Born in Québec city, Gilles Simard was bitten by the aviation “bug” in 1928, at the age of 5, when Charles Lindbergh landed in Québec with relation to the Bremen affair. When World War II broke out, Simard enrolled in the RCAF and became a bomber pilot within No.425 Squadron “Les Alouettes”, composed of a majority of French Canadians. His skill and determination earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross. Postwar, Simard worked for La Compagnie d’Aviation Charlevoix-Saguenay, a humanitarian air service founded in 1937 by Father Joseph Thibeault of Grandes-Bergeronnes (near Tadoussac). The service provided assistance to isolated communities along the coast, especially in wintertime when all the roads were closed. Receiving little or no renumeration, the pilots brought food supplies to the villagers, carried the sick, pregnant women, etc. Of this period, Simard later said: “Father Thibeault loved the pilots so much. He was always chewing us out, but he treated us as his children. He was not in it for the money. Helping local communities was all that mattered. While it took him three days to reach Chicoutimi, we did it in 35 minutes with the airplane. So after God, I think for him came the pilots”.
Simard worked for La Compagnie d’Aviation Charlevoix-Saguenay, a humanitarian air service founded in 1937 by Father Joseph Thibeault of Grandes-Bergeronnes (near Tadoussac).
From 1948 to 1953, Simard worked for Les Ailes du Nord in Sept-Îles, dropping mail bags on the North Shore from village to village, up to the distant Blanc-Sablon. Simard then joined Air Rimouski, which became Québecair in 1957. Simard was appointed chief pilot. Québecair was growing fast, taking advantage of the huge Dew Line project, an extensive line of military radars in the Great North. The work was hard and the hours long. The airmen were regularly flying over unchartered areas. In 1967, he joined the Québec provincial Air Service as a DC-3 pilot. He was also responsible for the Air Service airports, at the time Saint-Honoré, Bonaventure, La Sarre and Amqui. In the 1980’s, he became Director of operations and acting General Manager. Retiring form the service in 1987, he went back to bush aviation, flying DC-4 for Conifair. As a true civil aviation pioneer and a natural leader, Gilles Simard established himself as one of the most respected pilots of his generation.
1. Distinguished Flying Cross