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H.H. (Holly) Parsons

H.H. “Holly” Parsons’ career as a highly respected aerial map sketcher, enabled him to personally explore some of the most remote parts of Ontario and fish some of its best-stocked lakes. He was able to interact with nature in a way very few men ever do, by walking the land, riding the rapids, and observing from the air. Parsons was born in Owen Sound, Ontario, in 1902, and graduated from the University of Toronto with a B.Sc. in Forestry in 1922.

After graduation he started with the Department of Lands and Forests and aided in the first James Bay forestry survey which took place during the summer of the same year. 

By 1924 he was up in the air, apprenticing in aerial timbre sketching, becoming arguably one of the best aerial map sketchers to work with the Department of Lands and Forests. In the early days, the Curtiss H2SL was used for aerial timber surveying. The H-boat, as it was known, weighed around two and a half tons, and had a wing span of 76 ft. It was powered by a water-cooled 12-cylinder Liberty engine.

Under suitable flying conditions, an average sketching day lasted 11 hours plus. This allowed for two flights a day, each averaging three and a half hours. In between the morning flight and the afternoon flight, Parsons would spend his time inking-in the pencilled sketch he had made that morning. At the end of the day, he would again sit down and ink-in the afternoon sketch.

But it was not all work. During days which were unsuitable for sketching, Parsons spent his time collecting herbarium or wild flowers. He ended up with a collection of 40 families, 80 genera, and over 200 species which included most of the species of orchids found in Ontario. Another pastime, which took up much of his spare time over the years, was fishing for speckled trout, pike and pickerel, notably a seven-and-a half-pound speckled (coaster) which he caught off the dock of the OPAS Service Base on Lake Nipigon.

In 1940, after 18 years of service, he left the Department of Lands and Forests to sell tractors. During this time, he was requested to do numerous aerial mapping surveys.  The requests were frequent enough that in 1946, the Department of Lands and Forests encouraged Parsons to start his own aerial mapping service company, after which he consulted for Lands and Forests for the next 30 years. Parsons attributes his ability to produce accurate aerial identification to his early ground experience, repeated plane landings in order to verify what he saw while up in the air, and the use of the air service bases throughout the forest region.

Over his 50-year career, Parsons worked with 86 pilots, logging at least 10, 000 flying hours for 85 private companies and governmental bodies. The aerial type mapping or sketching programs in which he participated included timber resources surveys, herd counts, searching for downed aircrafts, and observations for fire, pollution and insect infestations.

H.H. “Holly” Parsons was among the pioneers of aerial map sketching, and will be forever known as one of the best.

Places, Planes, People and Pilots, Volume 2, Memoirs of a Timber Sketcher, By H.H. “Holly” Parsons, Edited by Robert Galway, Copyright 2013 by the editor Aerial Timber Sketching Memoirs – With other irrelevant notations that occurred over the duration of the fifty years involved as memories surfaced by H.H. (Holly) Parson,  (1922-1976)

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