Nfld. & Labrador

Helicopter pilot treasures ongoing work over Labrador's Torngat Mountains

Veteran helicopter pilot Geoff Goodyear knows the airstrip at Saglek, on Labrador's rugged north coast, like the back of his hand, writes John Gaudi.
Geoff Goodyear: 'The people in the province need to realize that they've got something great here.' (John Gaudi/CBC)

Veteran helicopter pilot Geoff Goodyear knows the airstrip at Saglek, on Labrador's rugged north coast, like the back of his hand.

The Saglek station was built during the height of the Cold War, and staffed by U.S. and Canada military personnel. Even now, the old military barracks are still standing, although the radar site up on the hill is now operated remotely.

Saglek is now best known as the gateway into Torngat Mountains National Park. Its airstrip is used to transport people and supplies in and out of the park and Torngat Mountains Base Camp. 

Goodyear marvels that it is in still pristine condition.

"Leave it to the Americans to put a paved airstrip in the middle of nowhere," said Goodyear, who is the president of Universal Helicopters.

The U.S. Air Force established a station at Saglek as part of the early warning radar site during the height of the Cold War. The remains of the military barracks are still standing at the site. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Goodyear, who is the president of Universal Helicopters and who has also worked as a pilot for more than 30 years, has flown in the Torngats as part of Parks Canada and the Torngat Mountains Base Camp operations for the past decade.

His passengers have included Parks Canada personnel, researchers and tourists who have travelled visiting various parts of the park.

Incredible wildlife and scenery

As a pilot, Goodyear knows just how spectacular the Torngat Mountains are first-hand.

On his last trip, he witnessed part of a glacier face fall away into the water and Arctic char migrate upstream over waterfalls one after another. He also got up to about 20 feet away from a polar bear in a boat in Saglek Bay.

"Those are the types of things that sear in the memory and linger for quite some time," he said in an interview.

As a photographer, Goodyear has captured the stunning landscapes, plants and animals and cultural sites in the Torngat Mountains. His photography will be featured in an upcoming episode of CBC's Land and Sea, along with St. John's photographer Michael Windsor, who visited the park this summer. 

Several film crews visited the Torngats this season, including one from as far away as Japan.

'Blown-away reactions'

Goodyear said visitors from all over the world are blown away by what they experience in the Torngat Mountains. 

But he says the word still needs to get out.

The radar site in Saglek, in northern Labrador, is now operated remotely. (John Gaudi/CBC)

"It's ironic that we get these blown-away reactions from so many people who come and visit from other parts of the world," he said.

"The people in the province need to realize that they've got something great here."

At the end of this year, Goodyear will be retiring as president of Universal Helicopters.

The two weeks he spent in the park this summer were his last official operational tour of the Torngats.

He says it's with mixed feelings that he's retiring from the company after 36 years.

He nonetheless hopes to return to the Torngats.

"This is a place you always hope to come back to."

About the Author

John Gaudi

CBC reporter

John Gaudi reports from Happy Valley-Goose Bay for CBC's Labrador Morning.