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Dax Wilkinson atop his plane. "Flying is one of the most complicated, challenging and rewarding things I've ever done," he says. "You have to be so passionate and committed to get to this stage." (COURTESY OF DAX WILKINSON)
Dax Wilkinson atop his plane. "Flying is one of the most complicated, challenging and rewarding things I've ever done," he says. "You have to be so passionate and committed to get to this stage." (COURTESY OF DAX WILKINSON)

THE SPLURGE

A lifelong dream takes flight Add to ...

This continues our new series called The Splurge, where we take a look at how entrepreneurs have spent their money on indulgences -- purchases that may be interesting, fun, satisfying or enjoyable, but not necessary!

Flying has been in Dax Wilkinson’s blood ever since he took his first flight in a bush plane at the family cottage north of Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron as a child.

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And now his business, which is also largely devoted to aviation, has given him the means to realize his lifelong dream of owning his own plane.

Mr. Wilkinson is the founder, president and creative director of Toronto-based Red Canoe National Heritage Brands Inc., which designs and produces clothing, headwear and accessories that feature classic iconic logos, a large proportion bearing vintage aircraft logos.

The company’s wares are sold in about 300 Canadian locations, including one standalone Toronto location, airport boutiques, aviation museums, tourist attractions such as the CN Tower, as well as about 40 U.S. outlets, including the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Last August, the Sudbury-born entrepreneur bought half-ownership of an amphibious single-engine Cessna 182 bush plane. The four-seater, built in 1974, was owned by his flying partner, Brett Bastin, a grandson of Max Ward, founder of now defunct Wardair Inc. They met after a friend bumped into Mr. Bastin wearing one of Red Canoe’s hats.

Mr. Wilkinson won’t say exactly how much he paid for his share, though asking prices for similar planes currently run from about $190,000 to $280,000, he says.

Whatever the exact price he paid, he says it was worth every penny.

“Flying is one of the most complicated, challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever done,” he says. “You have to be so passionate and committed to get to this stage.”

Small aircraft are a common mode of transportation in northern Ontario and were an indelible feature of life at the family “bush camp” when Mr. Wilkinson was growing up.

“I remember watching them when they took off. We’d all be waiting down by the lake and then, all of a sudden they’d come over the buildings, right over the water and then they would buzz you,” he recalls. “You see that and you just say ‘Wow!’ It was such a thrill.”

Mr. Wilkinson starting flying with family friends when he was six. He first took control of a plane when he was 12.

“It’s a big confidence booster to be able to do something like that,” he says. “What I remember is the wonder of seeing everything from up high. It was such a unique thing to be able to do.”

Mr. Wilkinson and his family moved away from Sudbury when he was a teenager, but he never lost his fascination with aircraft.

The inspiration for Red Canoe, started in 2002 and now with six employees, came from the DeHavilland Beaver airplane, which helped open up Canada’s north and is legendary among flying enthusiasts for its rumbling Harley-Davidson-like engine.

The Beaver’s vintage logo is a staple of Red Canoe’s product line, which also includes vintage logos from Cessna Aircraft Co, Boeing Co. and the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The company’s products also feature logos of other iconic Canadian institutions, such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

After years of dreaming and 18 months of lessons, Mr. Wilkinson earned his pilot’s licence in 2007. He and Mr. Bastin keep their Cessna 182 parked among a handful of other small planes at the Toronto island airport.

Mr. Wilkinson plans to use the Cessna – which he describes as “the dream plane I could be happy with all my life” -- to fly to business meetings. He says he hopes that will help him build relationships with clients, which include charter flight operators, airports and the Smithsonian.

“Pilots are notorious for that. You get a couple of them together and it’s non-stop chatter about planes so now I can talk the talk,” he says.

But the real draw – and where he’s already made his first flight – is taking his wife and two children to their two bush camps north of Sudbury for weekends in the summer. It’s at least a five hour-drive, much of it stuck in traffic, but just over an hour by air.

Mr. Wilkinson already let his son Finn, now nine, take over the controls when he was just six in the hopes he can pass on his passion for flying.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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