“I came North in 1966 to drop off a plane.”
His dream was to overwinter on his own in Eastern Greenland. Or to drive an army jeep through Europe to the Middle East. Or follow in David Livingstone’s footsteps on a journey through Africa. For Olav Falsnes, none of this ever materialized.
Instead it was in Canada’s North that he found the adventure he’d been craving for so long. Growing up in Norway, he was passionate about flying, learning to pilot a glider towed behind a speeding Cadillac. Later, a flight instructor would tell Olav that two of his students had gone to Canada to become bush pilots. This stuck with Olav, who moved to Edmonton in his early 20s to get his Canadian pilot’s license.
In 1966, he was asked to drop an airplane off in Cambridge Bay. Alone at the controls of a Cessna 180, flying over Northern Alberta and then the Northwest Territories, he felt a rush of excitement. “It was new territory. It was unknown,” he says. “You had no idea about what you were going to run into.”
He stopped in Yellowknife, where the plane was put on floats for the rest of the trip. There was just one problem: Olav had never flown with floats before. Luckily, getting signed off back then wasn’t much of a task. “It consisted of one take-off and one landing,” he says. (After a 20-minute flight, the pilot turned to Olav and told him, ‘You can fly this as good as I can.’) Olav flew on to Port Radium, on Great Bear Lake, and then to Kugluktuk, known then as Coppermine.
“Back in the 60s, small airplanes didn’t have anything fancy to navigate by,” he says. GPS was decades away. Olav used maps and landmarks to guide him. In Coppermine, he was told to follow the coast to Cambridge Bay. “I got up to the Arctic Ocean and there was ice everywhere.” He made his fourth landing ever on floats and was soon recruited to fly a DC-4 for aviation legend Willy Laserich.
Thus began Olav’s life in the North. He spent the next few summers shuttling geologists and biologists around the Arctic. His training as an aeronautical engineer helped him get work, he reckons. “I could fix my own plane. They would say, ‘Let’s send Olav up because we know he’ll come back.’” He hopped between Churchill, Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit for the next decade before settling in Inuvik in 1982. There, he and his wife Judi began to think about “a retirement project.”
In 1990, they purchased a place outside of town and fixed up cabins from Inuvik’s early days that had been left on the property. Ever since, their hospitality business has grown into a full-service tourism company, Arctic Chalet Resort and Adventure Tours, which offers dog-mushing excursions, snowmobiling adventures, Dempster Highway tours—you name it. “There’s nothing more exhilarating even today than driving the Dempster Highway,” says Olav. “I’ve driven it 100 times and I still love it no matter what time of year.”
Olav and Judi can’t imagine living anywhere else. “We both love the North,” he says. “We both enjoy the people, the peace, the quiet and the solitude. The remoteness even, it doesn’t bother us.” Nor, obviously, does sharing his love for adventure with guests.