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Legendary Polish-Canadian pilot honoured in his adopted hometown

July 2018

On a recent road trip, I stopped at Zurakowski Park in Barry’s Bay, a small park dedicated to decorated WWII flying hero and post-war test pilot Janusz (Jan) Zurakowski. Many will remember Zurakowski as the first pilot to fly Canada’s legendary jet-fighter, the CF-105 Avro Arrow.

Zurakowski received many honours in his lifetime, but the dedication of Zurakowski Park on 26 July 2003 was one of the final ones he would receive before he passed away on 9 February 2004 at the age of 89.

Zurakowski was born in Ryzawka, now part of Ukraine, in 1914. His family moved to Poland in 1921.

At the age of 20, Zurakowski joined the Polish Air Force and by 1937 had been promoted to Sub-Lieutenant Pilot. When Poland fell to the Nazi war machine, Zurakowski escaped to England and joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) and along with several other escaped Polish pilots, fought in the Battle of Britain.

For his war service, Zurakowski was awarded the Polish Cross of Valour with two bars, the Polish Military Cross Virtuti Militari, the British Star 1939-1945, the British Air Crew Europe Star and the British Defence Medal.

He received numerous other awards and honours in the decades following the war, including induction into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame (1973), the Polish Order of Merit (1999) and having the new building for the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment at 4 Wing Cold Lake named in his honour in 2000.

After the war, Zurakowski joined the Gloster Aircraft Company as the chef experimental pilot. As a test pilot, Zurakowski set a new air speed record flying between Copenhagen and London and after immigrating to Canada with his wife and children in 1952, broke the sound barrier flying the Canadian-built Avro CF-100 jet fighter for A.V. Roe Canada.

Plans were made in January 2003 to honour Zurakowski in the town he settled in after retiring from test-flying in 1959; a town where he operated Cartuzy Lodge, a tourist resort he operated with his wife and sons that became a haven for Polish culture in Ontario. Barry’s Bay is 10 kms west of the Town of Wilno, the oldest Polish settlement in Ontario.

Although very ill at the time, Zurakowski was in attendance at the ceremony officially dedicating Zurakowski Park, a ceremony that took place just over 6 months before his death. The small park sitting along Highway 60 includes a life-size statue of Zurakowski, scale models of Avro Arrow 201 and a Spitfire (an aircraft he flew with the Polish squadrons of the RAF), a gazebo at the end of a “runway” and placards telling the story of Janusz Zurakowski and his lifetime of avation achievements.

Zurakowski certainly deserves all the other honours he received in his lifetime, including Zurakowski Park. However I couldn’t help but wonder why there is no park or statue dedicated to the two men most responsible for the Arrow becoming a reality: Avro Chief Engineer and Arrow designer James Floyd and Avro Vice President Crawford Gordon, Jr?

The Toronto Pearson Airport Authority currently owns the property where the Avro Plant once stood, so it would seem a fitting place to locate a tribute to these two men, both legends and visionaries in Canada’s aviation industry.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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