Will was a good kid and an adventurous one from the start.
We all loved to explore the outdoors. His grandmother took us all for walks in the woods, and after his younger brother joined him, his grandfather started taking them out to a friend’s stocked trout pond fishing. Fishing became a life-long love of both boys. After his baby sister joined us, we started on the big family camping trips across Canada.
We travelled to the east coast twice, and the west coast three times, camping in every Canadian province, the Yukon and Alaska, and several northern U.S. states. It was the time in the mountains that is most memorable for all of us I think, hiking the trails in Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks, seeing Mountain Goats and Mountain Sheep, and of course fishing our way through northern BC and Alaska – salmon galore!
Along the way Will played every sport available locally, and seemed to find a winning team every time, winning MVP more than once. I firmly believe that teenage boys need some life-threatening activity to grow up normal, so we took up downhill skiing – and I was the one who got injured!
It was on the trip to the Yukon and Alaska that Will saw his first forest fire, and we think then that he decided what he wanted to be. I remember the conversation in his last year of high school about what he wanted to do with his life, and it took about 2 minutes, as Will had already made his own decision to apply to the aviation programs in Ontario, and he headed off to Confederation College in Thunder Bay in 1996 to become a pilot.
The inspiration of his grandfather, who served in the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) during WWII, teaching navigation, was also important. He shared his stories with our sons and gave William his Air Force cap, which was treasured.
William flew float planes for Kenora Air Services in Northern Ontario, taking guests in to fly-in fishing camps. He flew National Geographic photographers out of Yellowknife to see wildlife on the tundra in the North-west Territories. He made the step to year-round float plane flying by heading to Fiji for a winter, flying for Turtle Airways. Next he joined North Pacific Seaplanes out of Prince Rupert, B.C. (now Inland Air). It was there that we had our only flight with him, when he took us out to Haida Gwaii and back (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands).
Then he moved to northern Ontario flying larger freight planes for Wasaya Airways into isolated native communities. These were the planes he needed experience on to follow his dream of becoming a water bomber pilot. This past winter after we had suffered through a particularly bitter week of -30° temperatures he laughed that we hadn’t been cold until you unloaded a plane in the fierce arctic wind at -60 on the shores of Hudson’s Bay!
William got his dream job with Conair 4 years ago, first flying the large water bombers, and then moving to the advance team of small ‘Fire Boss’ planes because of his float plane experience. He was part of the team fighting the Cold Lake fire in northern Alberta when his plane went down. He died doing what he loved, and if he had a message for us it would be to ‘Follow your dreams.’ Thanks to the Cold Lake military Search and Rescue Team who were able to retrieve him by helicopter in the isolated location.
The memorial site his sister set up, http://www.forevermissed.com/william-hilts, has given us enormous comfort, as it has brought a huge outpouring of grief and support. Will has been described as a good man, a kind, gentle and generous friend, and a natural pilot. He pursued his dreams and found them, he cared for people wherever he went, and he had lots of close friends. What more could a parent ask?
Although we always just thought of him as ‘our son, the pilot’, he was also a firefighter, flying the water bomber, and to the communities of northern Alberta and B.C. he died a hero. The enormous number of visits to his memorial page reflect the strong support of that community, and the comments and private emails we have received from his friends have given us enormous support.
We are lucky to live in a small rural community, and have had strong and immediate support from family and friends ourselves. We will live every day to honour our lost son, but all of us will live on, pursuing our own dreams, no matter how ordinary they may be. For the next week or two I am simply going to post a few of Will’s own pictures from his flying days in the north and on the west coast.
I have thought and hard long about sharing this on my blog, and imposing it on you the reader. That I feel able to do so reflects the magic way that special friendships develop in the on-line blogging community, and the support I feel from many of you. It also reflects the fact that we will celebrate Will’s life as much as we mourn his death.
I am so very sorry for the loss of your son. Your tribute was heartfelt and wonderful. He sounded like a very adventurous young man that lived life to the fullest. Good for him for following his dreams.ReplyDelete
My sympathy, may your good memories help you through your grief. Those water bomber pilots are true heroes!! :)ReplyDelete
As a fellow pilot I offer my deepest sympathy and thanks to Will for a life well lived.ReplyDelete
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
So sorry for your loss. Remember that God wouldn't have allowed this great burden of grief and sorrow if He wasn't going to help you carry it.ReplyDelete
How brave of you to share your loss. I am sure we can all feel very deeply for you. Know that he did what he did because he loved it and rejoice that he was able to do so. Not everyone is so blessed. All my good wishes to you and your family.ReplyDelete
There are no words I can say that will make this loss less.ReplyDelete
Will did what he loved. He was a hero.
My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
I heard on the news that a fire water bomber pilot was killed and little did I know the connection to you. I am so very sorry for your loss. My deepest sympathies to you, your wife, family and friends. May you find peace and comfort in happy memories of your son. Blessings to you.ReplyDelete
Sharing with us is also sharing the pride for your William, and giving us words about his life, his values, and the wonderful work he did for all those years, tells more than we would ever have known. Your tribute comes from your heart, and I send many caring thoughts and deepest sympathy to you all.ReplyDelete
A wonderful tribute to your son. I'm so very sorry.ReplyDelete
Thanks for sharing. I imagine it was hard to do but we, your readers and blog friends are better for it.ReplyDelete
Again thank you.
I am so very sorry. I am not a long time blogger friend but I do really send all my thoughts and prayers towards your family.ReplyDelete
My condolences on your loss. Will sounds like he was a fine young man, who gave his life trying to help others. He will live forever in your hearts.ReplyDelete
My deepest condolences on your loss. As a fellow pilot, the aviation world is small and close, and he will always be remembered.ReplyDelete
I am so very sorry for your loss . Prayers and thoughts are with you all !ReplyDelete
Thank you for sharing your loss with those of us who consider you one of our on-line friends. Our son-in-law died unexpectedly at 35, so I understand your grief and can only say that things will get better. For others, please remember: "Live every day as if it will be your last for someday you will be right."ReplyDelete
My sympathy to you for the loss of a very fine son. Since I live in Alberta and was very aware of this loss, it was a shock to find out that his Dad is one of the bloggers I follow. you need all the support you can get at this difficult time. Writing about the loss is a help. Thanks for sharing this very difficult event in your life.ReplyDelete
I am so very sorry to hear of your loss. Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you. He sounds like a wonderful man and you wrote a wonderful tribute to him. May God comfort you in such a sad time.ReplyDelete
I am so very sorry to hear about the death of your wonderful son. I have a particular reason to comment because I live in Cold Lake and I cannot begin to express my appreciation to all the people still fighting this enormous fire. I was heartsick when I heard a pilot died and then, today, a fellow blogger named William Kendall told me the pilot's father was a blogger. I see, above, that Red is also an Alberta blogger. What a small world this is. Thank you for raising such a wonderful boy, and please accept my family's thanks for his heroic actions. All the best to you in this terrible time. ooxxReplyDelete
This is terribly sad. As a parent, I can imagine the depth of loss to you. Your son was a blessing to many people. Prayers.ReplyDelete
I'm at a loss for words and can only muster to say how sorry I am for your loss. My thoughts and heart is with you in these trying times and hope you'll find solace in the memories and wonderful life your son lived. I'm fortunate to do what I love and followed my dreams and a huge reason for that was the unconditional love, support, patience and understanding from my dear parents. Without them I'd never achieved even a shred of what I have as a young man. Take solace in knowing Will was the man and human being he was because of you, your wife and family.ReplyDelete
So sorry for your loss, what a wonderful tribute to share with us.ReplyDelete
How very sad! But your son was doing what he loved when he died. I did go to the tribute page and it sounds like her was a wonderful young man.ReplyDelete
I understand why it has taken so long to write this post, and I applaud you for having done it so perfectly. My heart goes out to you and your family, and I will go visit the tribute page, too. May blessings surround you all.ReplyDelete
I am so sorry to return to your blog and find this painful event that has happened to you. May you find peace and understanding as time heals your soul and may everyone always remember this special life.ReplyDelete
So sorry to hear of your tragic loss. No parent should lose a child.ReplyDelete
I am so sorry to read of your great loss. You son sounds like he was a wonderful man.ReplyDelete
A fine tribute to your Son. I believe writing about one's thoughts & feeling is always helpful & putting your words to print is an early step towards the light at the end of a long dark tunnel. Our thoughts are with you.ReplyDelete
What courage you have shown in trusting this blogger community to share in your sorrow. Your tribute is beautiful and so full of love and pride for having your wonderful son in your life. Blessings and continued comfort for you and your family. My deepest sympathy.ReplyDelete
I'm so sorry for your loss. I know William will live on in the hearts of everyone who knew him.ReplyDelete
I, too, am shocked and saddened to learn of the loss of your beautiful son. That he lived his dream until his final moments must be a comfort. You and your wife raised him to know his strengths and to follow his passions. This is a wonderful tribute to him. It is an honour that you have trusted us.ReplyDelete
no parent should ever have to bury their child, never, not ever, it is so unnatural, too painful to think about, to write about. as i read your tribute i was so very enamored by the way that he lived. 36 years, that was his time and he lived it well. you will miss him forever and i do hope that you meet again. you are so very brave to write and share his story. i visited the fb page, i hope that brings you a small piece of comfort. my sincere condolences!!!ReplyDelete
My deepest condolences. You sound like you are able to honour his spirit with joy.ReplyDelete
This is such a beautiful tribute to your son.
We have been babysitting grandkids this week and I've been worried about the kids over in Paris. All the best to you and yours. Such a wonderful family.
I'm sorry for your loss but thank you for sharing your son with us.ReplyDelete
When I first read this post, I couldn't quite respond. I knew of your news. I had even sent you an email Then I saw your son's handsome face and read of his life. I was so overwhelmed for you that I truly could not write anything. Know that my sincerest and most heartfelt condolences are being sent to you.ReplyDelete
We are now in a club neither of us wanted to join. My heart breaks for you. I am blessed to have read of the gift your son was to you and to others. He was a wonderful man.
I'm so sorry to read about your loss, but glad your child lived a life so full of what he loved. I was thinking about when my kids were little earlier today, those moments are with us forever and the joy they give us worth the hard times that come with being a parent.ReplyDelete
Hi Stew, I obviously have been away from blogging WAY too long. I had not heard this until reading some of your blog posts today. I am so sorry to hear about the death of your son --but obviously, he died doing what he wanted to do --and so many of us can never say that. I love the way you wrote this post about Will. You will cherish those memories of this son forever. Blessings to you and the family...ReplyDelete
I am so very sorry to hear of the death of your son. Thank you so much for your comforting comment and letting me know about your loss, as I may have never known. Since my husband's illness I have been pushing myself to keep photography going, but since his death I am struggling to keep interest up. I so admire you for keeping up with these rewarding activities. I can not imagine the pain of losing my son. And I agree with you about hugs from strangers. They can be the most comforting of all. Big hugs to you and all of your family. May you be blessed with strength and healing.ReplyDelete
God bless your family. Your son gave the ultimate sacrifice helping others. His story on the tribute page is someday beautiful. May happy memories sustain you!ReplyDelete
Your son's life is a gift both to you, his family, and the world. He saved life in his lifetime, and now lives on as a role model of a selfless soul. Namaste.ReplyDelete
It was in Will's genes to be a pilot. He loved what he did, even for such a short time. Here is happiness and sadness in this post. A fitting memorial to a beloved son!ReplyDelete
I don't know how I missed this...I know I have come and gone so much in the blogging world. I am so sorry for your loss...I cannot imagine how you feel. I am glad you have rich memories to draw on.ReplyDelete
I always admire seeing how these pilots collected water and dropped it on Forrest fires. He is a sad loss not by you but by all those he helped in his life.ReplyDelete