Four squadrons of freshly-painted, hand-built aircraft alighted in the Wall Mart parking lot on May 20. No, your family didn’t miss a poorly-promoted DIY airshow – these rustic model Cessnas were on a quiet mission to support one family from among the more than 6.5 million Ukrainians displaced by Putin’s ongoing war of aggression.
John Tee, a Newfoundland expat and former Yellowknife construction worker (2000-2010), ferried his wooden planes 1,000 km North in his own improvised aircraft carrier, a 2016 Grand Caravan, from his acreage near Marie Reine, Alta.
“There’s certain things that move you,” he told Yellowknifer, in between greeting customers in the market for a lawn ornament at $20 a pop. “Seeing those Ukrainian people with their homes destroyed (I seen it on the news like everyone else – I Googles everything) how can they rebuild?”
Earlier this spring, Tee sold 50 of the blue and yellow ornaments back in Alberta, raising $1,000 for one of the two Ukrainian families to relocate around Northern Sunrise County. His Yellowknife sortie this past long weekend aimed to raise money for the second Ukrainian family to find refuge in his part of the country.
Yellowknife resident Meda Shannahan picked out one of Tee’s planes to perch on her balcony. The wind spins the propeller non-stop, to the delight of dog walkers and other passers by below, she said. The knowledge that her purchase contributed to a Ukrainian refugee family makes it all the more special, she added.
“That’s the person John is,” said Shannahan, Tee’s friend since his time in Yellowknife building Stanton Suites Hotel (then known as Nova Court) and other uptown apartment buildings. “He’s always on board to help anybody out. It wasn’t that long ago that he had a disaster himself.”
Tee and his wife, Dorothy, lost their home to a fire early in the pandemic.
“It was only a couple of years ago that we had nothing,” Tee said, adding his community immediately rallied in support. “That was overwhelming.”
Sale of the planes in Yellowknife raised $340 for the Tee’s new Ukrainian neighbours. Tee said he’s confident he can sell 33 more planes around Peace River to reach his fundraising goal.
He said he plans to return to Yellowknife for another fundraiser before long.