Yukon renames airport after former MP Nielsen

Erik Nielsen, the Yukon's longtime member of Parliament, was officially honoured by the Yukon government Monday when it renamed the Whitehorse airport in Nielsen's honour.

Erik Nielsen, the Yukon's longtime member of Parliament, was officially honoured by the Yukon government Monday when it renamed the Whitehorse airport in Nielsen's honour.

Nielsen, who died on Sept. 4 at the age of 84, was the Yukon's Progressive Conservative MP from 1957 to 1987 and served for a time as deputy prime minister in Brian Mulroney's government.

"In recognition of Erik's long service, dedication and contributions to Yukon and to Canada, the government of Yukon has renamed the Whitehorse International Airport as the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport in his honour," Premier Dennis Fentie announced in the legislature Monday afternoon.

Friends of Nielsen had said renaming the Whitehorse airport would be the best way to remember him, since he is credited with securing federal funding for the modern airport terminal in his final years in office.

Nielsen has also been described as a skilled pilot who earned honours while serving the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. Friends say he enjoyed flying his own airplane around the Yukon when he was an MP.

"Erik was a war hero, a great parliamentarian, a great Yukoner, and a great Canadian," Fentie said. "We remain forever in his debt."

Members of Nielsen's family, including his son Rick, sat in the public gallery of the legislature for Monday's announcement.

But while Rick Nielsen said the recognition is appreciated, he added that his father would not have wanted to attract so much attention.

"He was never big on this kind of thing. And certainly from his perspective, with respect to his work, I know he wouldn't really like this," Nielsen said outside the assembly Monday.

"His greatest satisfaction would have been to sit down with a cup of coffee with someone to talk about old times, and those memories would fully serve that purpose in his mind. I know that."

Monday marked the last day of the Yukon legislature's fall sitting, as members adjourn for the holidays.

Fentie, who is finance minister as well as premier, is expected to be in Saskatoon later this week to discuss the global economic crisis with other Canadian finance ministers.