would have been even more difficult to land that baby). Doug and Captain Gordie Jones landed the plane safely and received an award from Air Canada for their skill and professionalism. All five people on the other plane were killed and, I was later told by my uncle who was an ATC controller, that the Cuban ATC controller involved in the mid-air collision was executed on the spot.

Doug was the original Marlboro man. He liked to hunt - he used to go on a hunting trip every year for 2 weeks in the bush with his good buddies. He liked to fish - the last 5 years of this life he took his family to Campbell River on Vancouver Island to fish for salmon. He enjoyed sports - he was always involved with Air Canada hockey or taking his children to see the Expos, Les Canadiens, or the Alouettes play. He liked to smoke a lot (3 packs a day) and drink a little too hard (frequent visits to the Legion). He was loyal to everyone involved in his life (as boy, I thought everyone drove for 30 plus minutes just to fill up at the same gas station or get a haircut at the same barber shop). He loved to be with his friends, and above all, he loved to fly - he used to say how lucky he was to be paid for something he loved to do.

At the age of 44, Douglas Allen Vann passed away on October 24, 1978 in a meeting while at work, succumbing to a second massive heart attack. Three days before, he had a full company physical and passed without any issues. He never made it to his thirteen year-old son's football game that day (games which he never previously missed and always had some good, positive advice for improvement).

Doug was a kind and generous father, son, husband, brother, friend, pilot, and colleague.

Just one of the guys. 

"May Doug's spirit of friendship forever live within us and in the tournament that bears his name." 

- Richard Vann

Cheers and best wishes,

Richard (Doug's son), Sonya (Doug's daughter), and Margareta (Doug's wife)

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