A woman whose mother was raised in Winnipeg has been tasked with solving a mystery more than 60 years old — finding out what happened to her father.
“For close to 40 years, my mom was searching and trying to get information,” said Sally Stubbs, a Vancouver playwright and educator.
It’s a mystery that dates back to 1956.
On March 22, 1956, Royal Canadian Air Force Flying Officer Gerald Stephen Stubbs and his co-pilot were conducting a routine training mission, with a flight path scheduled between Comox, B.C., on Vancouver Island and the mainland.
On the flight out, the plane disappeared from the radar screen. Investigators thought it went down over the ocean.
Some of the wreckage was eventually located, decades later — but Gerald’s body still has not, to this day, been found.
For years after the plane’s disappearance, Claire Stubbs — who never remarried — refused to accept that her husband was dead.
“She just simply would not accept for many, many years that he was dead,” Sally said.
“She was convinced he was up somewhere in the wilderness wandering around with amnesia.”
Search for answers
But she never stopped searching for the answers to her questions, and began a process of letter writing, phone calls and meetings with government officials, and requisitioning files under the Freedom of Information Act.
Following her husband’s disappearance, Claire was ordered to leave the married quarters at the air force base in Comox with her daughter, Sally, and newborn son Jerry — named after his missing father.
“She had nowhere to go but home, which was Winnipeg, and her mom and her dad,” Sally said.
Claire stayed with her parents in Winnipeg to rebuild her life, but as soon as she was able, she packed up her two young children in an old Pontiac and drove away from her family and friends to be closer to where her husband’s plane went down. She wanted to be as close as possible to him if anything was discovered.
She settled in Victoria, where she continued to try to solve the mystery of what happened to her husband.
It wasn’t until 1974 that wreckage from the plane was finally discovered — but nobody told Claire about the discovery at the time.
“A hiker stumbled upon what appeared to be the canopy of the plane,” Sally said.
Eventually, a helmet was found and Claire came to terms with the fact that Gerald was no longer alive, but found it difficult to accept that his body was not going to be recovered.
Claire Stubbs never did find out what happened to her husband — she died on Dec. 23, 2017 at the age of 91.
Before she died, she tasked her daughter Sally with continuing the effort to help solve the mystery of where the plane went down, and what happened to her beloved husband.
“She asked me to promise that when they discovered where they actually came down that I would take her ashes up there to be with him.”
Stubbs has written a play about her mother’s life called Our Ghosts and says it’s a way for her to come to terms with this event that dominated her mother’s life, as well as her own, and the life of her late brother.
“I wanted to understand where he is but I also wanted to honour my mother, her love for my dad and her incredible determination to find him and to put this mystery to rest.”
In trying to summarize what her mother’s story was, Sally said that “the story is, in the end, not that it happened — but why did it happen?”
Members of the community in the Callaghan Valley, where it’s believed the plane went down, look for remains every October in the area if there’s not too much snow.
“They’ve adopted my father and his co-pilot, essentially.”
But Stubbs says she won’t take her mother’s ashes to the area until they discover her father’s remains. She’s hopeful, and confident, that day will come.
“I believe they’ll find him.”
Published at Wed, 07 Mar 2018 06:00:00 -0500