Valley Lives - John Duncan Marshall

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the September 06, 2017 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Dreams took flight for Chelsea pilot

By Ben Bulmer

John Duncan Marshall always knew he wanted to fly.

"He told me when he was eight he decided he wanted to fly a plane," said Duncan's daughter, Fiona Marshall. And that he did, mastering the art of flying gliders as a teenager before moving onto planes. The late Chelsea resident piloted 32 different types of airplane and 23 kinds of glider while spending thousands of hours in the air, taking thousands of aerial photographs as he flew.

John Duncan Marshall
Never far from a camera or an airplane, Duncan Marshall started a second career at age 57, taking aerial photographs. Photos courtesy Greg Marshall.

Born in London, Ont. in 1940, John Duncan Marshall - always known as Duncan - moved to Edmonton as a boy where, after high school, he studied urban planning at the University of Alberta. Duncan married Gudula Von Schoenberg in 1963 and the couple had five children (there are now ten grandchildren), raising them first in Winnipeg before moving to Ottawa and then eventually to Chelsea in 1987. At the age of 57, Duncan retired after a long career with the civil service - but never one to sit idle, he used his early retirement to follow his dream and fly professionally. He founded Marshall Maruska Aerial Images with friend Dan Maruska and took to the skies, camera in hand.

"It kept him out of trouble and it paid for itself," said Duncan's youngest son, Greg Marshall. "He had a camera in his hand from a pretty young age." Aerial photography combined Duncan's two passions, but Greg said his father wasn't much interested in the artistic side of photography - it was more about documenting the landscape in its context. "His interest in geography and his sense of place and relating that to people is really what I think he...enjoyed," said Greg. "His absolute favourite thing in the world was to take photos of a house or cottage and make it a big print and deliver it to a person by hand."

John Duncan Marshall
Burt Stewart and Duncan Marshall stand in front of a Second World War era Tiger Moth airplane they owned shares in. Photos courtesy Greg Marshall.

Greg described his father as "youthful and energetic," a friendly person who loved hearing and telling stories. But outside of his cheerful public demeanor, Greg describes his dad as a serious man with a strong sense of duty: "He was the provider of the household. That was his job. Mum was the homemaker." But come the weekend, he was different. "I always said at the weekend it was 'fly buddy dad', that was my name for him." The pair flew to an Experimental Aircraft Association event in Wisconsin on two occasions and spent hours and hours in the air together. Duncan passed his love of flying on and Greg, who now runs the family business - albeit on a part time basis.

Fiona talks of her father as a passionate community member, always getting involved and helping out. He was a long time member of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society and Castenchel Choir, and Fiona said community was one of the most important aspects of her father's life. "He saw the world from the air and I think he saw both the natural landscape but also the human landscape," said Fiona "I really get a sense that's how he pictured the world." Fiona speaks of Duncan's outgoing generous nature. "My dad took me up in a Tiger Moth and we watched the sun set and he said 'Do you want to see it again?', and I said, 'yes' so he went higher and then we watched the sun set for a second time."

Chelsea resident Wayne Anderson met Duncan through the Castenchel Choir and describes his friend as a man "bubbling over with ideas." Duncan took Anderson flying many times, filming the Wakefield steam train from a helicopter on one occasion and getting him to take control of the plane while snapping photos on another. "He was always happy and cheerful never complained about anything... he was so enthusiastic about everything and always on the go. [He] always had a new idea."

Duncan was a man passionate about flying, and will always be remembered for the tens of thousands of photographs he took. But more than that, he cared for the community and became involved in all that he could. "The beauty of the planet from the air," said Fiona. "He wanted to share that with everybody."


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