Cover photo for Henri Boulanger's Obituary
Henri Boulanger Profile Photo
1935 Henri 2024

Henri Boulanger

July 29, 1935 — April 26, 2024


Although he was almost eighty-nine years old, you would have never guessed it! Henri’s passion for life and loving people was legendary. Often referred to as a small man with a huge heart, he lived an extraordinary larger-than-life life. No matter how long he would have lived, there is no way we would have ever had enough time with him. It is impossible to express in words how much he mattered to each of us and there’s no way to convey how much his positivity and tenderness will be missed.  

 

Henri and his wife Donna were married for nearly 55 years. The enduring captivation, appreciation, and affection they had for one another was almost magical. Their epic romance started when Miss. Scott (Donna), a young schoolteacher from Toronto, stepped off the floatplane at her first teaching post in Big Trout Lake, Northern Ontario. Within a just few short months, the very eligible bachelor (Henri) proposed. They married soon after, in the summer of 1969 and began to build their dreams and family together.  

 

The admiration that Henri’s children have for their father cannot be overstated; when asked about him, their first response is, “Dad was everything.” To them he was a superhero who could literally fly! Always active and engaged in their lives, he had endless love for and confidence in his kids; Michelle (Calgary, AB), Greg (Colinton, AB), and Matthew (Yellowknife, NT). Henri’s curious, contemplative, and adventurous spirit is alive and evident in the personalities of his five grandchildren: Deidre (25), Parker (23), Alida (17), Hudson (10) and Lara (8) Each was a precious part of his heart; he was always so impressed and in awe of each one of them! 

 

Henri was a gem, an amazing gift to all who knew him. One of seventeen children born to Francis and Alida Boulanger of Lac du Bonnet, MB, he is survived by his brothers Noel, Edmond, and Sil, and his sisters Louise DeNeve, and Marita Bugado (and her husband John), along with many nieces and nephews who were so special to him. He will also be sorely missed by the many close friends he loved and regarded as family. 

 

As mentor to many, Henri was held in the highest esteem by his peers in the aviation world. He was deeply respected by his community and was a cherished treasure to all who knew him. His contagious enthusiasm and willingness to take the time to listen and infuse every day with fun made him adored by pretty much everyone!  He was a conscientious, free-spirited man of integrity who gave of himself generously.  Courageous enough to be authentic, his magnetic personality brought joy to all the lives he touched.

 

Quiet and capable, with an uncanny ability and desire to connect with people, his greenish brown eyes (muskeg as he called them) would watch, eagerly searching for someone that he could encourage or help-out in some way, or at the very least could make smile! With the firmest handshake and tightest embrace, he often had a twinkle of mischief on his face. He was a sweet, strong, and sensitive soul who enjoyed the simple pleasures of life, like love, laughter, and just being silly. His unmatched kindness, understanding, supportive, and accepting attitude was a powerful source of inspiration, validation, and medicine to many. He will likely be remembered most for making people feel genuinely seen, worthy, and celebrated. 

 

As a young man, Henri had a variety of experiences before settling on his career. After finishing Grade 8 at the Riverland School, he worked as a farmhand on apple orchards and tobacco farms, then as a carpenter and welder on the railway, the TransCanada highway, and at power stations. Henri even played semi-pro baseball as pitcher for a Little League team! 

 

When he was twenty-three, Henri purchased a World War II era De Havilland Fox Moth biplane which motivated him to get his pilot’s licence, and his Aircraft Maintenance Engineering and Commercial licences shortly after. This began what would become an illustrious and distinguished 60+ year career that culminated with being presented an Outstanding AME Award for his expertise and flawless safety record, being nominated to Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame, and being inducted into the Canadian Aircraft Maintenance Engineers Hall of Fame for his solid reputation of service, leadership, and invaluable contributions to the industry. He was the oldest commercial pilot and licenced AME in the country when he retired (just last year).

 

A true pioneer in Canada’s aviation history, Henri started his professional journey by hauling fish and offering transportation in the Fox Moth he had restored. He was first commercial pilot for Bearskin Lake Air Services in Big Trout Lake, ON in the early 1960’s and made his home there. He soon become part owner and dedicated himself to building and expanding its fleet, hiring, and training many new pilots and AMEs over the years. 

 

Henri navigated the skies with little technological assistance or meteorological information; with a map on his knee, he kept his eyes on the lakes and landscapes below. He hustled to take advantage of the midnight sun, and in the long dark winters, ski-doo’s lit oil pots on frozen runways to guide him in. The author of the book ‘Homeward Bound’ and Disney movie, ‘The Incredible Journey,’ whom he flew around the North wrote, “Henri could land an airplane on a dime.” He was as well known for his quick take-offs over icy waters and elegant smooth-sailing flights as he was for his hilarious and memorable antics! 

 

Henri played a pivotal role in the development of the North and is revered by the Indigenous communities he served. A big proponent that their community be ‘captain of their own ship,’ he supported them by providing access to supplies, medical services, and opportunities. Stories abound of how as soon as he was heard flying overhead, people would swarm down to the docks to greet him! Even twenty-five years after leaving the North, when Henri returned to Big Trout Lake as a special guest (when Bearskin Airlines transferred some routes to Wasaya Airways), he received a hero’s welcome. “It was the kind of attention paid to celebrities” one newspaper article said of the endless lines for handshakes and hugs. He was presented with gifts and serenaded ‘I’ll Fly Away’ by a local band. 

 

After selling his shares in Bearskin in 1977, Henri and Donna moved their young family to the land he was raised on in Lac du Bonnet. Over the next four decades he worked with Silver Pine Air Services, Air Park, Eagle Aviation, Tall Timber Lodge, Blue Water Aviation, and Adventure Air. His business, ‘Silver Fox Solutions’ did private jobs and inspections along with 15 years of contract work with Buffalo Airways (home of the television series Ice Pilots NWT) where his son Matt is an AME.

 

Henri created life-long friendships with his colleagues and clients (some of which he had for three generations of aircraft owners). They admired his quiet confidence, bountiful energy, quick wit, and uniquely entertaining, playful sense of humor. He was a master of his craft. Renowned for his ingenuity, accurate instincts, and his bravery in the face of adversity. Henri had a wealth of knowledge and wisdom yet lived with great humility. 

 

As hard as Henri worked, he also put that same commitment and effort into play and relaxation, going so far as installing a swing inside his home! He loved taking his family to the beach at sunset and whisking his sweetheart off to Caribbean hot spots or sailing away with her on cruises. One of the finer things in life that Henri enjoyed was his wife’s gourmet cooking. It wasn’t uncommon to hear, “WOW, Donna!” and he always thanked her with a kiss and offer to help with the dishes. 

 

Henri was very athletic. Much to the delight of kids and adults alike, he used to walk on his hands all the time - he’d even walk up the steps and knock on front doors with his feet! He kept this agility well into his senior years; in fact, in his seventies, Henri decided he wanted to learn to tap-dance, so he and Donna started taking lessons in Winnipeg and ended up performing in theatres and concert halls for many seasons. Henri loved golfing with his family and friends and participating in leagues and tournaments, including the Midnight Sun Golf Tournament in Yellowknife, NT. It would typically take quite a while to finish a game with Henri however, because he would inevitably wander off to see how many lost balls he could find!  

 

As an avid and skilled photographer with an exacting eye, Henri always made sure to stop and capture the moment with his ever-ready Nikon. He amassed an outstanding collection of rare aviation and Indigenous journalistic images which are being preserved, curated, and made available for museum exhibitions and charity auctions nationwide. 

 

Equal parts explorer, renaissance man, and hipster; Henri lived a rich and fascinating life. He survived remote wilderness snowstorms, made his own caviar, and even rescued two orphaned polar bear cubs he spotted from the air. He traveled across Europe, listened to classical symphonies on the radio, and attended live musical theatre. He heated his house with a wood stove, made French press coffee each morning, and kept current and connected posting his ‘likes’ and ‘thumbs up’ on social media. He loved getting lost in the woods or just wandering off to discover whatever, or whoever was around the corner, leaving Donna to ask, “Where did Henri disappear to now?!”

 

Henri was quite famous for handing out brownies… not the ooey gooey chocolate ones, but the $100 bill ones. He loved hiding them in gifts or putting them in the unexpecting hands of young children, teenage gas attendants, those in need, and even Doctors who he said, “deserved a tip for a change.” He had an attitude of gratitude and felt it a privilege and responsibility to give. 

 

Known for being extremely resourceful, Henri liked to use what he had. He could never walk past a piece of garbage without picking it up and after seeing a movie with him, you’d have to wait as he cleaned up whatever was left in the theatre! His boys remember driving with him to pick bottles from the ditch and digging up small trees to transplant, then observing how he would water them, day after day. He didn’t like waste and was a good steward of the environment, preserving it for future generations. Henri was composting and recycling long before it was trendy; he even handcrafted jewelry from old copper pipes! And no trip to the dump was without a little hunt to salvage some discarded item that could be repurposed. But at the same time, he would spare no expense in terms of acquiring the right tools he needed to get the job done; he appreciated quality manufacturing very much.

 

Over the years Henri owned a Harley Davidson, 1936 Dodge, and 1947 Ford; he even pre-ordered a Volkswagen Bug on the first shipment to Canada! He completed university courses in Political Science and Geography but more importantly, he was a willing student of life who was unafraid to take risks and try new things. For example, he loved wild rice so much that he started selling it… from Vancouver to Toronto, he and Donna set up many independent shops and cafes as clients and even managed to get in with big buyers and suppliers for the major grocery chains!  

 

For most of his adult life Henri has been a father-figure for anyone who needed one. Henri and Donna had the opportunity to take care of children through foster and respite care over the years and each one held a special place in their hearts. Whether it was through teaching Sunday School classes and or leading youth groups, or kids throughout the community, no child (or person for that matter) was ever at risk of feeling alone if Henri was nearby. He was a gentle man of faith who prioritized investing his time and energy in people, which probably explains why he was so idolized, and why so many have said that his legacy is LOVE. 

 

He was very involved in his local church over the years. He served as a board member and did a mission trip where he helped build an orphanage and delivered Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes with his wife. Although he preferred to live by example, Henri would be the first to say that the Word of God was the foundation he built his life on. He read his Bible daily; it was his source of wisdom, strength, and security; his purpose, passion, and peace - that truth of unconditional love was his identity; his story. Henri passed away peacefully on April 26 (World Pilot’s Day) in the arms of his loving wife and into the arms of his Savior and took his final flight to Glory.  

 

Michelle, Greg, and Matthew are forever grateful to Pastor James and Melayni Schwab, Julie Veilleux, and Gordon Peters for being there and staying with their mom to comfort her during the inconceivable loss of the absolute love of her life. Donna sends heartfelt thanks to the EMS crew and to Constable Amy who were all so compassionate. The family also want to express their sincere appreciation to everyone who has reached out with condolences and care. 

 

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to support Henri Boulanger’s Legacy Fund.

 

A Memorial Service and Dessert & Coffee Reception to celebrate Henri’s life was held at Abundant Life Chapel,    90 - 4 St. Lac du Bonnet, MB on Tuesday, May 21, 2024.  Interment followed in Riverland Cemetery.

 

A link to the recording of the memorial service can be accessed via: 

https://youtu.be/ncT5-vgOkG8?si=AM0dijpwSnzWGj88

 

 www.soberingfuneralchapel.com

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Henri Boulanger, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

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Memorial Service

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Starts at 1:00 pm (Central time)

Abundant Life Chapel

90 - 4St., Lac du Bonnet, MB

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