Special to the Castlegar News
Born in Nelson to a pioneer family, Dr. John Hall recalled in a 2000 interview that he was interested in flying “ever since I could crawl.”
At 16 he joined the military, hoping to serve with the air force, but instead his entire four-year tour of duty was with the Royal Canadian Navy.
Upon his discharge he studied aeronautical engineering, but then went into medicine, earning his degree from the University of BC. He studied and worked in Vancouver for nine years before moving to Castlegar in 1958, only planning to stay a short time.
However, he got his “roots so deep in Kootenay soil” the move became permanent. In Castlegar, he also advanced his flight training and earned a commercial license.
In 1964, he sat on a steering committee that looked at creating a regional post-secondary institute, and then became a charter member of Selkirk College’s board of directors.
When the board explored new technology programs, he pushed for a course in aviation, “because the industry needed it.” Airlines were running out of pilots, and nowhere in Canada was professional training taught through a university or community college under direct control of the Ministry of Education. Selkirk would be the first.
Hall worked with principal Andy Soles and others to devise the curriculum, then approached local flight instructor Al Laing about teaching it. “If not for him,” Hall said, “it may never have gotten off the ground.”
The program was first offered in 1968, and has since graduated hundreds of pilots— a high percentage of whom have gone on to successful careers with commercial carriers. Hall credited the program with “markedly upgrading the quality of training in the aviation world.”
In 1970, Hall was awarded the Robert S. Day trophy for outstanding contribution to aviation in B.C. He accepted it on behalf of the Selkirk faculty.
Two years later, he was asked to join the airport advisory committee to fill a vacancy left by the retirement of Ralph West. Despite a busy medical practice, he agreed, and was soon elected chair. He remained in the position for all but two years in the 1980s during a CUSO exchange to Papua New Guinea.
Hall retired as a general practitioner and surgeon in 1989, but his efforts continued toward the betterment of the Castlegar airport and aviation in the Kootenays. He called the city’s acquisition of the airport in 1997 “a momentous step forward.”
He bristled at the nickname Cancelgar, sometimes applied to the airport based on its cancellation rate. Hall insisted it wasn’t accurate.
“Absolutely not,” he said, adding that over the years various airlines have done a “tremendous job serving people” given challenging terrain.
Hall passed away in Trail on July 1 after a brief illness. He is survived by Ruth, his wife of 61 years, son Pat, daughter Erin, and four grandchildren. A celebration of life will be held July 13 at the Pentecostal New Life Assembly at 10 a.m.