The Icing on the Cake: Kelly Collins wins the Yukon Order of Polaris

…a thick layer of frosting on an already rich and delicious cake.

Congratulations to my wonderful husband on being awarded the Order of Polaris and inducted into the Yukon Transportation Hall of Fame!



By Max Leighton, What’s Up Yukon
Photo by Michael Collins

Local flight instructor Kelly Collins has spent nearly three decades helping Yukoners earn their wings.

This month he was given the Order of Polaris, one of the Yukon Government’s top honours, awarded to Yukon aviators (and the odd Outsider) for service to the territory, its people and its unique culture.

Collins, who is retiring this year, has spent 27-years training more than 300 pilots from various schools in Whitehorse as well as satellite programs in Atlin, Ross River, Faro and Dawson City.

Until recently he had trained the majority of all private and commercial fixed wing pilots in the territory.

Collins has spent the last twelve years as chief flight instructor with Whitehorse Air Services — the last flight-training school in Canada’s North.

He’s taught everyone from the young to the retired the secrets of flight.

“It’s a pretty wide spectrum,” he says. “For some people it’s just a personal challenge, it’s a goal that’s not that easy to do. A lot of our students are folks who have always had a dream to fly.”

Collins is known for his hands-on approach to training, sitting fearlessly alongside would-be pilots attempting everything from basic aircraft control to emergency maneuvers, falls, spins, takeoffs and landings.

“I call it ‘knowledge through a fire hose,’” he says. “It comes fast and furious… and it’s hands-on from day one.”

After a while the training becomes reflexive — and marginally less terrifying.

“The better you get at the machinery, the farther out your awareness goes from all around you, to in the aircraft and outside,” he says.

Collins doesn’t just teach his students to fly, he teaches them to think like pilots.

“Learning how to fly is one thing — learning when to fly and when not to fly and what not to do and how to stay out of trouble, that all comes under the heading of pilot decision making and that’s probably the big variable in keeping people safe,” he says.

Getting a pilot’s license is hard work, and it’s not cheap —about $9,500 for a recreational pilot, $14,000 for a private license — but it’s probably more likely to lead to a job than your undergrad degree, and you’re guaranteed a good office view.

Sixty-one year-old Neal Letang became a licensed pilot this year. Letang had a lifelong ambition to fly, but says it was Collins’ mentorship and focus on safety that gave him the confidence to finally become a pilot.

“It does do something for your confidence,” he says. “You’re doing something that, for me anyway, was a little extraordinary and [Collins] helped me do it.

“At times when I was discouraged, or dissatisfied with my performance, or whatever I was doing and he’d work me through it,” he says.

As a recipient of the Order of Polaris, Collins joins the ranks of Canadian icons like WWII fighter pilot Ian Willoughby Bazalgette, and pioneering Canadian engineers Ronald John Baker and Alexander Graham Bell.

“Every student is different, every day is different, it’s all a challenge, it’s all rewarding,” Collins says. “Helping people reach that goal of flight for whatever reason they started out on, every day is its own reward. So to be awarded the Order of Polaris is a huge, thick layer of frosting on an already rich and delicious cake. I feel very humbled.”

This year John Van Every, a Dawson City trucker and transportation company owner, was also honoured as the Transportation Person of the Year award, and the late Frank Steele, an early Alaska Highway lodge operator, was named Transportation Pioneer of the Year.


A Home to Retire to!

Kelly’s dream has always been to retire at 55. We never really thought it could happen, but we used to talk about it a lot.  We’d talk about where we would live, what we would do. It was a fun subject to fantasize over. Then one day a couple of months ago we stopped dreaming and decided to take action. We needed information, so we started by investigating house prices in some of the areas we were interested in living, getting a real estate appraisal on our house and cabin, and making an appointment with our financial advisor. 

I started window shopping for homes in Penticton, Kelowna,  Vernon and Salmon Arm. We were shocked at the low prices in the Okanagan and Shuswap compared to Whitehorse. It suddenly seemed like it might be possible! Next stop was the financial information.  Things were definitely looking up! It looked tight, but we might be able to make it. Next was the meeting with the real estate appraiser. Again, happy news.  Our house shows well, especially with all the renovations we have done over the last couple of years, and  it shouldn’t be difficult to sell.

Next step: visit the area. We did that last month. We were in touch with a real estate agent, and picked out 3 homes to look at in Salmon Arm and 3 in Vernon.  We wanted to see what the places in our price range looked like. We weren’t determined to buy anything – it was more of a research trip. However, the moment I walked into the very first house on Sunnybrae Canoe Point Road (what a magical address!) I knew that this was The One. We looked at the others, too, but this home was definitely IT. Our retirement home!

Of course, I’m sure you can guess what happened next, right? Right! We spent the rest of the trip negotiating a sale, which will close in November. A property manager will look after leasing it until we move down.










And look at the view! 5 minutes walk down the street to the lake and there you are!






If everything continues to go our way, we’ll be taking early retirement and moving at the end of 2013. Kelly will see his dream of freedom 55 come true.  Cross your fingers that serendipity continues to smile on us!

I know this is supposed to be WIP Wednesday, but I consider this to definately be a creative work in progress, don’t you? LOL! Hop on over to Freshly Pieced to see what everyone else is up to this week. Thanks for visiting!

A garden and a library

And in the end it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. ” Abraham Lincoln

Someday I am going to retire, and this quote speaks to why I’d like to retire sooner (rather than later). I like my job and I like being around the people I work with, don’t get me wrong…but I feel that while I am sitting at my desk behind my computer, I am really just marking time. Sure, I do good work – and yes, I do valuable work, including giving good service to other people. But in the end, it is work that pays my bills but doesn’t enrich me or feed my soul. I don’t happen to believe that it is my jobs job to enrich my life. That part’s up to me. And honestly, now that I am starting to come out the other side of what has seemed like a lengthy illness, I have a better appreciation of what is enriching and what is not. And of how much more of my life I am willing to donate to what is not. I want to spend more time living my life and less time “marking time” at a desk.

Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.”

I am an impulse shopper, and I can tell you that buying whatever I want has not brought me happiness, it has brought me financial stress. I have fallen into the trap of wanting a great many things over the years. Now I am starting to winnow things out. Do I really need 3 sets of casserole dishes and two sets of everyday dinner plates? Do I really need 4 roasting pans and all of those dusty vases? Why do I need 22 hip scarves, especially when I only every wear one? It is time to get rid of everything that I do not want nor need. If it doesn’t bring me happiness, I don’t need it. I yearn for a simpler life. I don’t need everything that I want, but I do need to love everything that I have!

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

Add a good pair of hiking boots and a path through the woods and I’ll be all set.