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Guelph aviation legend remembered as a 'remarkable and humble man'

Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame member and a fixture at the Guelph Air Park was still flying planes at 92

Fern Villeneuve didn't like the spotlight, no matter how much he deserved it.

A legend in Canadian aviation circles and a member of the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame, Villeneuve, 92, died in hospital Christmas Day as a result of a car accident three days earlier.

Villeneuve’s friend Bruce Paylor, who flew with him many times and knew him for over 10 years said those who knew him remember him as a very quiet and humble man.

He said Villeneuve had a really good day before the accident where he was having lunch with some friends in Collingwood.

“Fern was the type of person who didn’t really like the limelight. He’s famous in the aviation world,” said Paylor. 

“He was just the type of man, he had so much flying experience, he just thought ‘well yeah I fly airplanes, nothing special,’ but I don’t think he really realized just how special the guy was.”

A celebration of life will be held at a later date.

According to his biography available in Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame, Joseph Armand Gerard Fernand Villeneuve, better known as Fern Villeneuve was born in Buckingham, Quebec on July 2, 1927. His enthusiasm for flying began early as he regularly observed flying aircraft at Uplands Airport in Ottawa. 

After joining the Air Cadet program in 1943, he worked hard to pay for flying lessons and subsequently obtained his pilot’s licence in 1946 and his commercial license shortly after.

He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1950 where he had an outstanding career as a fighter pilot, Villeneuve flew the Harvard propeller trainer, the North American P-51 Mustang Second World War piston fighter, and numerous fighter jets over the decades that totalled over 13,000 hours. 

Because of his skill and affinity for perfection, Villeneuve was chosen by the Chief of Air Staff to lead an official acrobatic team, the Golden Hawks. 

Villeneuve's achievements and influence of the Golden Hawks are well known. His team completed 134 air displays throughout Canada and the U.S.

He spent 42 years in the military.

Villeneuve’s contributions to the Canadian aviation history were recognized by The Royal Canadian Mint by minting an image of him and his F-86 plane on a $20 silver coin. He was also awarded an Air Force Cross in 1961 for demonstrating his professional integrity during an incident where he remained with the aircraft after the engine failed, ultimately avoiding a tragic accident. 

Doug Andrews, a pilot who knew Villeneuve for over six years says Villeneuve was a very active flier even at the age of 92.

“He flew twice a week,” said Andrews about Villeneuve, known to be seen flying his Globe Swift. 

“His passion was flying and Lynda,” said Andrews about Villeneuve’s wife who passed away in 2017. 

Andrews said Villeneuve was remarkably polite with a very sharp memory. 

"If I sat with him, which I did two or three nights a week at Tim Hortons for coffee, and I could say 'so in 1952, when you were in England flying in Luffenham, was that two planes or four planes?' He would think a moment and he would be there. It didn’t matter when. His mind and memory was as sharp as a tac," said Andrews.

Paylor says when one had the opportunity to sit down and have coffee with Villeneuve, he would narrate remarkable stories about his days in the air force.