The Ontario Provincial Air Service (OPAS) was formed by the Government of Ontario in 1924 to protect Ontario's vast forests through the aerial detection of forest fires, aerial transportation of fire crews and equipment, map making, aerial photography and forest inventory. At the same time, they constructed a hangar on the shore of the St Mary's River in Sault Ste. Marie to house an initial fleet of World War I surplus Curtiss HS-2L flying boats. In the first year of operation, 600 forest fires were spotted.
In 1948, a second larger hangar was added to the original waterfront site In the Sault.
The first aerial waterbombing of forest fires by the OPAS was conducted using water-filled paper bags dropped from aircraft. In 1957 successful waterbombing began using a piston DHC-3 Otter with roll-over water tanks mounted above the aircraft's floats. This evolved into water storage directly in the floats of DHC-2 Beaver and DHC-3 Otter allowing greater volumes of water to be carried. Today the mainstay of the OPAS fleet is the amphibious Canadair CL-415 which scoops water directly into large-volume holding tanks installed in its hull.
In 1973 the OPAS merged with Fire Management to become the Aviation and Fire Management Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
In 1991, the Ministry of Natural Resources moved its Fire and Aviation division to the Sault Ste. Marie airport allowing the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre to occupy the original waterfront hangar.
The CL-415 waterbombers, amphibious Twin Otters, Turbo Beavers and light helicopters of the Ministry of Natural Resources Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services Branch can often be seen today flying over the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre.