History 2018-01-16T02:27:48+00:00

MERLYN CARTER (1934 – 2005)

In 1952, at 18 years of age Merlyn became a pilot to assist his father George with their commercial fishery at the West Channel fishing village in Hay River, NWT.  It was the beginning of what was to become a lifetime career in aviation where Merlyn amassed more than 25,000 flying hours, half of them on DeHavilland Single Otter aircraft.  Most of his total flying experience accumulated was on float or ski equipped aircraft.   In 1962 Merlyn and his wife Jean started Carter Air Services Ltd.  Since then he never piloted an airplane he did not own, and for fifty years Merlyn was instrumental in assisting dozens of aspiring young men to start their careers as commercial pilots. Some such as Joe McBryan (Buffalo Airways), Perry Linton (Nahanni Air), Darcy Fleming (Boeing 747 Captain – Japan Air Lines), Clay Gamble (Air Canada Captain), and others that started flying with Merlyn went on to make lifetime careers for themselves in aviation.

During the early 1960’s, to supplement their fledgling aviation business and to care for a growing number of tourists wanting to fish in Northern Canada, Merlyn purchased a Mark IV Norseman.  (Single and Twin Otters were added later).  He set up tent camps near the mouth of the Tree River on the Arctic Ocean, including other excellent fishing locations such as the Coppermine River, Nonacho Lake, Point Lake, McKay Lake, Thubun Lakes, Gagnon Lake, and Brabant Island on the Mackenzie River.  In so doing, Merlyn and his wife Jean became among the early pioneers of tourism in the Northwest Territories.  Eventually their several sports fishing camps developed into one main camp at Nonacho Lake, capable of accommodating more than 30 fisherman at one time.  For more that forty years sports fishermen from around the world have enjoyed fishing at camps or lodges that he started, operated and serviced with Carter Air Services aircraft.

In his career as a bush pilot and assisting in opening up Canada’s north and arctic, Merlyn safely transported hundreds of boats and canoes strapped to the outside of his float and sometimes ski equipped aircraft to dozens of locations throughout the Canadian north as illustrated by different photos on this web page.

A few of his other aviation contributions are as follows –
During the 1960’s Merlyn landed his Lockheed 10-A airplane, CF-HTV, at Holman Island, an isolated Inuit community in the Canadian arctic, and delivering a radio telephone on that flight so that Holman residents could have regular radio communications with the outside world.  The entire community came out to meet him following his landing there on that occasion.

Later during the 1980’s, Carter Air’s Twin Otters were used to transport equipment and electricians from Hay River into Snare Lakes so that electricity could be established for the residents of that community.
Merlyn was very fond of aboriginal people, and during his lifetime greatly enjoyed providing air services to the Slavey, Cree, Chipewyan and Dogrib peoples living in remote areas of the Canadian north.


Although primarily known as a bush pilot and fishing camp operator, throughout his life Merlyn was involved in a variety of other forms of NWT tourism.  With his wife Jean serving as dispatcher, Merlyn took hundreds of tourist sightseers and naturalists in his aircraft into Nahanni National Park as well as other scenic locations throughout the Territories.  Additionally, during parts of five decades hundreds of tourist canoeists used Carter Air’s aircraft to access their dream rivers throughout the north.  Merlyn was also actively involved in many search and rescue missions of persons who became lost while fishing, hiking or even flying.

A resident of Hay River for fifty three years,Merlyn’s kind and helpful disposition including his lifelong contribution towards aviation, tourism and other industries in the Northwest Territories made him a friend to all who knew him.

On April 4,2005, Merlyn and his wife Jean were recognized as honorary lifetime members of the Northern Air Transportation Association. On June 3, 2009, Merlyn (posthumously) and Jean were inducted into the Canadian Tourism Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Ottawa for their contribution to pioneering tourism in Canada’s north. On December 15, 2011, the Hay River Airport was renamed the “Hay River Merlyn Carter Airport”.

Mark IV Norseman CF-FUU on skis.  Merlyn purchased CF-FUU from Bert Berry in 1964 at Uranium City, Saskatchewan.   The plane was sitting on floats on the winter long ice of Lake Athabasca.  Merlyn had never flown a Norseman until this time and was a bit sceptical about flying it without a proper check out from another pilot.  However Bert reassured Merlyn by saying “It’s real easy.  All you have to remember is three things to fly this airplane:

  1.        36” of Manifold Pressure on takeoff;
  2.        20 degrees of flaps;
  3.        And at 65 mph she’ll be flying.”

Bert’s words were true.  Merlyn departed on floats sliding across the top of the frozen ice of Lake Athabasca.  He did everything just as Burt said he should.  At 65 mph the airplane was flying.  He flew the aircraft back to Hay River landing Carter’s floatplane dock on the Hay River which was ice free.  FUU was one of Merlyn’s main float planes for flying fisherman into unfished lakes in the mid 1960’s.   In 2005 he told friends – “I purchased the Norseman including floats and skis for $11,000 then sold it a few years later for $20,000.  You know… I thought I made a fortune.  Now they sell for over $400,000.”