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John Caron: a life in the skies for a very grounded man

In this Journeys, we look at the well-lived life of John Caron, who despite all his travels always remembered what was most important

On Oct. 28, John Michael Caron of Guelph departed on his final flight at the age of 85.

As a navigator, pilot, public servant, father, grandfather, Kiwanian and Rotarian, Caron leaves behind not only a legacy to his country, but also to his beloved family and community.

“I received a deep appreciation of the vastness, the ruggedness and the beauty of Canada from my dad, the way he saw the world from the air,” says his daughter, Guelph city councillor Leanne Caron.

Just before his passing, Leanne asked her father if he could take one last trip, where would it be?

“London, for fish and chips he said. He had his favourite places around the world and he said when flying over Canada, Baffin Island was the most beautiful,” Leanne said.

“Because dad was a pilot, we were dragged to air shows our whole lives. To us, dad was a pilot, just something he did for a living. But it allowed us to travel too. It was a real privilege.”

Everyone knew him as “John”, and he was proud of his French-Canadian heritage with roots dating back to one of ‘les premiers habitants’ of New France, Robert Caron (1634).

Born in 1935 to Edgar Caron and Kathleen Christopher in Montreal, Jean Michael Caron had a younger sister, Janice Watt and an adopted brother, Roger Caron.

In 1955, while studying engineering at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Caron played on the university’s first football team.

“I follow the football team and they are still so strong. My dad was so proud of being a part of that,” Leanne said.

Joining the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Caron began his 40-year career in aviation. He trained as a long range aerial navigator and received a Queen’s Commission in 1957.

Caron was stationed in Torbay, Newfoundland as part of the RCAF Maritime Air Command where he flew search and rescue missions during the Cold War as part of the Lancaster Bomber No. 107 Rescue Unit Crew.

“The aeronautics world is so small, and we knew that everyone would want to get together to share stories,” Leanne said.

Stories are still being told today on a shared message board, “John’s Last Flight."

“One of dad’s friends shared a story about the DC-9 in the early days of Air Canada. He said that dad saved the lives of passengers and crew after a traffic control mishap. In the last minute, dad took control and saved everyone. I had never heard this story before. It was so great to hear it,” Leanne says.

Another friend, Graham McLeod, shared flying memories with Caron.

“Yes, John did yeoman service for we Navs back then. I flew a few memorable trips with him to Europe with me in the right seat and John on the panel,” he says.

“I always get a chuckle thinking of the time he spent finishing the log-book at the end of a flight. His excellent and “slow” penmanship had more than one captain urging him to hurry up as he was thirsty and wanted to get to the hotel and pub.”

Leanne said her father would often share stories with fellow pilots when they got together.

“The stories they tell, it was a full night’s entertainment,” she says.

“One story they used to share was about alcohol being stored in the bomb bays of the Lancaster. During reconnaissance during the Cold War, as Russian submarines were off the coast of Newfoundland, they had to drop weight and the only way was to release a month’s worth of alcohol from the bomb bays which was for the crew at the base. I don’t think they ever got over it!”

Caron later transferred to the RCAF Air Navigation School in Winnipeg, and he became an instructor. There, he met his future wife of 54 years, a registered nurse named Darlene from Drumheller, Alberta.

They married in 1962 and had three children, Leanne, Laurie and David.

Caron retired from the RCAF with the rank of Flight Lieutenant and joined Air Canada in 1966 as a navigator. He later trained as a pilot when technology made human navigation officers obsolete.

“He rewrote the constitution for the Canadian Airline Navigators Association,” Leanne said. “He saved the careers of navigators.”

Caron’s friend, Lou Voticky, says that Caron was a key member of the Air Canada Navigators team where he took control of the Canadian Airline Navigators Association.

“John negotiated a settlement that allowed 55 navigators to become pilots and continued their beloved flying careers to retirement. The rest were provided for, with ground jobs and fair severance packages. Every surviving Air Canada Navigator owes a debt to John,” Voticky said.

“A wonderful friend, gentlemen and human being departed on his final flight into the sunset. He will be missed.”

Leanne can’t help but feel pride after hearing stories about her father.

“It is so bittersweet though because I didn’t hear some of these stories firsthand, from my dad,” she said.

“Seeing the world from another person’s world, it’s how he saw things, and this is how I like to see politics, through multiple lenses. I got that from my dad,” Leanne said.

“He was progressive for his generation in terms of cultural and religious acceptance. Those travel experiences allowed him to do developmental work in Tanzania and he also supported First Nations.”

Caron and his wife were active in community service throughout their lives. He was founder of the Bramalea Ratepayers’ Association and the Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods (Ontario). He served on the Puslinch Planning Board and was active in Kiwanis, the Rotary Club of Guelph and the Wellington Men’s Club.

“My dad was always in charge of Lobsterfest. As a Rotarian, you have to commit to one event a year, and that was always the one for dad,” Leanne said.

“Everything he did in life he did with my mother by his side. Beyond flying and community service and he loved his family first and foremost.”

Caron was a proud grandfather and great-grandfather.

“Three great-grandchildren were born in one year and he was so happy to have met one of them before he passed away,” Leanne said.

Despite all of Caron’s international adventures, Leanne says he was very much a homebody.

“He loved being at home, in the woods and with family. He had such an appreciation for the natural world. He built a log cabin in Quebec. There was no electricity and no running water. We went there every summer and lived like settlers.”

When in her teens, Leanne’s father bought property just outside Arkell in Puslinch and the family homesteaded there before moving to Guelph near end of the 1980’s.

“We cleared the land and my father, who was in his thirties, designed the house,” Leanne says.

“Orin Reid, who today, is one of the largest home builders, helped build the house. It was the first house he helped build. He was just out of university, so they partnered and then Orin went into the home building business.”

Caron was also involved in local politics in Puslinch and when flying over the area, he alerted the township about the high number of gravel pits in the area.

“That kitchen talk in politics, it must have rubbed off,” Leanne says.

Caron was a life member of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Mount Hope, where his beloved Lancaster Bomber from Torbay was restored. It is now known as the Mynarski Memorial Lancaster.

“He also donated artifacts. He was so proud to be on the restoration crew and to be a part of history,” Leanne says.

Leanne recalls when the Lancaster could still be flown.

“Dad went to every air show and he could hear the Lancaster even before anyone could see it. For him, it was so distinguishable,” she said.

“He would ask, can you hear it girls? And sure enough, there it was.”