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It’s because of aviators like Ted Grant that pilots have become so beloved in the North. “I fly into Trout Lake, NWT and some of the elders will come up and give me their old-age pension cheques to cash [at the bank in Fort Simpson,]” he says. “If it’s $1,081.10, that’s what they get back. I go back out with an envelope for them on the next trip.” He doesn’t charge them for this.

Grant’s operated like that for 35 years, as he knows how hard it can be to live in isolation but depend on the outside world. “I lived in Grise Fiord; we only had a plane once every few weeks. It was like Christmastime every time the plane came in with the mail, the few little fresh groceries. It still is that way down in places like Trout Lake. When the plane comes in, people always come out and meet the airplane.”

If you’ve visited Nahanni National Park and its mighty Virginia Falls, there’s a good chance Grant took you there. He’s flown a prince in for a paddling trip, dropped off adventurers to hike the Cirque of the Unclimbables, and taken countless sightseers in for daytrips to the falls. 

He initially came to Fort Simpson for work—he was an RCMP officer and was transferred there. A local bush pilot, Dick Turner, saw Grant had a floatplane docked on the river and invited him to his exploration tent camp south of the park. They wound up flying through much of the park and it stuck with Grant. After a stint in Grise Fiord and another in Behchokǫ̀, he resigned from the force and was back in Fort Simpson, where he took over Simpson Air in 1981.

The ride has been bumpy along the way. He’s seen his business—and his fleet—expand and contact with the ups and downs of the mining and oil and gas industries. And though the park’s blessed with incomparable natural beauty and wonder, it still struggles to attract more than a thousand visitors each year. Business can’t run on charity, but Grant’s kept his alive through thick and thin without losing sight of its reason for being: to serve the people of the North.

(with files from Samia Madwar)