'I believe they'll find him': Woman spent her life trying to solve mystery of husband's 1956 disappearance

A woman whose mother was raised in Winnipeg has been tasked with solving a mystery more than 60 years old — finding out what happened to her father.

Flying Officer Gerald Stephen Stubbs's remains were never found after 1956 plane crash in B.C.

Claire Stubbs and her husband, Gerald Stephen Stubbs. He disappeared after a 1956 plane crash. Claire Stubbs, who died in December 2017, spent the rest of her life searching for answers about his disappearance. (Submitted by Sally Stubbs)

Sally Stubbs, whose mother spent her life searching for her husband after his plane crashed in 1956, has taken up the job of solving the mystery of what happened to her father.

"For close to 40 years, my mom was searching and trying to get information," said Stubbs, a Vancouver playwright and educator whose mom was raised in Winnipeg.

"I wanted to understand where he is but I also wanted to honour my mother, her love for my dad and her incredible determination to find him and to put this mystery to rest."

On March 22, 1956, Royal Canadian Air Force Flying Officer Gerald Stephen Stubbs and his co-pilot were on a routine training mission, with a flight path scheduled between Comox, on Vancouver Island, and mainland B.C.

On the flight out, the plane disappeared from the radar screen. Investigators thought it went down over the ocean.

Gerald Stephen Stubbs disappeared after a 1956 plane crash. His wife, Claire, 'just simply would not accept for many, many years that he was dead,' says her daughter, Sally. 'She was convinced he was up somewhere in the wilderness wandering around with amnesia.' (Submitted by Sally Stubbs)

Some of the wreckage was eventually located, decades later — but Stubbs' body has never been found.

For years after the plane's disappearance, Claire Stubbs — who never remarried — refused to accept that her husband was dead.

"She just simply would not accept for many, many years that he was dead," her daughter said.

"She was convinced he was up somewhere in the wilderness wandering around with amnesia." 

Search for answers

Following her husband's disappearance, Claire was ordered to leave the married quarters at the air force base in Comox with her daughter, Sally, and newborn son Jerry — named after his missing father.

"She had nowhere to go but home, which was Winnipeg, and her mom and her dad," Sally said.

Claire stayed with her parents in Winnipeg and began to rebuild her life, but as soon as she could, she packed up her two young children in an old Pontiac and drove away from her family and friends to be closer to where her husband's plane went down. She wanted to be as close as possible to him if anything was discovered.

She settled in Victoria, where she continued to try to solve the mystery of what happened to her husband.

She wrote letters, made phone calls, met with government officials and requisitioned files under the Freedom of Information Act.

Claire Stubbs's husband, Gerald Steven Stubbs, disappeared after a 1956 plane crash. Claire, who died in December 2017, spent the rest of her life searching for answers about his disappearance. (Submitted by Sally Stubbs)

It wasn't until 1974 that wreckage from the plane was finally discovered — but nobody told Claire about the discovery at the time.

"A hiker stumbled upon what appeared to be the canopy of the plane," Sally said.

Eventually, a helmet was found and Claire came to terms with the fact that her husband was no longer alive, but found it difficult to accept that his body was not going to be recovered.

Claire Stubbs never did find out what happened to her husband — she died on Dec. 23, 2017, at the age of 91.

Before she died, she tasked her daughter Sally with continuing the effort to solve the mystery of where the plane went down and what happened to her beloved husband. 

"She asked me to promise that when they discovered where they actually came down that I would take her ashes up there to be with him." 

Sally Stubbs has written a play about her parents' story. 'I wanted to understand where he is but I also wanted to honour my mother, her love for my dad and her incredible determination to find him, and to put this mystery to rest.' (Mits Naga Photography/Submitted by Sally Stubbs)

Stubbs has written a play about her mother's life called Our Ghosts and says it's a way for her to come to terms with this event that dominated her mother's life, as well as her own, and the life of her late brother.

"The story is, in the end, not that it happened — but why did it happen?"

Members of the community in the Callaghan Valley, where it's believed the plane went down, look for remains every October in the area if there's not too much snow.

"They've adopted my father and his co-pilot, essentially."

But Stubbs said she won't take her mother's ashes to the area until they discover her father's remains. She's hopeful, and confident, that day will come.

"I believe they'll find him."

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