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Bringing biplane adventures at Canadian Barnstormers

Since September 2023, Canadian Barnstormers offers scenic biplane rides at Guelph AirPark aboard a legendary WACO UPF7
Canadian Barnstormers operates from May 1 to the end of October, weather permitting, on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Years ago, they ruled the skies.

Today, anyone can experience the golden age of aviation with Canadian Barnstormers, a business that offers scenic biplane rides aboard a legendary WACO UPF7.  

Canadian Barnstormers owner and pilot, Gary Schroeder, says experiencing the open cockpit of a biplane is the closest thing to time travel.

“You can feel the heat and smell from the engine,” Gary said.  

“There’s no auto pilot. You are strapped in, of course, but you are out in the open. And you get to wear the aviator leather helmet with goggles. It really is a time machine.”

Canadian Barnstormers began operating at Guelph AirPark in September 2023.

“We flew over 1,000 people last year, that’s over 400 flights. For our first season, that’s pretty amazing. And we’re already getting repeat customers,” Gary said.

The wide front cockpit of the WACO is designed for two passengers, side by side.  People can experience the sun on their face and feel like a real ‘barnstormer’ while sitting beside their best friend or family member.  

“Barnstorming was given to WW1 pilots who came back and didn’t know what to do after the war. They bought WW1 planes. They would go from town to town and land in farmer’s fields. They gave people rides,” Gary said.

“Often, they slept in barns where they stayed. And that’s why they are called barnstormers.”

Schroeder’s wife, Margot helps operate Canadian Barnstormers with her husband. She says for many, a flight on the vintage biplane is a bucket list item.

“It’s a common phrase I hear. We’ve had people of all ages fly with us, anywhere from 5 years-old to 95,” Margot said.

“And that’s why really enjoy what we do.”

Based out of the Guelph Airpark, Canadian Barnstormers offers three flights: a 10-15 minute flight, 12-25 and 30-35.

“The shorter 10 to 15-minute ride includes a tour over the city. And if people want to see their home, we can customize the ride for them. We do lots of that,” Margot said.

“We’ve made this flight affordable so that people can try it. It’s cheaper and offers a great memory. It’s long enough to enjoy, and short enough to keep it affordable.” 

The 20–25-minute ride offers an open view across Wellington County’s countryside.  

“The third flight, we leave from Guelph, we come up to Belwood Lake, we follow the lake, then the river over Fergus, over the quarry, then the Elora Gorge, and back over the city of Guelph. And that one is a really nice flight,” Margot said.

“Something I hear, especially going over Guelph, is that all of the rivers really cut up the city. Guelph is beautiful and a lot of people don’t realize how big the university is. And they love flying over the Arboretum and the Cutten Club.”

Canadian Barnstormers operates from May 1 to the end of October, weather permitting, on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

“We are weather dependent. People usually book a week in advance. If something happens weather wise, we let them know and we reschedule. And we always make room for walk ins. That’s really important to us,” Margot said.

Gary has been flying planes for over 46 years.

“Somehow I’ve made a living flying airplanes older than me, and I’m 63 years-old,” he said.

“We are surprised to see what this has become. It’s all about sharing the gift of flight with people.”

Gary started off as a row crop pilot with a crop duster.

“I did that for a number of years. Ultimately, I wanted to become a bush pilot and I did. Margot and I had two air services up north that we sold. Then I flew the coast of British Columbia flying sea planes, and then in the mountains as well. I’ve also flown bigger airplanes including heavy transports.”

High school sweethearts, Gary and Margot, live just outside Fergus.  

“Gary had a private pilot’s licence when I met him. On our second date, he picked me up in a little airplane. And the rest is history. I love aviation, and we’ve just made it work together,” Margo said.

For Gary, a big part of Canadian Barnstormers, is the partnership between the couple.

“It’s a way of life as opposed to a job. The greatest gift for me is to work with Margot,” Gary said.

“She’s the heartbeat of the operation. She is the one people talk to over the phone. She’s involved in all the correspondence and media marketing. She’s the one that people first meet. She fits them with their helmet and their goggles, and then I show up to fly the plane.”

The couple acquired their first vintage biplane over 40 years ago.

“It was a plane from 1929. It was our first air service and we towed banners with it,” Gary said.  

After working with a friend and owner of Ottawa By-Plane Adventures, the couple helped to open another division of the business to Guelph.

The WACO UPF7 was designed in the 1930's in Ohio and built in 1940.  

By the late 1920's WACO aircraft were in high demand for businesses, flying schools and flying the air mail routes.

“This airplane has a really neat history because it was taken apart and stored in a barn. Nobody knew where it was until 50 years later. A guy from Michigan found it. He was a craftsman, got it and completely restored it. It took him six years. So, we feel really fortunate that we have it and that we found it,” Margot said.

What’s really interesting, Gary says, is for any airplane buffs, the plane’s original owner was one of the most famous air racers during the 1930’s.

“His name was Roscoe Turner. He was an air racer sponsored by Gilmore Fuels. He was  a good marketer for himself too because he actually got a lion cub, called him Gilmore, put a harness on him, and he flew with him,” Gary said.

“This plane is going to outlast us. We are stewards of this wonderful machine.”

Margot and Gary have all the plane’s log books, that go right back to the beginning, since the first day that plane took flight.

“These are history books. For me, it’s a privilege to get to do this and to share it with people,” Gary said.

Margot says she enjoys being on the ground when the plane comes in.

“The engine isn’t even off yet and all I hear is, “that was so awesome!” she said.

“It takes a minute for people to process it and take it in. They usually don’t want to get out of the airplane and leave. It’s kind of like, wow!”

And for Margot, it’s a bonus to witness people sharing the experience with someone special.

“We’ve had everything. Last year we had a couple fly and the man was very nervous. His girlfriend could not figure out why. They landed and he proposed in front of the airplane,” Margot said.  

Gary says some people are very emotional after a flight.

“They are just so overwhelmed with the experience. You look out and there’s nothing in between you and what you are looking at,” he said.

For more information about Canadian Barnstormers, visit here.